Dana Doggett is the founder and CEO of Orem-based LanSchool Technologies LLC. Established over 20 years ago in 1986, LansShool is a leading provider of classroom management solutions for the education market. Over the past year LanSchool has won several awards as the best classroom management software including recognition as a 2008 CODIE Award finalist. We recently caught up with Dana to talk about his company, its growth and its future.
Silicon Slopes: First, congratulations on your recent naming as a 2008 CODiE Award Finalist. What does it feel like to grow a company to a point where you receive such high praise?
Dana Doggett: It has been a wonderful ride! LanSchool started out as a simple engineering experiment. I wanted to round out my engineering skills by taking a simple product through all the various cycles of development, marketing, sales, support, and finance. I had no idea when I started writing the code in my basement many years ago that it would lead me to such a respected milestone. What’s even more amazing is that the ride is far from over!
Silicon Slopes: Tell us about LanSchool and how it is helping improve the education market?
Dana Doggett: Most businesses have experienced huge productivity gains over that last decade by adding technology to their workflow. Education, in general, has not seen a similar benefit. Technology is being slowly added to the periphery but the core methods of education have not really changed over my lifetime. It feels as though this is starting to change. Many school districts are starting to pilot “one-to-one” schools where every student is being given a PC with Internet access. MIT’s famous $100 laptop initiatives for developing nations along with Intel’s $300 Classmate PCs are good indicators that the technology is becoming available and affordable. Software companies (like the Waterford Institute in Sandy, Utah which just won the actual CODiE Award) are starting to produce remarkable teaching software which has demonstrated truly revolutionary improvements in learning.
The real challenge, however, is how to monitor and focus a self-directed student’s use of the laptop. LanSchool v7.1 is designed to give just such a tool to educators. LanSchool allows educators to do things like monitor student computer usage, restrict access to certain Web sites, disable printers or USB thumb drives. Without a Classroom Management tool like LanSchool, a productive learning environment can quickly slip into anarchy.
Silicon Slopes: You founded LanSchool over 20 years ago in 1986. Can you take us back in time and give us some history on how your company came about? Has it always been a software company?
Dana Doggett:I became involved with the early stages of Novell while still a graduate student at BYU. The new phenomenon of a “LAN” offered exciting possibilities to easily and quickly send large amounts of data between peer computers. One of my first experiments in that area was to send computers screens from one PC to another. Today, this is a common-place application. However, in 1985, this was new and unique. One of my cubicle-mates remarked that it would be a great solution of computer training labs: that was the initial spark for LanSchool.
As my career has moved from one company to another through the years, the one constant has been LanSchool. I was fortunate that my interim employers all allowed me work part-time on LanSchool. When the tech bubble burst a few years ago, it seemed the perfect time to move LanSchool from a part-time endeavor to a full-time pursuit. It turned out to be a terrific decision.
Silicon Slopes: How has the business climate changed in Utah since 1986?
Dana Doggett: In the early days, you either worked for Wycatt, Novell, or WordPerfect, or you didn’t have a high-tech job in Utah Valley. There were a few other start-ups, but nothing like the landscape of today. In 1989, I was the VP of engineering for a New York based company (LAN Systems, Inc). I commuted from Utah to Manhattan for almost a year before we decided it made more sense to move the entire software part of that company to Utah Valley. That turned out to be one of those magic moments. There were so many talented people here that we were able to double our productivity. That division of LAN Systems was purchased by Intel within 18 months of the move. Under Intel’s umbrella, we grew that division from 30 employees to over 1200 at the peak. Today, I could place a “Help Wanted” ad on CraigsList.org and get dozens of highly qualified responses in a few days.
People used to try to compare Utah Valley to Silicon Valley. I never liked that comparison. I think we have unique traits in Utah Valley which set us apart from almost all other areas. In my current company, almost everyone is at least bi-lingual. We didn’t attempt to hire that way, it’s just the way it worked out. It makes it very easy to think globally when your entire workforce has lived in different cultures for parts of their lives. We seem to have such an entrepreneurial spirit in the valley that it makes outsourcing to local providers quite easy. That’s allowed us to stay small and focused.
Silicon Slopes: How is your company funded?
Dana Doggett:LanSchool Technologies has always been self-funded. We have always been able to grow with current revenues without any debt. There certainly are faster ways to grow, but we made a conscious decision long ago to go a slower, more secure way.
Silicon Slopes: Can you describe your company’s growth over the years in terms of customers?
Dana Doggett:My formal training is in engineering so I erroneously thought that if I just made the product better, customers would magically show up and purchase. Surprisingly that did work fairly well for many years. Two years ago, however, I added a partner with real business experience. That has opened the proverbial “fire hose.” Customers, geographies, languages, (and sales) keep doubling! In retrospect, I should have done this sooner, but as I stated in my opening response: LanSchool started out as a simple engineering experiment.
Silicon Slopes: You already distribute your software internationally through various resellers. What is next for Lanschool as far as expansion?
Dana Doggett: We just added two types of Chinese and Japanese to LanSchool v7.1. The Asia-Pacific area is still mainly untouched territory for us. While LanSchool supports all current versions of Microsoft Windows, there still is Linux and Apple to go after.
When you think about it, many of the world’s stickiest problems can best be solved by educating the rising generation. We can play a small role in accelerating that solution. I see no brick-walls ahead which would detour us from our current roadmap.
Silicon Slopes: After spending more than 20 years with the same company have you ever thought of changing course and doing something different?
Dana Doggett:I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed to do other endeavors all along the way. I’ve won a few “Product of the Year” awards; I’ve participated in the Intel acquisition of LAN Systems a few years back; I taught a Computer Science class at BYU; I even just finished teaching a one year Institute class on Isaiah! I really couldn’t imagine a better or more fulfilling career. I still start most business days before 5am, just because I find my work so exciting, it’s hard to sleep longer!