StudyBlue Act III Here We Go – Second first day as CEO

Act I My Crazy Idea

As a student at the University of Wisconsin nine years ago, I had a crazy idea to build an app that helped students study smarter. Everyone I knew at the time was still using pen and paper. But the proliferation of smart phones, apps and wi-fi was changing everything. I knew there had to be a better way.

I wasn’t dreaming of being a startup founder/CEO or making lots of money – at that time I had visions of acting or becoming a doctor – one of those right brain, left brain dichotomies. But I saw a huge gap in education technology and decided to design a product to fill it. I wanted a place where students could interact and share information that wasn’t controlled by teachers. It started with my (now) wife and I handing out suckers in front of the library asking if people wanted to form online study groups. The unanimous sentiment among the students was YES. So, I went off to build a learning management system called the ClassConnection.com , which is now a burgeoning study app known as StudyBlue.  

Act II – Growing Up

We’ve grown up a lot since the early days working out of our founding investor’s basement. It’s been a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs.

Early on, one of the chief realizations was that we needed to bring someone in that could help us grow. A la Eric Schmidt at Google. I was still pretty darn young and knew little about growing a lasting technology company.

As fate would have it, a seasoned, uber smart tech guru named Becky Splitt just happened to move back to Madison, Wisconsin. The kinship was immediate. We asked her to serve as CEO and guide us as we pushed StudyBlue broader and bigger. Becky had already taken one company from start-up to IPO and led Microsoft’s efforts to go global. No small feat.

Since Becky joined, we’ve changed our name; we’ve completely revamped the app (what you see today is not what you saw circa 2009); we’ve built a stellar team of designers, engineers and believers; we’ve established a vibrant SF presence and most importantly, we’ve continued to drive value for our community. We now have nearly 6 million users and the largest (and fastest growing) digital library with over 250 million pieces of content.

With Becky’s vision, passion and energy, we’ve exceeded all expectations. As I look back over the past five years, I’m grateful for our success and energized by the journey that still lies ahead. Today, I’m thrilled to say that I’m taking over the reins – again – as CEO. I’m a bit wiser, yet still frugal, and ready to lead StudyBlue into its third act.

Act III – New Redesign + Premium Offering  

As CEO, my promise is to stay focused. We have to focus on what’s going to drive long-term value for our community and company as a whole. That will drive everything we do. And we’ve been fortunate. Our vision from day one was to build a crowdsourced platform for students by students and it hasn’t changed. Students are contributing and collaborating and the experience gets richer each and every day.  

So what does this mean for the future? The edtech sector is in the midst of some major changes. There’s lots of questions as to whether companies in this space can not only drive value for users, but also become 100 year-old companies that create value for investors. It’s a big question and something we’ve been tackling internally.

So what’s next? StudyBlue is launching a brand new app and web design right in time for back to school. The focus for this new version was ease-of-use (aka simpler and faster). If you’re fortunate enough to build a consumer tech company that survives more than a few years, you likely accumulate a ton of user experience debt. Investing in a ‘redesign’ can be a great way to freshen up the product and make it easier and faster to use.

Additionally, we’re also introducing a new premium offering. Our shared library of over 250 million study materials is now part of our premium membership package, StudyBlue Pro. We want to serve our users as best as we can, and that means making sure we have the resources to continue offering StudyBlue for years to come.

All these changes allow us to continue delivering on our vision. We believe in crowdsourced learning (we are smarter than me) and that we’re driving better results for our community of students from middle school to med school and beyond. I’m thrilled about StudyBlue’s next act and building a company that will last the test of time and help generations of students study smarter, together.

About the Author

Chris founded the website that became StudyBlue after graduating at the top of his class in computer science and biomedical engineering at UW-Madison. Currently, he leads technology development and operations. He takes great pride in what StudyBlue is today, and is driven by the potential the future holds. You can find him taking in a Brewers game in section 120 at Miller Park, or on the field as a member of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

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11 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. College kids that actually study usually aren’t getting everything paid for by there mommy and daddy and we can’t afford to pay to have the same ability to see other users’ notes. This is the only thing that made StudyBlue special, worth anything, or even more useful than pen/paper. I hope this severely damages your product and that you learn from it.

