Startups

How did Blackboard help build #dctech? These original team members’ founding journeys explain

"We're not the PayPal mafia, we didn't go found Tesla after or anything like that, but I think that the network of the ex-Blackboard people that have gone on and done some pretty interesting things is large," said Full Measure Education (and ex-Blackboard exec) Greg Davies. 

Inside Blackboard's Reston, Virginia office.

(Courtesy photo)

It’s hard to imagine the DC tech scene without one of its star players: the education software company Blackboard.

Since its founding in 1997, the company has been a huge starting point for edtech in the region and expanded its presence in schools across the US. The company’s learning management software has brought eyes to the DC scene, centered the role of learning in the city’s technology sector and even inspired Mayor Muriel Bowser to offer a $1 million grant to keep the company in DC. The company, which has currently made its home in Reston, Virginia, merged last year with Florida’s Anthology to create a huge(r) edtech company.

Alongside its own regional influence, Blackboard was also the place where several founders cut their teeth in the startup world. It’s since yielded an ever-growing cycle, with acquisitions by and from its initial team.

Here are some of Blackboard’s legacy alumni:

Michael Chasen, CEO of Class Technologies

Michael Chasen. (Courtesy photo)

As the former president and CEO of Blackboard, Chasen is one of the company’s best-known faces. But he’s made plenty of his own noise since departing in 2012: Chosen founded and became the president and CEO of DC’s SocialRadar before leaving for the role of CEO at PrecisionHawk in 2017.

His latest move has made a similarly huge splash in DC tech. Class Technologies, his remote-learning software founded in 2020, has already managed to nab huge amounts of funding (even eyeing unicorn status) and was noticed by the likes of Tom Brady.

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But before all that, his time at Blackboard was crucial to his learning how to found and run a company.

“Running Blackboard was like a crash course in every aspect of building a company,” Chasen told Technical.ly.

In May, Chasen brought his student experience at Blackboard to a full circle when Class announced it would be acquiring the Blackboard Collaborate tool from Anthology. Together, a statement from the companies said, Class and Blackboard Collaborate will serve over 1,750 institutions in higher education, K-12, corporate learning and more.

“I actually started this vision at Blackboard, so it’s a full circle,” Chasen said. “It feels good to bring [people] together. I have a lot of Blackboard’s people actually at Class right now, just from all the people I’ve worked with, so it feels a little bit circular bringing together the company I started in 1997 with what I started in 2020.”

Greg Davies, founder and CEO of Full Measure Education

Greg Davies. (Courtesy photo)

Davies was part of the original crew that moved from KPMG to create the Blackboard we know today, reaching the level of executive VP by the end of his tenure. When he started, the company was a team of five working out of a Dupont Circle; but by the time he left, the company had grown to a few hundred employees, raised $110 million and was preparing to go public — not to mention the multiple companies it acquired along the way.

His time at Blackboard, Davies said, was a huge learning experience as a founder.  It was definitely not one without mistakes, but Davies thinks that founders learn much more from mistakes than successes. He believes these experiences ultimately helped him learn how to roll with the punches and not to make the same wrong move twice.

“I think we made one of every mistake,” Davies said. “We were young, we really didn’t know what we were doing, and I think that for everything that went right, something went wrong and we just kept moving forward.”

In the afterglow, it appears to have paid off. After departing in 2003, he founded fellow edtech company Presidium, which was eventually acquired by none other than Blackboard in 2010. From there, Davies went on to found Full Measure Education, an edtech company that developed communication software for the administrative side of college to help lower dropout rates. As of this year, he said, about 5% of the higher education market is using Full Measure’s software.

“For me, it was eye opening, for sure, to see people that were thinking with a different mindset,” Davies said. “Obviously, I went on to start Presidium and now Full Measure, and so, this is the third time for me. But without that early, formative experience, I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

As for the rest of the Blackboard cast, here’s where they are now:

  • Timothy Chi, founder and CEO of The Knot Worldwide, which owns The Knot, Wedding Wire and more.
  • Andrew Rosen, CEO of Interfolio (and former cofounder and president of Presidium)
  • Matthew Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment 
  • Daniel Cane, CEO and cofounder of Modernizing Medicine
  • Stephen Gilfus, founder of Gilfus Education and general partner at Oversight Ventures
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