Edtech Up-Skilling Platform degree has acquired Learn in, which creates talent resource centers for employers to better spin up education services for their teams. While we almost always cover a notable acquisition in a relevant tech area, the extra interesting bit here is a personnel one: Both companies were co-founded by the same entrepreneur, David Blake.
It is rarely seen that serial entrepreneurs have acquired one of their startups. One reason for this is that there may be a conflict of interest or a power imbalance when making decisions. After all, most people agree with myself. For example, Tesla shareholders somewhat sued CEO Elon Musk when Tesla acquired SolarCity, where Musk was also the chairman and largest shareholder. (They accused him of kicking out a solar installer; a judge later determined that Tesla did not overpay for the company.)
Blake said he disclosed all conflicts and recused himself from representing Degreed during the negotiation process. He represented himself solely as the CEO of Learn In, while the board of directors of Degreed represented the other side. Still, it’s difficult to completely remove bias from any financial deal, especially one such as this one — both companies have shared investors including GSV, Fireworks Ventures and Album VC.
Blake declined to share the price or terms of the deal.
The entrepreneur also emphasized that, despite being a co-founder of Degreed, he has spent the past few years as an executive chairman in a “different, more distant role” within the company. “I was closer and more involved in operations than the rest of the directors, but it was in the capacity of a board member,” he said. He said that Degreed contacted Learn Inn and the deal was closed in less than a week.
Blake started Digid in 2012 to provide individuals with a platform for open access educational content. The high-volume, mixed-quality platform was ultimately what EdTech now refers to as a learning experience platform, all about content discovery.
Blake stepped down from Degreed as CEO to pursue political advocacy and democracy reform. After his two-year stint at organizing, he says he was ‘fascinated by the paradox of upskilling’, which he described as something lacking within companies despite offering massive ROI. Digrid helped innovate self-directed learning, But the implementation of those practices within large corporations didn’t work.
Blake then began building Learn In, focusing specifically on business leader-led education that makes the content that Degrade made more accessible to the right people.
As far as we know, Degreed last raised venture capital in June 2020 in a $32 million round led by Owl Ventures. Its total known capital raised to date is $182 million. Learn In, meanwhile, launched in April 2020 with a little over $3 million in seed financing. It last raised $13 million in April. By raising venture funding, Learn was selling these to investors for a sizable return on their investment. Selling out soon after those initial checks meant there was either a solid check in the mix, or a change in scale.
“I think Learn In independently had a very bright future,” he said. That said, by joining Digid, Learn In has a greater reach and larger clientele, plus it can give the market what it wants: help with needs large and small, training employees.
As a result of the deal, Blake will be CEO of the new, combined entity and Dan Levine, who took over as CEO of Degreed last year, will step down. It’s a remarkable kerfuffle, given that Blake is returning to the chief executive position he previously held.
Blake described the transition as “amicable” and said he appreciates Levine’s leadership.
Blake isn’t fully returning to just holding a job title. In addition to Learn In, Blake also spent the pandemic Start Book Club, which has raised millions in venture dollars to bring author-led book clubs virtually to readers. Blake says he will continue to be the active CEO of Book Club, which last announced funding nearly a year ago. It’s more of a consumer game than its previous startups, otherwise we’d say it could be Digid’s next target.