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5 Strategy Lessons from CEOs – Good Strategy from Start-up to Sustaining by @TRethore

Blackboard CEO lives his own advice, shares practical strategic advice

typpity-typpityBlackboard, Inc. sprang onto the scene to become a well-recognized giant in education technology, seemingly overnight.

Accused of steadily gobbling up its competitors, Blackboard – and its self-effacing CEO, Michael Chasen – instead doggedly pursued an idea to become InformationWeek 500’s Top Technology Innovator in 2010. Everything they do reflects a “drive to make a difference and lead the evolution of education”.  Blackboard uses technology to bridge traditional learning with today’s realities.

At November’s Northern Virginia Technology Council’s Titans Breakfast, Mike shared lessons learned in taking Blackboard off the drawing board and into the big leagues.

Five strategy lessons for CEOs

Lesson #1 – Focus on the business, not the office

Office space can reflect your company image, mission, and values. For some, it lends an air of credibility; yes, this really is a business.

But, the office can also be a huge distraction. “Desk chairs are expensive and when you’ve only got $1,000 in the bank,” think hard about where you spend those resources. Likewise, spend your mental energy focused on what really matters. If you don’t, you’ll be sitting by yourself.

Lesson #2 - Constantly share what you are doing – with everyone.

Positioning statements are key.  It’s important to articulate your value proposition for prospective clients, to help them understand what you do and why they need you. Without that embedded knowledge – and the ability to communicate it – you can’t follow lesson #3.

Lesson #3- Network the network

Success often comes from the most unlikely places. That means looking well beyond direct connections to the second tier, then third, fourth, etc. Map it to ensure you are not leaving any stone un-turned and can maintain the relationships. Equally important is sharing why you do what you do – to what end? That’s the value for the customer and the link that holds the network together.

Lesson #4 - Be an expert in your business

Seek advice and embrace new ideas; never a bad idea as it avoids myopia. What you do as a result of that wisdom is a whole ‘nother story. The advice you take must always relate back to the heart of your business mission. Surround yourself with people who know what you don’t. But retain the expertise in your business.

Lesson #5- Ensure your business model makes sense

At the end of the day, you must pay the bills. That means your business model must work. Some early Blackboard competitors offered technology solutions for learning at significant discounts or free; Blackboard did not pursue that strategy.

Instead, they focused on a business model that allowed them to sustain profitability as they grew. Chasen says they picked up a few new clients from competitors whose free offer forced them to shut down. “Free doesn’t work unless you have something to support it.”

From startup to sustaining your business, embrace these five strategy lessons to match scale to revenue.

You can only grow as fast as you are able. Further, building a business requires intense focus and energy – both of which must flex alongside your business.  As Chasen prepares to step down from leadership of Blackboard, he’s considering where next to direct that energy and focus. Whichever direction he takes, Chasen’s already demonstrated that he’ll follow his own advice.

Editor’s Note: For more, read the insights as they occurred via Tara’s Twitter feed during Mike’s presentation.

Image courtesy of Flickr User Amancay Maahs

Tara Rethore
Tara Rethore
is president of M. Beacon Enterprises. For over 20 years, Tara has worked with a variety of organizations to develop and articulate their strategic priorities and plans at multiple levels. She’s adept at breaking down complex concepts into a few, critical themes to shift thinking and deliver results.

In industry and as a consultant, Tara has applied this across a variety of industries, globally, and in mission-driven and for-profit contexts. She knows what it takes to succeed, to execute a strategy, and to go from vision to reality. Tara earned an A.B. cum laude in Economics from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA, International Finance & Strategy, from the University of Chicago. Tara can also be found commenting on business strategy, execution, and results on Twitter.


    1. Love this – thank you for sharing, Tara! So many nuggets here, and especially as I release the “pause” button I’d hit for SBC, I really needed this. Thank you!

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      • @Shonali Yeah, I loved especially that these are *actionable* steps. Theory is great but sometimes you need much more practical advice. cc: trethore

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        • @Tinu  @Shonali  Thanks, Ladies! Mike made it easy to draw insights & parallels. And I agree: elegant strategy w/o execution is worthless!

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