Knowledge Is Power
Most college campuses touted Internet connectivity by 1997. But as co-workers in the higher education technology practice at KPMG, Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky, now both 28, discovered students were mostly e-mailing and "studying" Quake and Doom. Intent on maximizing the educational benefits of schools' Internet infrastructures, Chasen, a Georgetown MBA, and Pittinsky, a Harvard Education School alum, quit KPMG and rented a Dupont Circle, DC, brownstone under the name Blackboard LLC (now Inc.) to create a software solution.
Four months later, Blackboard scored revenue through a 1,600-college/university consulting contract. Enter a dozen more bodies into the two-room, desk-dense brownstone, already at capacity with two guys and a dog.
Online education consulting paid the rent until June 1998, when Blackboard acquired CourseInfo LLC from seven Cornell undergrads who had actualized Chasen and Pittinsky's original vision with software able to create a "campus portal" learning environment. To accomodate the Cornell kids, Blackboard moved just blocks away.
Inking a five-year lease with two months of rent money to spare wasn't a safe bet. But right before going broke, $400,000 in VC funding came through. (They've since raised $48 million-plus.) "If you don't keep growing, you're dead in the water," says Chasen.
And Blackboard, having since moved twice, is doing it. Its software (donated to President Clinton's April "Digital Divide" efforts) and Web services are used by 3,300 colleges and universities in 70 countries.
On not being CEO (Louis Pugliese assumed that duty in '98), Pittinsky says, "We're entrepreneurs, but we didn't create Blackboard to be CEOs or to own it. We created it because we believe what it's about."
Blackboard Inc., (202)463-4860, www.blackboard.com.