Entrepreneur of the Year finalist: Charlie Coglianese

Software Developer creates Denver-based startup Schoolrunner

Here’s Charlie Coglianese’s education vision: Help 1 million kids with his software platform for personalized, data-driven instruction.

“If we can get to that stage I’ll feel really great about what we’ve done,” he says. “I’m still not sure I’ll hang the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner, but it would be an amazing milestone.”

Coglianese and his Denver-based startup, Schoolrunner, are well on their way.

The software developer has grown Schoolrunner’s customer base from 18 schools serving 7,000 students last academic year to more than 70 schools serving 50,000 students in primarily urban, underserved areas nationwide for 2014-2015.

It all started with a frustrated charter-school leader in New Orleans, who happened to be a friend of Coglianese. After he complained that his teachers spent too much time entering student data into spreadsheets to the detriment of teaching and planning, Coglianese devised an elegant software solution that not only saved time but simplified data-gathering, ultimately improving academic outcomes.

That student success has set Schoolrunner up for prosperity as well, despite having to bootstrap the first few years.

“For a long time we only had two teams: One team focuses on building a great product, and the other makes sure our current customers are happy,” says Coglianese, who quit his job at a New York hedge fund to start Schoolrunner. “If we’d had investors early, I think we might have focused on things like growth and sales and fundraising rather than making sure our product and business model were solid. We’ve now raised a round of growth capital to help us accelerate our expansion as well as allowing us to double down on the development of the product.”

In March, the Colorado Impact Fund, a private equity fund dedicated to supporting Colorado companies that generate consistent returns and contribute to the community, made a $1.5 million investment in Schoolrunner.

Coglianese has some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Listen to your customers.

“Yes, efficiency is important – but so much more important is hearing what your customers have to say: good, bad and ugly,” Coglianese says. “If you don’t, you’ll miss all these great insights into how to improve your business.”

The one mistake I’ll never make again: “Ignoring problems because they might be painful or uncomfortable to address. We have ingrained this deep into our culture at Schoolrunner via extensive trainings on practices like nonviolent communication and difficult conversations. Having seen a number of dysfunctional organizations where resentments breed and team morale and effectiveness suffer, I have been relentless about ensuring that problems are dealt with quickly between the parties involved.”

Categories: Entrepreneurs, Magazine Articles