The Story of Instructure

For the curious at heart, here's a little color around how I ended up co-founding an educational software company called Instructure.

In 2008 I was a grad student at Brigham Young University, just finishing up my Master's in Human-Computer Interaction. One of my last classes was a Software Business class taught through the C.S. department with a visiting professor, and the idea of the class was to pretend like you were doing a startup, do all the market research, put together a plan and "pitch" at the end of the semester. Devlin Daley and myself ended up in a group (we'd taken usability classes together before) and sort of decided not to pretend. Devlin had always been the entrepreneurial type, and I'll confess it didn't take much for me to catch the bug, either. We didn't have to look far for a legitimate opportunity.

BYU used Blackboard as their LMS, and we were so frustrated with the product both as students and as TA's, that we decided to poke around that market a little more. We were baffled when we failed to find anybody that we considered pushing the boundaries of education. Usually in a healthy market you have some one product that's really driving innovation, but in the LMS market we didn't feel like anyone was doing that. Plus, education was something I could really get excited about. I realized I already had tons of ideas for how online learning could be improved, and I started itching to implement them.

So we dug deeper, looked at the size of the market, the way contracts were signed, why innovation seemed to have stagnated, etc. and realized there was a legitimate opportunity for someone to step in and disrupt things.

So we did. We started jotting down what we thought was busted, how we thought the system should look -- and then we did the very hard thing that I think a lot more startups should do. Instead of starting to write code, which both of us loved doing, we took all our ideas and built them into a mocked-up version of the product in PowerPoint. Then we started calling schools. We would cold-call the CTO, CIO or the head of Instructional Design and tell them we were a new company who wanted to show our thoughts on the future of the LMS and get their feedback as well.

We had a very favorable response, and met with eighteen universities over the summer of 2008 including UCLA, Berkeley, UNLV, UVU, Westminster and USC. Everyone loved what we were doing and gave us great feedback. After each school we'd write down a ton of notes, re-work the PowerPoint and go at it again. We learned a TON and ended up with a very compelling product.

After that we found an angel investor who funded us enough to start development and, well, haven't stopped for a breath since then. We now have a team of eight, a few contracts under our belt, and a bunch more on the way. I'm having all sorts of fun integrating with big-name web tools, building new approaches to education problems, and designing simple but effective interactions for teachers and students. It's been a blast, and I don't see that changing in the near future.

Good times :-).



I am writing to thank you for your effort and vision. I was asked to teach two classes at Dixie College in the fall of 2011, the weekend before the semester started. I had no idea what I was in for. It was Dixie's first or second semester using Canvas. I was given a little training and I started building my class. It took me most of the semester to build my class, but I was able to stay ahead of the schedule by a couple of weeks.

I never would have been able to do with out Canvas.

Best regards,

Dee Gardner
Unknown said…
Its nice that you had the will and energy to see the canvas Instructure ship come up and start to move. I am inspired by your story. I also am in such a path only that the ship is coming up. Its called A1 Academia an open source SIS that will push the innovation envelop. I believe and hope it will turn out successful.

Best Regards

Calvin Ngotho
Unknown said…
Hi Brian. I think you are creating a great product here. If I knew how to code, I would take a stab at it myself so I could customize it for my particular needs related to administration and accreditation issues. I'm excited to see where Instructure takes the LMS in the next few years.

Kind regards,
Walter Christmas
Ecotech Institute
Education Corporation of America (a family of over 30 technical colleges)
nadv said…
what does c.s means
Unknown said…
Computer Science best guess

Popular Posts