I've just finished reading an excellent article, "How to Succeed in Education Technology" written by the cofounders of Wikispaces, to provide advice and support for people running companies producing education technology products and services - or people thinking of starting one. It's clear, concise (even though it's lengthy!) and it contains some absolute gems of information.
If you're a supplier to education this is a great read, full of good advice and valuable lessons. And if you're in a school, TAFE or University, it's a great read too, for the overview it provides of the context of change in education today, and for the ideas it might generate on how to enthuse colleagues, and leaders, to help change happen.
And it hooks you with its first line:
Most of today's education technology startups are doomed to fail.
It then goes on to describe some of the challenges that young technology companies face in the education market, which are fundamentally different to those faced by consumer technology companies.
Here in Australia, we've got some great examples of companies that have started small and become successful through providing services that schools want – like ClickView, who through sheer hard work now have been chosen by 7 out of 10 of Australian High Schools to provide their video services; and 3P Learning, who's Mathletics service has been chosen by huge numbers of schools in Australia, the US and the UK. Along their journeys they will have learnt some of the lessons that are shared in the article.
The article defines what success looks like (for Wikispaces) and compares that to how success might be judged in a consumer-facing startup,
There are a couple of points that really hit home for me. Like this not about the need to serve institutions, but in a different way to the past:
Schools have lost their appetite for cold calls, long sales cycles, big-ticket software contracts, torturous implementations, and projects loaded with long-term risks. Without grass-roots adoption, salespeople can't show the one thing that institutions crave most: demonstrated success under their own roof.
While customer quotes and whitepapers and research analysts can claim that a product will be successful, teachers who already use the product in their classrooms are the real proof. Bottom-up has replaced top-down. We're seeing more and more leaders of institutions large and small influenced by stories of products that work today for their own students and teachers.
When talking about the need for companies to have "a burning passion to serve the educational market, and the determination to commit a decade or more of your life", they illustrate the reason by listing some of the difficult environmental barriers that face people providing services to the education market. They include:
There's also a couple of EdSurge newsletters that you can sign up for, including one specifically for teachers