Jamie Candee sold Questar Assessment for $127 million dollars in January — the largest recorded tech transaction of the year to date. Now, she’s back at Edmentum, and on top as CEO and President.
Did you intend to stay in industry and within the EdTech sector?
We had a wonderful exit selling Questar to ETS and I was planning to stay on board to operate that subsidiary as CEO. I was delighted to do so, though interestingly after we closed the transaction in March, I received a call regarding the Edmentum opportunity. As much as I love Questar and wanted to be there to go to the next level, Edmentum is my roots, it’s where I cut my teeth and worked for nearly ten years.
I was gone for four years and so the opportunity to come back as CEO and take Edmentum to the next chapter is an honor. I’m humbled to be the CEO here now and work with educators and their students.
What exactly does Edmentum do?
We build digital teaching tools for both the classroom and independent usage that supplement a teacher’s instructions. Teachers — who I think have the hardest jobs in the world — are teaching a classroom of say 35 kids who are all at different stages of their learning.We meet kids where they are at in their progression and help them become proficient. We are a personalized learning solution to supplement and augment their instructional practice and help the teachers tailor their instruction to the right student at the right time.
What’s the company’s history?
We were a publicly traded company in the early 2000s, known as PLATO Learning at the time. We acquired a services provider out of San Diego, which was the largest acquisition in some time and eventually we were taken private by Thoma Bravo at the end of 2010. We went on to combine three great companies, including Archipelago (bought in 2012 for $291m cash) and Educational Options, which became known as Edoptions Academy, is the virtual school is one of our fastest growing segments.
Does Thoma Bravo still own Edmentum?
We are private equity held and have a number of different investors, including a recapitalization that happened before I joined. Thoma Bravo is a minority shareholder.
Do you consider your replacement of the outgoing CEO Rob Rueckl, as a turnaround time for Edmentum?
I wouldn’t call it a turnaround. I think the previous CEOs have done a great job of bringing Exact Path to market and to integrating the acquisitions, including very solid and thoughtful R&D
My job here now is to focus on aggressive, and intimate growth over the coming years. I have built the connections over the years with many states and thousands of districts and I’m excited to talk with them about how Edmentum can serve a greater role.
What’s your strategy to do that?
We’re going to find a way to support every single teacher in this country and focus on those things that help teachers teach and students learn. Growth involves disciplined decisions around the investments we make and partnerships that we take on. The connection with the education community, with the customers, with the influences — we are here to work here with them and support their success.
What is the scope of Edmentum right now in terms of product usage or adoption?
We have a few dozen different products and Exact Path is our most recent; we’ve brought a number of products to market organically and also done a lot of acquisitions. Overall, we’re focused on the digital learning curriculum, that’s our number one priority. This is used to supplement the classroom, for virtual learning, and for intervention programs such as credit recovery. We are the curriculum provider. The second piece is for practice assessment and quizzes, shorter assessments.
We are currently in over 10,000 districts in the US and have a large presence in the UK and other international markets. Our reach is predominantly within the US, or 80% of the public school districts in the country.
This means at least one of our products for one of their programs and there’s tremendous growth potential in building off this base.
Have you seen any interesting changes from your vantage point since the new administration arrived?
It’s too soon to speak to Secretary Devos’ education strategy and how it would impact the market. The trend that we are seeing now is a return to state and local control, which I think has a positive impact on education because we’re focused on what’s right for the kids based on their environments. Yet, we’re now back to thinking about how to build things that are more localized than centralized which requires a very deep understanding of local practices and rules.
What does that mean for Edmentum?
We’re excited about it. As a larger company in terms of reach, revenue, and employees , we have the capacity to create custom curriculum at scale. For the startups and earlier stage companies, it really means you have to think long and hard about which states to go into…what Texas does is very different than New York, or Minnesota. We can serve these states and others very well given our resources.
Approximately how many employees does Edmentum currently have?
518 full time employees and 36 part time employees
Do you have multiple offices?
Our corporate headquarters is here in Bloomington and we have great big office in Richardson, Texas, and also have one in the U.K. just outside of London.
When you joined Edmentum, did you bring others from Questar?
No, I did not. Their on a great mission and staying put there. Coming back to Edmentum, a lot of the people I worked with previously are still here. I have really inherited a great team, family, and group of colleagues.
What’s the biggest unknown for you right now stepping into this role and looking ahead?
What can we do next for our educators?
How we teach and how we learn is changing so much, so fast. In some states and classrooms, there are very progressive states, and others are not so much. I think we really need to help teachers become more comfortable with technology, which is just another tool, like a book or flashcards.
Technology isn’t the end all, be all, and there’s so many products for them to choose from. At the end of the day, everyone wants to help the teacher be better, but it also needs to be easy and natural. Our products need to be as easy as opening a notebook and pulling paper out, we want to provide technology that is just that easy.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The Twin Cities has a great opportunity to invest. We have great people, thinkers, and education system here. I think we need to step back as leaders and ask: how do we invest and support more in the edtech sector? Consider this a call out to industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and education activists.
OK, one more then…do you yourself invest?
Yes, though I have to be careful of my conflicts of interest, and I share a lot of my time as a mentor too.