From a Teacher: Three Ways Education Startups Get Marketing Wrong

Opinion | Entrepreneurship

From a Teacher: Three Ways Education Startups Get Marketing Wrong

By Michael "MJ" Linane     Jan 5, 2016

From a Teacher: Three Ways Education Startups Get Marketing Wrong

Education is a booming market for startups right now. In fact, EdSurge estimates that there was $1.36 billion raised in education funding in 2014, and $1.85 billion in 2015. Clearly, there’s opportunity—but education technology is also becoming a crowded market.

From a teacher’s perspective, a crowded market is bad for startups because there are so many different products, and it’s hard for me, a user, to keep track of them all! Their names all sound exactly alike (or like Pokemon). One only needs to reference EdSurge’s Technology Index to see what I mean. In 2014-2015, I used 22 different tools in my classroom with my students. (Let’s be honest—you can't expect individual educators to use much more.) Yet, I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is available out there.

So, how do you get your product noticed? How do you get to be one of those 22? There are certain things that I know work when companies try to get my attention. Thus, here are my three insider tips—from yours truly, a classroom teacher—on how you can market better to me, and make it more likely that I will notice your product.

1. Content Market First

I know that the goal of your education startup is to ship your product as soon as possible. You want to get your minimum viable product (MVP) to market, right? Get your first mover advantage?

That is fine and all, but what happens when it goes to market and no one is interested? In those cases, you have to scramble to gain traction.

Why not do gain traction before you ship? For instance, if you are building your tool to solve student engagement, start up a blog. Once you have your blog, start pushing out helpful content. This is going to begin the process of relationship building with educators.

If you are shipping in 6 months, spend those 6 months building your audience. If you are a solopreneur, find a blog writer at UpWork, or recruit a teacher writer via Twitter. With this, you will build a better product and have an audience ready when you ship. I know that I personally am more likely to use a product from a brand that I already trust—one that is already helping me.

2. Your Name Doesn’t Matter, But the Problem You Solve Does

Here is a secret about conferences: if your product’s name sounds like a lovechild between a song in Mary Poppins and an augmented reality device, I am probably not going to approach your table. What do you expect? Do you imagine that I’ll be curious about your company if you’ve got a really odd name that I can’t pronounce? Is that really how you expect interactions to start?

At conferences, I am already focused on seeing the one or two companies that currently play a large role in my teaching. Thus, the problem. Conference vendor tables are usually approached by two groups: current users, or those brought there by recommendation. In my experience, few educators are casually interested in products they’ve never heard of.

So, if you are a brand new startup, you have a very low likelihood of being noticed. How can you get around this?

Reverse the approach of most big names. Everyone knows Google, and no one knows you. But everyone has needs to be met. Instead of posting your company name in huge letters, make your value proposition clear. Post the solution you offer. It really doesn’t matter what your name is—I care about what problem you can solve.

3. Don’t Stick To Your Booth At Conferences

It seems that there is this barrier at conferences whereby companies feel they can’t attend sessions. It reminds me of a middle school dance where everyone stands on the sidelines. Manning your booth is fine. You already paid for it, right? But the problem is if that is the only thing you do. I am less likely to pay attention to your booth as I rush to my next session.

So, how can you approach educators at conferences? Attend sessions! Don’t take the booth as your sole opportunity to sell your wares. Instead, honestly try to find out what educators are concerned with. Get into the rooms where sessions are happening and talk with the people next to you. So much in education happens because of word-of-mouth.

Discussions that happen during sessions are better than any consumer survey. They are a true glimpse into the realities and concerns of everyday educators. In addition, you can introduce yourself and your company, exchange cards, and then move onto the next session. I am much more likely to check out a website after a nice conversation in a session than I am if you casually hand me a pen from your booth as I walk by.


I want you and your product to succeed. I believe that the future of education is tied to successful edtech startups. I can understand how difficult it can be to try and build a product and audience. I would much rather do business with a company I know and trust rather than with the new generic startup . You don’t have to wait to be Google to start the process of building that relationship. Start building trust now, and the money and users will soon follow.

MJ Linane (@LinaneJr) is a high school teacher at Old Rochester Regional School in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

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