Taking the Guesswork Out of College Schedules

Nick Diao ’19

Emma Lee Lesle

Heading into spring semester their junior year, friends Nick Diao ’19 and Justin Wenig ’19 were dealing with a common student conundrum: They couldn’t take all the computer science courses they wanted because the class times overlapped. The problem got them thinking — how could colleges be better equipped to build well-balanced course schedules? Soon, their all-in-one schedule, curriculum, syllabus and catalog-planning platform, Coursedog, was born.

The software helps colleges and universities to optimize everything from course times and locations to instructor preferences for class size and tech requirements, taking the guesswork out of what used to be the tedious task of designing curriculums by hand. Since its launch in 2018, more than 80 institutions have signed up for Coursedog’s services; the co-founders landed on the Forbes 2021 30 Under 30 list earlier this year.

Justin Wenig ’19

Cindy Wenig

From their first spark of an idea, things moved quickly. The pair scrapped their summer internship plans (Diao in a physics lab and Wenig with Tesla) and threw their energy into building Coursedog. “We spent summer 2018 working out of Mudd Lounge,” Wenig says. “It was a very sweaty time — it was hot and we were making a lot of cold calls, which, as computer science students, we were very uncomfortable with at the time. We probably made 1,000 calls. We just wanted to learn as much about how schools create schedules as we could.”

By the end of that summer, they realized they had a potential hit on their hands (Columbia Law School and Brigham Young University were among the early adopters). In the fall of their senior year, Diao and Wening were accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator startup accelerator, which invests seed money in fledgling companies and gives them three months to develop their products and pitches for investors. The duo headed to California that winter and by the time they were done, Coursedog’s client list was exploding with universities, colleges and community colleges on both coasts looking to streamline their curriculum design.

“The initial idea for a product is never what it becomes,” says Wenig. “We had planned to build a better version of [Columbia’s student course-selection service] Vergil, and what we ultimately built was a tool that administrators use to create better schedules for students.”

As a relatively new company when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the young entrepreneurs had to adapt as schools changed how they operated; suddenly, campuses that had always prioritized in-person education were struggling with how to teach online. Fortunately, the Coursedog staff, which has grown to nearly 40 employees, was set up for remote work from the start; Diao and Wenig work from home in the United States and their engineering team is based in Poland. They began expanding how Coursedog managed data to make schools’ pandemic pivoting easier, including adding ways for schools to indicate which classes were offered online as well as setting maximum capacities for in-person classes to enforce social distancing.

Now, with many colleges reopening for on-campus learning or planning to reopen in the fall, they are looking to future growth: “Our big vision is to rebuild university administration software from scratch,” says Wenig. “Today that cause will be called ‘curriculum success’ — helping campus administrators make better decisions about their curriculum. Tomorrow it really means meeting [the needs of] the whole software world of higher education.”