Blackboard Founder Shifts from E-Learning to Social Media

Photographer: Rob Lever/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Chasen, co-founder and CEO of SocialRadar, at his offce in Washington, D.C., on Jan.24, 2014. Close

Michael Chasen, co-founder and CEO of SocialRadar, at his offce in Washington, D.C., on Jan.24, 2014.

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Photographer: Rob Lever/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Chasen, co-founder and CEO of SocialRadar, at his offce in Washington, D.C., on Jan.24, 2014.

What do you do when you've built an Internet company from scratch, taken it public and sold it for $1.7 billion?

Michael Chasen faced that enviable question two years ago after stepping aside from Blackboard, the e-learning company he co-founded in 1997 in a Washington, D.C., brownstone and whose software is now used by more than 30 million students.

His answer: Try to do it all over again.

Chasen's latest project, SocialRadar, a mobile app that is now starting operations outside the U.S., could be his biggest yet.

The 42-year-old was studying computer science at American University when he met fellow student Matthew Pittinsky. They started Blackboard convinced about the potential of bringing classrooms to the Internet, and rebuffing pressure to move to an advertising model helped the company survive the dot-com bust.

After selling the company to Providence Equity Partners in 2011, Chasen said his wife encouraged him to get out of the house more, and he came up with the idea of SocialRadar, which gives smartphone users real-time information about the people around them. The app aims to merge data from social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and Google+ with other geo-location information. It is available on iPhones and Google Glass, and this month became available for download in countries including the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The company has taken $12.75 million in venture funding from firms including New Enterprise Associates and individuals including former AOL chief executive Steve Case.

"Imagine walking into a room already knowing there are four co-workers, two college friends, and three friends of friends nearby," Chasen said. "And that one has just got engaged and another has been promoted."

Chasen's enthusiasm and experience means he's listened to with rapt attention at events such as the Open Mobile Media Summit in London. He's in demand after his presentation too -- as an active angel investor always on the lookout for ideas.

He sees a big opportunity in mobile apps - and potentially another payday if it all works out.

"By 2019 there will be more than 5.6 billion people who own smartphones and today 3.9 billion people use social networks," Chasen said. "This illustrates the tremendous growth potential and market opportunity."

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