Software co-founder shares 5 lessons at forum

Michael Chasen rode his passion for technology, education and business creation to a spot as the chief executive of a leading software company.

That's the key to successful entrepreneurship, the co-founder of Blackboard told a forum Thursday afternoon at Wichita State University: "I had a craving to be my own boss and create a great product."

Blackboard is a professional services firm with $370 million in annual revenue providing software to colleges and universities to put their courses and communications on the Internet.

First, the idea: "We saw that universities were investing millions of dollars in the dorm room and the classroom, yet there was no software to help them teach online," Chasen said.

So Chasen and college roommate Matt Pittinisky left jobs with KPMG to found Blackboard in 1997.

Out of that founding, Chasen said he learned five lessons that have been repeated throughout the company's growth.

* Focus on the business model.

"You need to focus on the business model and not the office model," Chasen said.

"If you spend all your time on the corporate model and making sure you're all fresh and coming across the right way, these are all signals you're trying to get by with what you can without focusing on the core business. The first thing I learned was focus on the business model and not get carried away with the rest."

* Consistently preach the vision of your business with as many people as possible.

"If you think your idea is so easily copied by telling people about it, then it's not a defensible idea at all. In fact, just the opposite," Chasen said.

"You should be telling every single person your idea, getting feedback, finding people who can help your idea."

* Consistently network the network.

"Only by consistently getting out with your idea, focusing on your business model and preaching your vision can you raise the investment capital you need," he said. "People do not give money to start companies."

* Be an expert in your idea.

"If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be an expert," Chasen said. "If you become an expert and go into your area, you'll see lots of opportunities. Pick an industry you're interested in and get involved in a business... to enable you to help come up with an idea."

* Never be more than one step away from making money with your idea.

"You can't discount the success of companies like Twitter and You Tube that don't generate any money but get sold for millions," he said. "But those are companies that get hit by lightning.

"If you want to be successful, you have to put a model in place early on that if you are successful, you will be able to make money and support the business growing."