As a technology integrationist for a private school, I hear from a lot of edtech startups. A lot. Eventually, many of them begin to blend together in my head. For the sake of my sanity and your bottom line, these are my tips to those of you who want to get your product in the door.
Before you sell me on your product, you need to sell me on yourself. More specifically, I want to know what you know about education. First tip: remember that you’re dealing with a different market than most others. The resistance in the education community to edtech entrepreneurialism isn’t born of any anti-capitalist zeitgeist. Rather, education is an intellectual endeavor that transcends market forces. We believe it to be something higher. It can benefit from your product, but it will remain a nobler end than the pursuit of profit. Indulge this sentiment. Show me that you understand what education is and that you share my love for it. Talk to me like another teacher would. I’ll be predisposed to like your product once you become a trusted member of my inner circle of educators.
One easy way to get my attention is to use good, real examples of how your product would be used in a school. Entrepreneurs often suggest a lesson plan that might involve their product, but too often their lesson is one I would never encourage any teacher to use. Ask your beta testers how they’re using your product and use their stories in your pitches. Bad examples indicate that you might not know education, and it’s hard to bring me back once I’ve doubted your credibility.
Once I’m sold that you are someone who understands education, I’m ready to hear about your product. Remember that most folks in my position have heard of products that are supposedly poised to revolutionize everything from assessment to attendance. We approach each pitch with significant skepticism. What’s more, I know I have to pitch the product to administrators, teachers, and students, and so I am reluctant to put my credibility on the line for just any product.
Let me figure out what aspect of education your product will affect. Instead of telling me what you’re going to change, just explain exactly how the product works. What does it do and how does it do it? Since no two schools are identical, you want to leave the product’s intended functionality somewhat ambiguous. I’ve had products pitched for admissions that fit better in counseling, platforms for students that served teachers more ideally, and software for special needs students that really helped everyone. Once I understand how your product works and what it can do, I can work with you to determine who will be using it.
Schools change slowly. No matter how extraordinary your product is, you can only expect slow, careful implementation. What’s more, it is very difficult to replace products that have already been implemented. If yours is really a product that we will want, I’ll be able to identify where it will bat in our lineup of platforms, databases, and tools. Rarely is our lineup as neat as a batting lineup though. Innovative teachers using tools in isolation, departments with disparate needs, and the levels of bureaucracy involved in every purchase make such bookkeeping rather challenging. Many of us are working to tidy up this mess while pursuing schoolwide innovation. Instead of taking tools out of teachers’ hands, however, the best course of action is to introduce platforms that will integrate with them. I would much prefer to endorse a powerful LMS that integrates with our antiquated SIS than one that is entirely proprietary. Add value to your product by helping us streamline our use of technology generally. In so doing, you can help us progress on our timetable.
Schools are dynamic, unique institutions guided by a noble vision. To get through the gate, you need to understand this. Once you’re inside, I’ll do everything I can to help you. It’s up to you to get through it, though.
Ben Stern writes the "Because You Asked" column for EdSurge. He is also the Technology Integrationist for a middle school in New York City. Earlier in his career, he revamped his curriculum using computers and the Internet, replacing textbooks with scholarly sources and leveraging the connectivity afforded by the Internet to contextualize content. Since then, Ben has found a passion in the evolution of education through technology and works to help teachers enhance their curriculum wherever possible. You can follow him on Twitter at @EdTechBSt and read his blog at www.edumusings.com.