Warren is the CTO of Smart Technologies, a $500 million provider of virtual classroom solutions. He offers a window into trends in the space and ideas for new entrepreneurs to focus on.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing yourself as well as SMART Technologies. What do you do?
Warren Barkley: I’m the CTO for SMART Technologies. I joined about two years ago from Microsoft. I was at Microsoft for about 16 years. I did a whole bunch of interesting things there. I worked on WiFi, networking, and a lot of other cool projects over the years. Before that, I was a teacher and a principal. If I reach far enough back, I was a musician at one point. I didn’t get a Computer Science degree but I somehow figured my way out into technology.
About two years ago, the Board and CEO Neil Gaydon hired me to re-imagine what Smart could be and see if we could drive it into a place of growth. We’re in the midst of doing that right now. Just a little background on Smart, we are one of the bigger brands in education. It’s about a $500 million business. We have about 53 million users of our software and 2.8 to 3 million classrooms have SMART Boards, an interactive white board that we invented. We have about 60% to 70% market share depending on where you are in the world.
Sramana Mitra: You compete with Blackboard then?
Warren Barkley: We don’t really compete head to head with them. The biggest competition we have is with someone like Promethean or Samsung, in some cases.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s talk about trends you are seeing in your marketplace as far as online education is concerned.
Warren Barkley: What we’re seeing is a couple of different things really that are breaking down the physical walls of the classroom into the virtual classroom. About a year and a half ago, we started building a product called SMART amp. It was about virtualizing the learning space and allowing for kids and teachers to learn and work together wherever they are, irrespective of what device they’re on.
We see this need to allow people to learn from where they are. It’s the amalgamation of allowing kids to work together on projects in a virtual space whenever they need to and wherever they need to on whatever device. We see a lot of that going on—the walls of the classroom are not the only place where learning can happen. There’s a big trend for that.