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The Education Company That Wants To Take Down Blackboard

Instructure CEO Josh Coates confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the company raised $40 million today. It will use the cash to expand into the corporate market.

Posted on February 19, 2015, at 4:07 p.m. ET


Instructure's Canvas software has grown rapidly in just 4 years.

Education-technology startup Instructure has been anything but shy about its pursuit of one of the education industry's behemoths: Blackboard, whose historically clunky, hard-to-use education software has made it among the most disliked companies in the business. Instructure's first product, a software system called Canvas, was pitted directly against Blackboard's wares, and managed to steal away plenty of customers: The company now says Canvas has 18 million users and 1200 customers just four years after its launch.

Instructure has also been blunt about its goal to go public, and quickly — a rarity in the education world, where startups are often snapped up by the education establishment before they can gain their footing. CEO Josh Coates told BuzzFeed today that the company had raised an additional $40 million in growth funding ahead of a looming IPO, confirming a rumor that was first reported by Tech Crunch yesterday. The company has now raised around $90 million.

The Series E round will fuel the company's launch of a product focused on corporate training markets, called Bridge, Coates said.

"Our software was primarily built for academic institutions," he said. "But there's a lot of opportunity long after graduation — people want to get better at their craft, and companies want to facilitate that."

Coates called traditional enterprise software "dry, boring and complicated," with an unnecessarily complicated payment and pricing structure; Instructure's sleek, clean software, he said, will give Bridge a leg up in the same way that Canvas gained footing against Blackboard, which was known for its antiquated systems. But Coates acknowledged that the corporate market is much more fragmented than the education world, where Blackboard had long dominated.

"We're expecting steady, rapid growth, but maybe not as sharp as in the education market. There's no 800-pound gorilla for us to take down," Coates said.

Instructure's self-dubbed "march towards IPO" is notable in the education world, where companies rarely go public. Blackboard has long been acquisition-hungry, buying up competitors before they can grow big enough to navigate a notoriously tricky market in higher education and K12.

But Coates said he sees an IPO as a necessity for his company, especially now that they are hoping to win over corporate clients as well as universities. "It's a valuable statement to be able to say, we're not a little private company in Utah, we're the real deal. We're definitely on the road towards that."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.