Dev Bootcamp got acquired too early. Now it’s out of business.

Last night we learned that Kaplan Test Prep is shutting down Dev Bootcamp. Maybe this means bootcamps are dead? I mean, Kaplan has infinite money and DBC was the pioneer of a now nearly billion dollar industry that’s only five years old. Why shut it down?

It wasn’t incompetence, though that’d be easy. DBC, Kaplan, Kaplan Test Prep, and Graham Holdings are all run by career educators with a keen understanding of how to build successful education companies.

Dev Bootcamp failed because it was acquired too early.

Kaplan, with its regulatory infrastructure and 80 year old brand, couldn’t justify the big risks necessary to innovate in this competitive market. In the three years since the acquisition DBC had to keep to only one web dev program (imagine the finances of a college if it only offered one major) despite clear adjacent opportunities in design, ux, etc. DBC had to stay only with rails while many of its peers moved to full stack JavaScript. DBC couldn’t report student outcomes despite pleas from CIRR and others. DBC couldn’t offer any form of money-back promise or guarantee, alternative funding, or test corporate sales.

In the end, two great forces came together for an amazing opportunity and the result was less innovation.

Startups in education have to walk a very thin line: Take risks to innovate (as all startups do) but don’t ever EVER put students on the line for those risks. So where an Instagram can add a feature and cut it a month later, schools adding a new program must commit to every student who enrolls for the year(s) it takes them to succeed, even if that means it’s a major financial loser for the business. If Kaplan had made the acquisition five or ten years later DBC would have had the chances to work this stuff out on its own dime and oversight.

Dev Bootcamp will not be the only school closing this year. Coding schools are pretty mainstream but the space is still crowded and only a few schools have the combination of talent, reputation, and investors necessary to innovate fast enough.