Education Startup Hiring in Sales to Take Down Industry Leader

Salt Lake City startup Instructure will add 50 new employees this year after raising $8 million in a second round of financing. Of those 50 hires, 10 will be engineers and developers and the remaining 40 will be split between sales and technical support.

Instructure makes the online learning management system Canvas, a competitor to industry giant Blackboard Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based giant which currently has 9,350 clients, up from 5,756 a year earlier. Learning management systems (LMS) allow universities and high schools to post syllabi, course materials, schedules, and announcements, while also facilitating online communication between students and with their teachers.

Founded in 2008 by two computer science graduate students at Brigham Young University, Instructure’s mission is to supplant Blackboard, whose stock is soaring with news of a potential takeover, as the preeminent LMS provider. Its employees must embrace that mission to thrive at the company, said Coates, who has equity in the company but receives only a $1 annual salary.

“The people we hire have to understand why we’re fighting,” he said. “They don’t have to come from an educational background, but they have to understand that most of the schools in the U.S. are using software that is 10 years old.”

Instructure believes its advantage is that its cloud-based LMS is open-source, meaning both that anyone can access the technology for free, but also that students can link the content of Canvas to their Twitter and Facebook accounts and even their cell phones. A generation of students raised on real-time information updates don’t want to log onto a specific Website several times a day to keep up on schedule changes, Coates said.

“We’re going through a cultural shift and the educational platforms need to accommodate that shift,” he said.

Coates said that the company offers competitive compensation packages and that all employees receive stock.