Some of the world's biggest architecture firms rely on this 7-person startup

by Andreas Rekdal
April 14, 2017

Recent years have seen an explosion in new software for architects, but all those new tools have not been an unmitigated good for those looking to enter the profession.

“Schools are really busy teaching design and they don’t have a lot of time to teach technology,” said Marc Teer. “And firms, on their end, expect people to already know all the technology. So most architects are caught in between.”

Teer is the founder and CEO of Black Spectacles, an edtech company whose offerings are tailored specifically for the architecture community. A licensed architect and former instructor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Teer said the company was born out of his experience in the field.

“It seemed like there was a really obvious opportunity,” he said. “I had used some of the older online learning resources that taught software, but that weren’t focused on architecture. So I started thinking about doing something like that for architects.”

Drawing on the relationships he had built in his career as an architect and educator, Teer started reaching out to experts in design technology to ask if they’d be interested in teaching online courses. After receiving interest from architects at some of the world’s best known firms, Teer got to work on the Black Spectacles platform.

The first version of Black Spectacles went live in 2012 with classes for some of the industry’s most popular tools. Today, Black Spectacles offers more than a dozen classes on software, as well as a preparation course and test prep suite for the Architect Registration Examination. The curriculum for that test preparation suite has been developed in partnership with the American Institute of Architects.

Akin to the legal profession’s bar exam, passing the ARE is a requirement for becoming a licensed architect with the ability to put their stamp on a drawing. Spanning a total of seven tests, the ARE covers subjects ranging from health and safety to law and the business skills required to run an architecture practice.

Unlike the bar exam, however, passing the ARE is not required to do work on a building as part of a larger team of architects. Students in the process of gaining their certification are often spacing tests out over months, or even years, while working full-time at an architecture firm.

To suit the needs of professionals who are juggling their studies with full-time jobs, Teer said Black Spectacles has put a lot of focus on breaking courses down into easily consumable parts. A typical course lasts between three and six hours and is broken down into videos between five and 10 minutes long.

Teer said the opportunity to help architects like himself advance in their careers has been the most rewarding part of building his company.

“A lot of folks write us with their stories,” he said. “One of our customers wrote us because she was raising her kids, practicing architecture and trying to pass these exams at the same time. She turned the videos on while making dinner, and would listen to the content in her car.”

To date, the bootstrapped seven-person startup counts somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the world’s top 50 architecture firms among its clients. Teer said he expects to reach 10 employees by the summer of 2017.


Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein.

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