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.