Blackboard History – Executive Summary

Business Description: Blackboard Inc. has developed sophisticated, proprietary technology that allows universities and corporations to host classes and training on the World Wide Web.  Customers such as Cornell University, Yale University and the Mortgage Bankers Association use Blackboard’s products to reduce costs in delivering traditional classes and/or reach new markets of learners interested in their curricula.  

Company Background: Blackboard Inc. was formed by the joining of two companies. CourseInfo LLC, founded by Daniel Cane and Stephen Gilfus, and Blackboard LLC, founded by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky. Originally the Blackboard company began as a consulting firm contracting to the non-profit IMS Global Learning Consortium. In 1998, it merged with CourseInfo LLC, a small course management software provider that originated at Cornell University. The combined company became known as Blackboard Inc. The first line of e-learning products was branded Blackboard CourseInfo LLC, but the CourseInfo brand was dropped in 2000.

In the Spring of 2004, 7,100 people taught and learned in virtual classrooms powered by Blackboard’s products, a number that will grow to approximately 40,000 in the Fall of 2004 as current clients alone bring additional courses on-line. Summary of Business Strategy: Put simply, Blackboard is executing a two-phase business strategy: 1) capture early market share and mind share, and then 2) leverage Blackboard’s user base and customer relationships through additional products and services that achieve high-growth earnings.

Products & Services: Blackboard creates powerful proprietary software products for hosting “virtual” campuses, university Intranets and on-line corporate training environments.  Blackboard’s centrally hosted “Classroom” and locally installed “CourseInfo” products enable instructors to host classes and training over the World Wide Web.Soon to join these products are 1) Blackboard’s enterprise level “Campus” system, a highly scalable version of CourseInfo intended for a large-scale implementation of a single system for hosting on-line classes; and 2) Blackboard “Library, a “virtual bookstore” portal site that connects Blackboard’s user base with providers of textbooks, music CDs, general interest books and on-line content. 

Technologies/Special Know-How: Complimentary to its product work, Blackboard is the sole technical contractor to a leading industry standards cooperative called the Instructional Management Systems Project (IMS).  Led by EDUCAUSE, a group of 1,300 academic institutions, and companies such as Microsoft, Sun, Oracle and IBM, IMS selected Blackboard to help create a common architecture for online learning technologies that Blackboard’s products, and its competitor’s products, will soon be based on.  Blackboard’s role as primary contractor to IMS provides the Company with significant marketing as well as technical advantages when releasing its products into the marketplace.

Markets: The market for Blackboard’s products are 1) higher education, 2) corporate training, 3) K-12 schools and school districts 4) government, and 5) publishers.  In each of these cases, equipping an organization’s network to deliver education on-line, serving students locally and around the world with minimal overhead, is a strategic imperative.  Blackboard’s products provide customers both top line benefits (i.e. virtual campuses bring in additional revenues from distance learners at lower delivery costs), and bottom line benefits (i.e. academic intranets provide a ROI on network investments and reduce costs in delivering traditional classes).

Distribution Channels: Sales of Blackboard’s products are made by an internal direct sales force and via vertical market integrators like KPMG Peat Marwick.  Blackboard has additional business partnerships with companies such as Microsoft and International Thomson Publishing, the third largest publisher of educational materials.  Further, Blackboard’s work with EDUCAUSE provides the opportunity to establish direct customer relationships with a wide range of colleges and universities.