It was 1995, when Sue Evans and Bob Godwin-Jones, then colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), began a project that resulted in one of the very first learning management systems (LMS), Web Course in a Box. By the year 2000, the solution was used by more than 300 higher education institutions around the world.
Having developed the solution while working at VCU, Sue and Bob didn’t own the intellectual property, but they longed to do more with the LMS. That’s when their entrepreneurial spirit led them to form a company that would provide support to Web Course in a Box users. They eventually sold this company to BlackBoard Inc., one of the dominant players in the world-wide LMS market today.
But they weren’t done! By the year 2002, Sue and Bob, saw a need for a solution that would improve the quality of learning content within LMS platforms. So, with their expertise as educators and their knowledge of academic technology, they officially became serial entrepreneurs. They set out to provide an easy way for educators to create-their-own engaging, interactive learning content. Enter SoftChalk, an LMS agnostic, content-authoring software suite.
SoftChalk enables instructors to develop custom course materials and deliver interactive content to students. This includes interactive games, self-assessment quiz questions, and annotated text. In addition, educators can help improve student outcomes by using SoftChalk to identify the areas where students are understanding things particularly well or are struggling.
For the past 19 years, the SoftChalk team has remained committed to the mission of helping improve the quality of learning within LMS platforms.
The Decision to Sell
“Unlike many other technology companies, it was never our goal to seek outside investment, go public, or sell the company to the highest bidder,” shared Sue. “But it was our goal, and very important to us, to work with people we like and to do work that’s interesting and innovative.”
SoftChalk’s founders managed to achieve those goals for their bootstrapped operation, providing employment for both themselves and their tight-knit team for the past 19 years. As Sue says, “It was at various times fun, exciting, challenging, and a lot of hard work!”
But as Sue and Bob looked towards retirement, they knew it was time to consider exit strategies. “We were on the verge of engaging a broker to help us find a buyer when AssetWorks came along,” said Sue. “I knew that with our small company size, SoftChalk might not be of interest to many acquirers but AssetWorks seemed to have a genuine interest in us, which is why I was open to the discussions.”
For Sue, the appeal of AssetWorks grew as she learned more about their organization and their parent company, Volaris Group. “I liked several things about AssetWorks,” she said. “I liked that they weren’t looking to buy and flip the company and that they were interested in growing the product and the staff for the long-term. It seemed like a win for the SoftChalk partners, for our customers, and for our staff.”
Most importantly, Sue and Bob believed that AssetWorks could help keep SoftChalk moving forward and that they would commit to building upon SoftChalk’s achievements over the last 19 years. To them, AssetWorks seemed to be an organization that would uphold the original mission and goals of their company – to help improve the quality of learning within higher education by doing engaging, cutting-edge work with people who enjoy working together.
"I liked several things about AssetWorks. I liked that they weren’t looking to buy and flip the company and that they were interested in growing the product and the staff for the long-term. It seemed like a win for the SoftChalk partners, for our customers, and for our staff."
- Sue Evans, Co-Founder, SoftChalk
Sue and the SoftChalk team have been a part of Volaris-owned AssetWorks for just over two months now. And while it’s still pretty early, Sue says she has “found the AssetWorks team to be extremely welcoming, helpful, and easy to work with.”
While Sue continues to lead the SoftChalk product team as part of AssetWorks, Bob has officially retired from the company. He, however, remains a full-time faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he is currently a professor in the School of World Studies.
When it comes to her team, Sue believes that being part of Volaris Group and AssetWorks presents a great opportunity for them to grow their careers. She said she continues to remind her team members of this and hopes they take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
In reflecting on her own decision to sell SoftChalk, Sue says that for others looking to exit or de-risk, “if your primary objectives are to find a way to grow your organization, your team and your products, then Volaris Group could really be a good home for you!”
Be sure to check back in a few months to hear more about SoftChalk’s post-acquisition journey with AssetWorks and Volaris Group.
"If your primary objectives are to find a way to grow your organization, your team and your products, then Volaris Group could really be a good home for you!"
- Sue Evans, Co-Founder, SoftChalk