Earlier this week, EdSurge published a description of a prototype service that we’re trying out called Concierge. It’s been—and still is—an in-house experiment for us. We describe the service here. We wanted to share those details because we welcome public input as this service takes shape. We believe it can be built in a way that is fair and beneficial for the overall educational ecosystem.
Here’s the gist of the service: We talk with districts to help them articulate if they need an edtech product and what that need involves. We research the possible tools that might suit that need, building a list of approximately 12 such products. We contact the companies that make those and invite them to submit a proposal. We share the full list and the proposals with the districts. If a district wants to follow up, we make an introduction between the company and the district. If the district decides to license the product, we receive a commission.
So we were happy to see Audrey Watters raising a number of questions in a post she shared today. Here are our responses. (We’ve even added in a few additional questions.)
Will districts know which companies have paid to be placed on a list of recommended products/services?
We create the recommended list without charging anyone for anything. After we talk with a district and draft a description of its needs, we create a list of 12-15 candidate products based on our research. To create that list, we use our Index and general market research. No company pays to be a part of our Edtech Index. We share the full list of possible product matches with the districts.
So where does the money part come in?
We send notes to all the companies that are on that list. We share the description of the district need (minus the name) and invite those companies to write a fuller proposal. If they choose to write a proposal, we charge them a fee of $100. If the companies don't choose to write a detailed proposal, they still remain on the recommended list. To wit: they can still play without paying.
The full list—whether or not the company responded—and all proposals are turned over to the district. The district understands that the companies that have chosen to submit a full proposal have paid $100.
Will companies be informed that their competitors are paying to be placed on a list of recommended products/services?
We brief all companies involved with Concierge about how these lists are compiled and presented. Companies will know that they are one of about a dozen names appearing on the recommended list. Details about who else is on the list—and who submitted full proposals—are shared only with the district. It's important to note that companies may respond to different opportunities differently.
So, say we have two descriptive needs, one from District A and another from District B. In the event that a company appears on both lists, the company might decide to submit a proposal for District A (and pay $100) and not for District B. It’s their choice. The companies know that they are one of a dozen or so names on a list. They do not get a copy of the full list; only the district does.
Will companies who pay Edsurge for this introduction receive other perks? Will companies who decline to pay Edsurge see any repercussions?
No and no. Our recommended-list research starts with the vast and ever-expanding EdSurge Index (1,500 entries and growing), which doesn't involve any charge to listed companies. Each recommended list is created according to the need of the district involved.
We charge companies and other organizations for posting jobs. Companies pay to participate in Summits. We run some “sponsored” articles and clearly identify those. We undertake some research projects and clearly mark those. It’s not bad to have paying customers; where “influence” becomes a problem is if an organization is beholden to a single funder or customer. The more we can diversify our support, the less influence any individual organization has.
What if a company is not on the EdSurge index? Will they be considered?
Yes—our research is based on other resources as well as our Index. And we’re working hard to get every product that we find on our list.
As EdSurge will take a cut of the contracts, are there other ways in which this will influence editorial decisions? Will EdSurge disclose in its articles when it covers companies that are paying for this service?
We’ve purposefully created a separation between our editorial operations and this Concierge project, just as publications have always created walls between their editorial and advertising divisions. We don’t plan to disclose which companies are involved with Concierge; that would have the perverse effect of breaking down the separation between editorial and Concierge.
Who gets the data that districts share with Edsurge? Investors? Their portfolio companies?
Hmm, not sure what “data” you’re referring to. The description of the need of the districts is qualitative. Although we write the “need” after discussion with the district, we share it back with the district. (They can share it with anyone they choose, much like they share RFPs.) We share the need—on an anonymous basis--with the companies that are building products that look like a good match. We have considered creating a place on our site where we list all the needs; if companies said they found that useful, we’d be happy to list them all.
As Audrey notes, we have a large group of investors. Happily that means that no one investor owns more than 6% of EdSurge. The majority of the company continues to be owned by the staff. When we write stories in which our investors play a significant role, we add a note to a story.
Why are you doing this? Do you just want to make money?
We believe that well-chosen technology can make a difference for students, for teachers and overall in education. Our newsletters and conferences provide a way of sharing timely information to a broad audience.
But we perceive a growing need for customized information delivery to individual school districts, too. We want to meet that need with a specialized service that can help each district find the edtech products that are best suited to specific teachers, schools and their needs. Too many schools are in the unhappy equivalent of ending up with a lot of forks when the meal of the day involves a bowl of tomato soup. We want to help schools and teachers find the right utensils. We will continue to experiment with other ways to help educators efficiently and effectively figure out what the right tools are for their needs.
Again, we welcome questions and dialogue. Drop us a note, share your thoughts in a blog post or leave a comment here. We're all learning.