    • StudyBlue Team,

      We understand the new StudyBlue Pro offering is a big change, Julia, and we hear your frustration. Our community is now 6 million strong, and above all, this growth has made us laser focused on providing StudyBlue for years to come. This means making sure we have the resources to do so. The new PRO is the best way for us to do that. As a free user, you’ll still have access to many of the tools you love including review mode, personalized quizzes, progress tracking and, of course, card creation. You can also use suggested cards during the creation process and explore our shared library at no cost.

      We’re also offering StudyBlue Pro for 50% off for the month of August, and if you refer 3 friends, you get a free month of PRO. We hope you’ll give the new StudyBlue a chance!

      Here’s more information on our referral program Julia: http://www.studyblue.com/#account/share

    • G Oogle,

      “their”. Maybe take another Eng 101?

      • You must be part of the group I mentioned. Glad you’re so privileged that autocorrect never touches any of the golden stream of words you barf out. I like the way you spelled “Google.” Keep trying, pal.

        • G Oogle,

          Julia, your bitterness & hatred for such a trivial matter in life will lead to an early demise. I sincerly pray you learn to let such matters go & focus on what is truly important in your life. Matters such as family, friends, socializing, etc should be the foundation for a fulfilling life. Griping on an obscure business comment section only feeds your anger. You complain of the cost? You suggest the company ultimately fail. What is your solution? What would you have Study Blue do to ease your specific situation? Think in the big picture, if SB takes care of you, what about the millions of others who use it? What impact will your appeasement mean to the company & it’s shareholders/owners? You come across as selfish & ignorant in the ways of the reality of a working world. If you can’t afford it, whose fault is that? Not SB’s, not mine. It’s yours. Be responsible enough to acknowledge your are ultimately the individual who can change your happenstance. Good luck to you.

      • Patrick Meehan,

        Actually they’re is correct. It is a conjunction for they are. “I hope they are listening.” Their is possessive and would be saying “I hope that they have listening.”

    • Exactly what I came here to say. StudyBlue does not own or produce the content in the shared flashcards, so putting it behind a paywall will only SEVERELY slow down the creation of said content. The userbase will exit because the content creators don’t want to pay for the privilege of making their cards available to other paying customers. It was all about sharing and this greedy decision to sever that ease will kill StudyBlue. I hope they’re listening.

  2. PI,

    What used to set StudyBlue apart from other flashcard alternatives (Anki, Quizlet, physical notecards) was its ease of sharing. With that feature now behind a paywall and the other alternatives being free from subscriptions, why would anyone use StudyBlue now? For doing flashcards on your own, there are better options. To share flashcards with classmates would mean everyone needs a pro subscription (not going to happen in most cases). With these new changes, your app has become a third-rate option. I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot (indicative from plummeting app ratings) unless you reverse course.

  3. Jen,

    I cannot believe you’ve made it so we have to pay to share notes, what a freakin’ buzz kill.

    • G Oogle,

      PI & Jen….How much are you paying for tuition/books/fees/lattes/cars/insurance/bus pass/pencils/papers/calculators/etc? I suggest you each look at my post above to Julia. You want it to be free…THERE IS NO FREE, LIKE HEALTHCARE…..Someone has to pay for it. Why not you? Why don’t you pay for my SB premium pkg so I can truly understand your position of wanting everything in life given to me.

  4. ren_man,

    so, since you are going to charge for user created content, does the user creating the content get a cut of the fees?

    After all,it is MY material and according to copyright law _I_ own it, NOT you. Mine.

    No, you can NOT charge for my content without giving me a cut of the fee charged.

    And one more thing: with so many schools using Google Apps for Education:
    1) why no integration?
    2) oh, wait — no need for you anymore. Using Google Sheets and add-in apps can create flash cards there for FREE.

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