ConnectYard is bringing an integrated social media platform to colleges and universities, with an eye on expansion to other markets
A Q&A with ConnectYard co-founder and CEO Don Doane. The Wayne, New Jersey-based company was founded in 2007.
SUB: Please describe ConnectYard and the services you offer.
Doane: ConnectYard provides a centralized social media communications platform that allows universities to close the communications gap between faculty and students. That gap exists because school faculty and staff tend to use email and learning management systems to communicate while students use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as mobile media like text messaging.
ConnectYard seamlessly brings it all together, integrating text messaging, social media tools, email and learning management communications while protecting faculty and student privacy. It doesn’t require students and faculty to ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ one another, and it enables them to keep using their preferred communications methods—email, the learning management system, or social media tools–while sending and receiving messages to engage in a two-way conversation.
The platform unifies and simplifies communications, working with the school’s existing learning management system portal. It facilitates messaging, notifications and alerts and also provides tools students and faculty can use to identify trending topics, measure engagement and provide supplemental educational information. It deepens the connection between the school and the students, which builds a greater sense of community and improves retention.
SUB: How was the company founded?
Doane: Co-founder Grant Warner and I met when we were engineering students at Cornell University. After college, I went on to found a technical company, and Grant pursued a career in academia. As students, we were acutely aware of engagement and retention issues—engineering is a discipline with a very high drop-out rate.
Our interest in the subject continued during our separate pre-ConnectYard careers. As a professor, Grant saw the need for student engagement, communications and retention tools first-hand, and so did I in my career developing technology solutions for universities and large enterprises. This shared interest –and the technical knowledge of how we could overcome communications barriers—inspired the founding of ConnectYard and our present partnership.
SUB: What kind of marketing and promotion strategies do you use?
Doane: Since our founding, we’ve focused primarily on higher education customers, delivering our value proposition about connecting students, faculty and staff to a very receptive audience that is struggling to bridge the gap caused by the shift in communications preferences. We’ve also taken our message to learning management system companies that serve higher education customers – organizations like Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai and Desire2Learn.
We attend user conferences, conduct webinars and present case studies and best practices that show what an effective, unique solution we can provide. We also partner with a variety of education-related companies such as publishers and others who can potentially use ConnectYard as a communications tool.
In the future, we plan to broaden our target market to include the K-12 education space as well as corporations. In many cases, they’re facing the same issues as universities and colleges, with company learning and development managers and K-12 teachers tending to rely on learning management systems and email for communications and their employees and students primarily using social media and mobile communications tools.
SUB: What do you offer that differentiates ConnectYard from your competitors or from companies with similar offerings?
Doane: The key advantage we deliver is the ability to facilitate a two-way conversation. There are other products out there that allow universities and colleges to send notifications and alerts via email to reach students on their mobile devices or social networking sites, but only ConnectYard enables a back-and-forth exchange. The fact that we don’t require teachers and students to join each other’s social networks is a huge plus. Also, the fact that our solution plugs into educators’ learning management systems is a major competitive advantage.
SUB: What is ConnectYard’s business model?
Doane: We are a Software as a Service provider. We give clients the latest version of ConnectYard for a recurring licensing fee. As capabilities are expanded and upgraded, clients get the latest version without an additional purchase. We also generate revenue via a variety of partnerships.
SUB: What are ConnectYard’s current needs? Do you plan to raise new capital?
Doane: We do intend to raise new capital during the next 12 months. We’re growing our customer base quickly. Our customers include the United States Air Force Academy’s Air University, Anne Arundel Community College, Concordia University, California University of Pennsylvania and Dominican University. Our first client was our alma mater, Cornell University.
We’ll use our capital for product development. And we’ll use it to continue our growth momentum, expanding our marketing and sales efforts beyond higher education into the K-12 and corporate space.
ConnectYard – www.connectyard.com