The celebrations continue for IXL’s 10th anniversary! In this Q&A, CEO Paul Mishkin and COO Jennifer Gu reflect on the early days of IXL, how the company has grown, and what they have learned along the way.
Tell us about the founding of IXL. Where did the idea come from to create a company in the edtech space?
Paul Mishkin: We first started talking about the idea for IXL around 2004. We had a vision for an upcoming math product that would completely change the company.
Jennifer Gu: The idea for IXL came from our experience with Quia and Quia Books, where we were building software for teachers and students. We felt like it was time for us to try creating our own content and IXL became the perfect marriage between content and technology. It was exciting to start a company in the education space because I always felt like this was an area where I could help make an impact. Our goal was to create the best math practice site that would help people enjoy math. We wanted to create a product that was intuitive, comprehensive, and light years beyond anything else.
IXL was released in 2007. What do you remember about those early days around the launch?
Paul: One of my proudest memories is when I sent an email to our team on launch day announcing that IXL was ready to roll out. I told the team that IXL was, literally, the best math product out there. Immediately after launch, I created some Google ads and wondered when we’d have our first customer. This happened fast—within 2-3 hours—which I wasn’t expecting. By the the end of the first month, 37 families had signed up, and they had answered over 11,000 math problems. This seemed to be a strong start considering we only covered kindergarten and 1st grade.
Can you describe any challenges IXL faced over the last 10 years and lessons learned?
Jennifer: We had many learnings with the release of IXL English Language Arts. Right before we launched the product, we made a tough decision to pull it from production because it wasn’t first-of-its-kind and truly innovative. This experience taught us that you can’t take shortcuts when building products. Now, as we embark on new projects, it’s important to remember that each project has its own challenges. We have to make sure we’re always thorough and conscientious in our approach since your past success won’t always guarantee future success.
IXL has grown considerably over the last 10 years. What was the company like back then? Has anything surprised you about IXL’s growth?
Jennifer: In the early days of IXL, we had under 30 people. We were small enough that we could celebrate everyone’s birthday. Now, we’re growing past 400 people, and one exciting thing that’s surprised me is how our culture hasn’t changed. I’m grateful that we are continually able to attract really passionate and dedicated team members who want build products that will help students and teachers.
Tell us about your favorite part of the job. What gets you excited to come to work every day?
Paul: It doesn’t happen every day, but my favorite moments are right after product releases. I can’t wait to go to the site at 2:00 in the morning, the moment the new features appear, and try them out.
Jennifer: I love how we are doing a lot of new product initiatives and constantly working on taking the IXL experience to the next level. I’m also excited that every day, we get to see the impact of IXL. Whether it’s reading positive feedback on a customer survey or hearing about specific features that teachers and students are using, it’s rewarding to see the impact we’re making.