Educational software is an on-again-off-again space that is difficult to get right. A little while ago I talked with Ann McCormick, co-founder and CEO of Learning Circle Kids, LLC. If anyone has the ability to disrupt the children’s educational software market, she does.
In 1979, Ann co-founded and was CEO of the Learning Company, a children’s software company that most famously created Rocky’s Boots, and Reader Rabbit. She did so with a $1,000 grant and computer from the Apple Education Foundation. The company went public in 1992, and was eventually acquired for $660 million. Since then, she has emerged as a thought leader in education technology, serving in many executive roles including director of Nueva Media at the Nueva School, and at her most recent venture, Learning Circle Kids, LLC. She is a wonderful woman who has dedicated her life to preparing kids for their futures, and is an unbelievable visionary, teacher, thought-leader, and executive.

What is your background?

Ann told me about how she has a masters and Ph.D in Education from UC Berkeley. She has also spent 10 years out of college in successful projects as a teacher in low-income urban schools, and 8 years around private schools, including the prestigious Nueva School in Hillsborough, California.

In 1979, Ann founded the Learning Company with a grant of $1,000 and a computer that she won from the Apple Education Foundation. Then, in 1982, she won more grants from both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Education. She used that money to launch her first three products. In 1983, proceeded to raise venture capital and launch six more products. As said above, by the time the Learning Company was acquired, it was a public company purchased for $660 million.

How did you come up with the idea for the Learning Company?

Ann told me about a computer scientist friend from Stanford who had come to her with an idea for a company. It was an idea for software. Ann figured her expertise in education could really help. The idea sparked something for her. Instead of working through the system, this idea presented an opportunity to reach kids directly. The rest is history.

What was it like as the early stage CEO of the Learning Company?

Overall, Ann said, it was wonderful. She was pioneering at a time with no quality educational software options in the home. Her favorite project was Rocky’s Boots, “a commercial educational software product, published in 1982 by the Learning Company.  It won Software of the Year awards from Learning magazine (1983), Parent’s Choice magazine (1983), and Infoworld magazine (1982, runner-up), and received the Gold Award (for selling 100,000 copies) from the Software Publishers Association.  It was one of the first educational software products for personal computers to successfully use an interactive graphical simulation as a learning environment.  It was a precursor to later simulation products such as SimCity and The Incredible Machine.”[1] In other words, the game was revolutionary for the industry.

What are you up to now?

Ann has just started a new venture called Learning Circle Kids, LLC. She is co-founding it with a dear friend of hers that she has known for years. It is based around unique text input into a computer. She described this as her, “20 year dream”. I’m positive it will be getting some high acclaim very soon.

What is the main lesson from the past that you will apply this go-around?

Ann imparted three major lessons:

1) She learned to be part of a team by communicating more effectively.

2) She said to make sure to take the time to fundraise correctly (don’t take impatient money). Her point is that raising venture capital is not always a good fit for a nascent company.

3) Do a profit and anon-profit as a bridge. This way will yield return, but over a longer time period.

Ann is a formidable force as a visionary, and leader in the educational software space. I would keep an eye out for her, and Learning Circle Kids, LLC in the coming months.

Until next time,