0 to 55 in 2 Years
Almost 2 years ago, my co-founder Nick and I were students at Columbia University that became frustrated during class schedule planning. We recognized that many of our classes were bundled up during the same hours and that it was often challenging to enroll in computer science classes that we wanted to take. Naturally, we felt there was an opportunity to take a swing at a business.
Today, Coursedog services 55 universities of all shapes and sizes, has earned the backing of noteworthy investors and is now known as tenacious up-and-comers in Higher Ed. And if you don’t take it from me, hear it from our customers or check out recent and upcoming webinars.
So how were we able to do this? I would sum it up to three main factors:
1. Understanding the Student
One of the main reasons we were able to redefine our space is that we deeply understood the needs and pain-points of students. For example, scheduling software up until Coursedog would take instructor preferences as fixed inputs. Many institutions implemented antiquated optimization tools and then watched as all of the faculty continued to request teaching slots that would not work well with student schedules.
Here at Coursedog, we were the first platform to provide best practice preference forms that help institutions to not only gather, but also improve the management of faculty preferences. This aids in the transition of their scheduling culture to student-focused, as opposed to faculty-focused. That initial question we asked, “Why are students schedules often so bottlenecked?”, and the solution of best practice preference forms and automated departmental scheduling is what helped to get us off the ground.
2. Understanding the Registrar
When Coursedog first got started, we spent a summer working out of a sweaty lounge at Columbia University—cold calling hundreds of Registrars around the country. We never sold them anything in the beginning, but rather asked them what their problems were. We then directly took those problems (frustration with scheduling software), and came back to them days later with prototypes of the tool.
As we grew, understanding the Registrar’s mindset from first principles was absolutely imperative. First, it was literally understanding what Registrars do. As Matthew Pitinsky (Founder of Blackboard) so nicely describes, the Registrar is the ”Keeper of the credential… Conductor of intra- and extra-institution degree pathways... Guardian of data privacy.”
But, most importantly, we wanted to understand Registrars on a deeper level. And what we learned was that at the core, the Registrar is the unsung hero within the university. They take the heat, but none of the credit. Not only are they the maintainers, but they are the innovators. And often times, they are rarely given the praise they deserve from faculty and administration.
In turn, demonstrating how our software reveals the Registrar as the true hero became our mission. We showed Registrars how an interface to create policies and automatically enforce rules would be much easier for department schedulers than having to manually check for compliance. Better yet, we built our tool so that it integrated seamlessly with their SIS, meaning departments would never have to do manual data entry. It’s a win-win.
3. Understanding Faculty
One of the aspects of scheduling that was obvious to us early on was that faculty were often neglected in university decision making processes. Decision-makers often looked for checkboxes in software rather than real-life usability. In turn, faculty would be handed a tool that had every feature imaginable but that was consistently used improperly.
In turn, we designed Coursedog to be ultra-usable for non-technical faculty. We recognize that while scheduling culture is shifting its focus from faculty to students, the faculty will always be our valuable end-users. Understanding this critical component, we’ve made sure to build out functionalities such as course demand projections, calendar views, and departmental reporting. In turn, these faculty have not only become our champions but have spread the word about their experiences.
Today, we continually strive to better understand and serve the students, the Registrars, and the faculty. And by partnering with Coursedog, schools are able to satisfy the needs of all three groups seamlessly.