LearnBoost Bets on Better Tools for Teachers

7/28/10Follow @wroush

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taking attendance, for example, but LearnBoost has designed interfaces that help to speed up the process. While other gradebook programs require teachers to make a mark beside each student’s name—present, absent, or tardy—LearnBoost offers teachers a list view that records students as present by default, meaning they only have to take action if they see that a student is absent or tardy. There’s also a chart view that shows teachers a seating map. They can simply scan their classroom to see who’s missing, then hover over a specific square in the chart to mark a student as absent or tardy. (The screen shots shown on this page and the previous page are being published for the first time.)

LearnBoost, which won funding from Atlas Venture, Bessemer Venture Partners, Charles River Ventures and RRE Ventures, along with angel investors Othman Laraki, Bill Lee, James Hong, Naval Ravikant, and Karl Jacob, will have competition right out of the gate. In fact, there’s at least one free gradebook application already on the market, called Engrade. Created by a group of wealthy Internet entrepreneurs in San Diego, it has more than 250,000 users. For $50 per year, Pearson also offers a stripped-down tool, separate from PowerSchool, called MyGradebook.

Corrales says there’s lots of room to improve on both tools. “There is a substantial difference between what they offer and what we are about to unveil,” says Corrales. “They’ve been the only things around in the gradebook space, and we want to be a better alternative.”

LearnBoost Attendance ChartAt Harvard Business School, where Corrales just finished his MBA work this June, he was part of what he calls a “tribe” of students planning to immediately launch their own startups. The education field was a natural draw: Corrales’ brother is a teacher, and his co-founders—chief technology officer Guillermo Rauch and product manager Thianh Lu—also have educators in their families.

“We knew we wanted to do something at the intersection of education and technology,” Corrales says. “And we were really influenced by Eric Ries and by Steve Blank’s customer development methodology.”

Ries promotes a “lean startup” process that emphasizes rapid software prototyping and testing, and Blank teaches that startups should stay in constant touch with prospective customers, focusing first on understanding their needs. “We talked to teachers and administrators and school systems and everyone before we even started coding, and asked ‘What is the biggest problem you have today?’,” Corrales says. “The answer that always kept coming up was administrative systems. People were complaining about PowerSchools. So we said, ‘Why don’t we bring some things that we think are new to the table?’”

Those new things included a focus on the user experience akin to Apple’s or Mint.com’s, a freemium business model with zero entry cost, and … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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