Blackboard’s VP of Design Reflects on ‘Bolt-On Acquisitions’ as MyEdu Closes Shop

NUTS AND BOLTS: Blackboard has been among the most active acquirers in the edtech industry, gobbling up more than a dozen startups since 2014. One of them is MyEdu, a coursework planning and internship tool—which will be shut down on Sept. 30. (Blackboard says it is incorporated many of MyEdu’s features in its new Bb Planner tool; watch for more details from its annual user conference.)

Jon Kolko, who ran product design at MyEdu and joined Blackboard after the deal, reflects in Harvard Business Review on the “The Problem of Bolt-On Acquisitions in a Digital World.” Kolko astutely breaks down the issues that arise when acquiring companies assume it can simply “bolt-on” new features, human talent and team culture. “Having the capability doesn’t automatically deliver the value of the capability, because it doesn’t recognize the interrelated aspects of experiencing the capability,” he writes. Kolko adds:

“These bolt-on problems happen when acquisition strategy is conceived of separately from post-acquisition tactics and process. It’s tempting to push off the operational plan for the acquisition—“we’ll figure it out later.” But the plan itself may actually change the strategy. By working through the how will it work scenarios, you might realize that it’s actually not a great idea to go buy that company, because when you dig into it, there’s no great way to integrate it cohesively into your tech stack, or into the product experience, or into your company culture. 
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