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My Reflection on Investing in the Future Growth of Desire2Learn

Categories: Corporate,

I’m fascinated by the activity of learning. My parents are educators, and my job that I started before I even finished university is to create learning technologies, so that may not seem like such a profound statement. But I’m not talking about modified Bloom’s taxonomy or the latest in pedagogical theory. I’m talking about the lifelong personal learning journey and my own learning as I help build Desire2Learn.

You may have read the news we released today, and if not, you can view the press release here. We just raised $80M to close on our very first round of funding. This is a huge recognition of the company that we have built, and I couldn’t be more proud of what the employees of Desire2Learn have accomplished by working closely with our clients.

We have built an amazing team of over 560 employees (up from just 350 at the start of this year), and our solutions are now reaching over 8 million learners worldwide. While we have been pretty humble about telling our story, we have built one of the fastest growing cloud based learning platforms for the education industry and are assisting clients to transform the way the world learns. We are helping clients move from textbooks to digital resources, from traditional classrooms to online and blended models, implementing learning analytics to support improved learner outcomes, and we are making the experience more personal and engaging.

Part of my own learning journey was coming to the point where, after 13 years of 100% internal growth, I knew, with certainty, that we should take on a minority investor, or in this case, two. I knew timing was right for a number of reasons. The demand for high quality education has never been greater, and it was time for us accelerate our plans without sacrificing our long standing commitment of building an enduring company. I also found two incredible partners with NEA and OMERS – they believe in the long term vision we have at Desire2Learn and are committed to helping us build a strong education technology company.

So how did we get here? This was also not a decision that was made quickly. The realization about why we were doing this really crystalized for me at this year’s FUSION conference, where I met with hundreds of our customers in a 3 day timeframe. It was a whirlwind of excitement. With so many clients in attendance the event was inspiring. I could tell that we are at the start of something big, and we needed to invest now.

Responding quickly has been a part of the D2L DNA since the beginning of the company. We pride ourselves in being customer focused and we were watching twitter light up with comments like “D2L gets us!” and “wicked new stuff from D2L” as Jeremy (CTO) and Ken (VP Engineering) presented our next release on stage at FUSION. That moment of positive feedback and support from our clients was my moment of conviction. We should do more of what we do so well – help the world learn. 

We have always felt we have been leading the industry with the most complete solution for teaching and learning, and with this investment we now have even more resources to delight our clients. We’re going to invest more in R&D to engage and inspire learners, expand and fortify our cloud infrastructure and we will continue to focus on client success. When your mission statement is to help transform the way the world learns, what better way to do it than increasing both quality and velocity. And that’s the bottom line with this strategic financing. We’re going to do what we have been doing, but with an even higher standard of quality and greater velocity.

So, I learned a couple key lessons through this process. The first I learned was that an equity partner can be instrumental in the acceleration of reaching corporate goals. Many tech companies (okay most technology companies) take on at least one round of financing in their lifetime. Apple, Intel, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all took rounds of funding and have all changed the world one in way or another. This investment will allow us to improve the lives of educators and learners around the world and to do much more, and faster.

The second thing was that I must continually learn and be open to new knowledge. When we were a small(er) company, the thought of raising money didn’t really enter my mind. We were doing fine on our own and growing. We have been growing quickly as a company, we encountered and overcame new challenges, entered new markets, and set new levels of service expectations. We have hired an incredible team and implemented new management frameworks to help us scale to meet these new complexities. This investment will allow us to tap into new networks of expertise, and I look forward to learning much more as we enter this next phase of growth.

Learning is a journey, and I feel like we are just started on our path.

Yours in teaching and learning,

John

John Baker

About John Baker

John founded Desire2Learn in 1999, at the age of twenty-two, while attending the University of Waterloo as a Systems Design Engineering student. A strong believer in community involvement, John devotes both his personal and business efforts to supporting young entrepreneurs who are developing and applying technology to improve society worldwide. He was a Waterloo Region Top 40 Under 40 award recipient in 2009, and was also inducted into the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame as an Intrepid Entrepreneur that same year. A four-time recipient of the Deloitte Technology Fast50 award in consecutive years (2006-2009), he was named the Waterloo Region's Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008 and received the University of Waterloo Young Alumni Achievement Medal in 2010. In February 2013, John was appointed to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). As a prominent voice for both education and technology, he serves as Chairman of the Board at Communitech and also sits on the boards for both the National Ballet School (in Canada) and Canada's Technology Triangle (CTT). Additionally, he is an affinity board member for Memorial University and a University of Waterloo Alumni Council member. John graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honours B.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering, with First Class Honours and an option in Management Sciences.

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