5 Things Blackboard’s Michael Chasen Learned Building a $2B Company

December 17, 2013

9:00 am

Last Thursday at Tech Cocktail Week, Blackboard founder and former CEO, and Social Radar founder and CEO, Michael Chasen, shared some insight gleaned from his rich entrepreneurial experience. Here are five pieces of unconventional wisdom he learned while building Blackboard to become a company that he took public and then sold for $1.7B.

Here’s the advice that he shared…

1. Be passionate about what you do even if others aren’t.  

Chasen talked about how you work on startups 24/7. It takes all of your energy. It better be something you care about. Additionally, you get all kinds of feedback, from people that love you and people that hate you. Tackling a high growth startup is no easy endeavor.

2. It’s critically important to focus on the business and not the office.

Blackboard was started during the Dot-com boom, when everyone was buying $1000+ Herman Miller Aeron chairs. Chasen and his co-founders asked to take six chairs from KPMG (the employer they were leaving) to start Blackboard. Michael still sits in the same chair today that he had when he started Blackboard. He shared this story to demonstrate the importance of focusing on the things that matter.

3. Share the vision.

Michael shared a story about how he was invited to an event filled with folks from the defense industry by one of Blackboard’s early investors, The Carlyle Group. Despite feeling heavily out of place, he shared his vision for Blackboard with everyone in the room. Blackboard ended up starting a whole division of the company that services the government. Today, the Army uses Blackboard in Iraq to train its troops. When doing a high growth startup, you need to always be talking about what you’re doing.

4. Constantly seek advice.

While out raising some of the initial capital that helped get Blackboard off the ground, Michael got advice that pointed him every which way. While he says he ignored most of their advice, he said that all of the advice helped to give him a broader sense of the state of the educational technology market and how investors looked at it. Chasen shared the importance of looking for advice on whatever you’re doing. Share your ideas with as many people as possible.

5. Realize disruption changes everything and changes everything again.

Chasen shared the power of disruption and how even the disruptors can get disrupted. Barnes & Noble was disrupted by Amazon, and then Amazon disrupted itself with the Amazon Kindle. Blackboard disrupted the brick ‘n mortar university. Now Blackboard is being disrupted by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

One more thing… when you’re done, do it all again.

A year ago, Michael retired from Blackboard and started SocialRadar. While on college campuses, he saw how students were sharing all their social information including their location. They were using Apple’s Find My Friends to find their friends online. Now there’s 1 billion smartphones that act as beacons and 3 billion social profiles. In the future, we’ll walk into a room and get real-time social info about all the people around you. Chasen wants Social Radar to make that possible.

Chasen announced in June 2013 that some investors want to make that future possible, too. He and Social Radar raised $12.75M in funding that was led by New Enterprises Associates, Grotech Ventures, and SWaN & Legend Ventures. Social Radar’s social mobile local application is still currently in private beta.


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Justin is the product evangelist for AddThis. Previously, he ran marketing at Tech Cocktail, online marketing at HelloWallet, and marketing at Clearspring. He lives in St Louis, MO.

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