Exit Stories: Ascend’s Christine Nicodemus On The Pandemic’s Silver Lining

(Photo | Jackie Sizing)

This week’s guest on Exit Stories—hosted by Jurassic Capital’s Kevin Mosley—is Christine Nicodemus, the co-founder of Charlotte-based edtech startup Ascend Goals.

Nicodemus, a graduate of Wake Forest University, co-founded Ascend Goals in 2019 with the goal of gamifying students’ goals by allowing parents and mentors to provide them with support in a digital community. Like many good things, Ascend’s development didn’t happen exactly as planned. While the team initially hoped to get into school districts, they found their product worked well with nonprofits looking to track student success.

Ascend was acquired in 2021 by Aperture Education, which was in turn acquired by Riverside Insights in May 2022. Nicodemus currently serves as Chief Product Officer at Aperture.

Here are some episode highlights:

  • For acquisition by a competitor, think about how your companies fit. Approaching 2020, it seemed uncertain if Ascend would be able to pay their bills without the big school system contracts they had dreamed of, but the pandemic brought Ascend’s biggest break yet: being acquired by Aperture, a fellow edtech leader. Nicodemus met Aperture founder Jessica Adamson after Ascend’s burst of success as the pandemic took hold got the founders thinking about the possibility of an acquisition. Aperture had the school system clout Ascend craved, and Ascend had the student-facing feedback technology Aperture needed—it was a match made in edtech heaven!
  • Putting out feelers for an acquisition? Make yourself feel like a celebrity. Have companies court you, and be upfront about what you want. Have as many details as you want to have in your LOI (letter of intent), so you don’t have to negotiate in the final stages of a deal. Host Kevin Mosley agrees—whatever is important to you, do it early so you don’t get into a situation you can’t get out of. (23:30)
  • Go while the going’s still good (or leave before the going gets worse). Consider exiting during one of your best or worst years, Nicodemus recommends, because good times (and bad times) don’t always last. From turning her company around when it seemed like its shelf life was shrinking to exiting right before a financial crisis, Nicodemus says she has learned a lot about the lack of guarantees of good or bad times being forever. (29:15)

You can listen to the full episode below. There is one final episode remaining in Season 3, which will be released next Tuesday. Be sure to subscribe so you will be notified and also to access all past episodes.