Meet an executive who took his childhood passion for coding and turned it into a company that is now saving today’s failing college experience. Brian Rowe began coding at age 13. He took that love for data to a position at Cummins that won him an award from CIO Magazine for “50 Best Intranets.” Later, he founded a software company, which eventually sold to Salesforce for $21M. Today, Rowe is using his life-long love for data and analytics to revolutionize college campuses. With the U.S. dropout rate at 45%, student debt at $1 trillion and student depression on the rise, colleges are under intense pressure to increase retention and demonstrate an ROI for students. Rowe’s company Perceivant replaces traditional textbooks with cost-effective and interactive learning experiences for mobile and web applications to keep students more engaged in general curriculum courses that carry the highest fail rates. It also leverages data to pinpoint students’ metacognitive development, which is the ability to self-assess, reflect, problem solves and adapt. We had a chance to interview Brian and asked about his story, how he started his business and the future of Perceivant.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
My love of programming and business started at age 13 when I started developing Internet-based applications in 1990. This launched my interests in business intelligence and analytics that would eventually pave the foundation of my business journey. Following the sale of my company iGoDigital to ExactTarget for $21 million, I became empowered to explore new and different challenges that engulfed my diverse work interests while promoting a dynamic, fast-paced work environment. It wasn’t until I dropped my child off at college that I realized a prolific opportunity in the development of innovative and cost-effective courseware for the higher education industry.
After conducting marketplace research, I discovered that universities nationwide are facing a very parallel challenge: how to make textbooks more relevant, meaningful and engaging for students. This has been a growing problem as the decline in student engagement in coursework continues to be a major contributing factor to today’s rapidly declining completion rates. To ignite change among college classrooms, I wanted to liberate educators to move away from old-fashioned teaching models and focus on interactive, self-guided approaches that equip students with emerging technologies that promotes student engagement. The end result became Perceivant.
How did you come up with your business name?
Naming a company can be extremely challenging, but it should be memorable, original and should not sabotage future expansion plans or limit customer reach. It should also reflect the brand’s story, values and key differentiators. At Perceivant, we wanted to create a play on the word “perceive”, which helped inspire our business name.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
Perceivant’s solutions provide published courseware that replace traditional textbooks with more cost-effective and interactive learning experiences for both web and mobile applications. Each course is mobile and tablet responsive while boasting an easy-to-use interface specifically designed to save time and make learning easier. Each course provides cutting-edge analytics and real-time data that provide visibility regarding course engagement, student engagement, progress and success.
At Perceivant, no course is the same. We create custom solutions to meet the needs and standards of every single college and university we partner with. With our technology, Perceivant provides the editorial design, tools for teaching and real-time support for all our materials. Our courses available cover a wide range of topics including health & wellness, philosophy, accounting, American government and more.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
Perceivant seamlessly combines education technology with custom publishing and data-driven analytics to create truly unique learning experiences that meet the needs and standards of universities nationwide. Our products report a student engagement rate of 95 percent among course materials and a total reduction in DFWI (D, Fail, Withdraw, Incomplete) rates.
Kennesaw State University, for instance, is just one institution that has experienced the amazing results from Perceivant. Over a two-year period, our online courseware helped decrease DWFI rates by nearly 50 percent while establishing a new baseline for student engagement. These results reveal that Perceivant’s interactive and engaging technology can positively alter the classroom dynamic by increasing student engagement while effectively lowering DFWI rates.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
In the next five years, our goal is to exponentially increase the size of our product catalog to more than 50 online courses while generating $50 million in revenue.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
Be honest with yourself about personal strengths and weaknesses. Rather than trying to do everything independently, enlist individuals who are proficient in specific areas to help assemble a successful business team. In the end, the better team always wins.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
My favorite business quote would be from the 1943 novel “The Fountainhead”. In the book, protagonist Howard Roark says, “who will stop me” after being criticized for his radically unconventional approach to architecture design.
This phrase has been extremely relevant to my entrepreneurial journey as well as others like me. Entrepreneurs are rule breakers. They set out to do something that everyone tells them won’t work or be successful. While Roark may be an over-the-top character, his idea empowers individuals to believe that anything can be accomplished if you have the will to survive.
What have been some of your achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
After being sold to ExactTarget, our team had a training session with the ExactTarget team who were asked what they liked about working at iGoDigital. Overwhelmingly, the answer was that “they treated us like adults.
Throughout my business career as a leader, I was most proud of that moment. Employee talent is too often wasted by not letting people thrive in their work and take control of their schedules. Nonetheless, if you don’t trust the people hired to work in your business, don’t hire them. If you do trust them, don’t treat them as children.
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
Be passionate. Too frequently, passion is overshadowed by money. However, in the early days of starting a business, money is going to be extremely limited and passion will fuel your drive. Funny enough, when the payday finally comes around, you might realize there’s no object in the world that encompasses the same level of passion you have for your business.