Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Who Sells Voxer in Edu? Why we Need EdTech Review Sites

I've been advocating for alternative roll out methods in EdTech for a year and a half now. Earlier in the week I was asked if I would cross post a blog by Steve Isaacs and Lindsey Own called "Relationship Building is Key to #EdTech Collaboration" I said that I wouldn't because I didn't entirely agree with the post.

Now I 100% agree with the #EdTechBridge mission and I totally agree with the conclusion regarding the way things should be between educators and EdTech developers. Where I disagreed is with the fact that EdTech companies probably use the tactics they do because they are the most effective methods.

I pointed out that after 2 years of trying to engage educators in a niche sector in the UK that I'd given up due to a lack of engagement and was shifting focus to the US. I admitted that I was surprised at the amount of progress that had been made within a month!

However, I highlighted that an area where I seemed to have had an impact is with sharing the challenges that I faced in the UK, in the attempt to help a fellow EdTech entrepreneur who was about to close the door of the business... despite the fact that this founder and company also appeared to be adhering to the kind of relationship building that Steve and Lindsey advocates.

So I agree with where things should be, but I struggle to agree that this is as one sided as the post suggests. I've had a similar discussion with educators in the UK and, as irony would have it, it was when I reported on my experiences of the opening night of EdTechBridge "Virtual Reality... Or Pie in the Sky Myths"

Building Relationships... Or Bust?
My experiences and EdShelf's are not isolated, as Audrey Watters post highlights 2010-2011 EdTech Startups Where are the Now?
Going out of Business 02
Now Audrey's post is right that most businesses fail, 8 out of 10 startups in any sector fail in the first three years and EdTech is no different. However, the companies that do succeed make sure that iterating their way to "Product Market Fit" with prospective clients is priority #1, but this can only be done with input from your target audience.

This is a major challenge in EdTech and may be the reason why at least some of these EdTech startups went out of business. Granted there are EdTech companies that think that they know it all and won't even take advice from colleagues and staff, let alone solicit advice from their customer base. This obviously leads to poor products which, in turn mean that the sales force needs to be more aggressive to hit their targets (See Ineffective EdTech for more on these arrogant and psychopathic CEOs).

But those who do seek out such advice in the most ethical way don't always get a whole lot of support. There are valid reasons why this might be the case, for example, there are now thousands of EdTech startups all looking to engage with time poor educators regardless of whether it's for ethical relationship building or these less welcome sales tactics.

This is why organisations and events like EdSurge Summits, EdTech Incubators, Tinker Ed, June Labs and EdTech review sites are vital today, they are able to manage this traffic. They can use their sector knowledge and strong relationships with educators to more easily identify the right partner, at the right time (ie the product conception phase) and contact them with the right approach. What are the benefits of this approach?

Who Sells Voxer in Edu?
There has been a great Google document doing the rounds on Twitter which includes over 430 early adopters of Voxer. I have a major question about this roll out which is;

Who's selling Voxer to educators?

Now I know the answer to this question:

No-one is! It's Tech that's proving so effective that the handful of people who started using this said "Hey this is really cool! I'm going to tell my PLN about it"

This has seen roll out to 400 people who make up the early adopters and these proponents will help shape the product more and more, until it is bespoke to educators needs this, in turn, informs the "Early Majority" market that this service is worth looking into.

Organic roll out will be achieved at a pace that suits educators... and there isn't a sales person in sight.

Ah EdTech bliss! Effective tech without any pushy sales tactics! But here's where the problem with EdTech lies. Voxer is not a dedicated EdTech service, it's a mass market product that educators have started to adopt... this kind of roll out is almost impossible for dedicated education suppliers under the current model (well at least not unless you've got a massive amount of investment).

EdTech Nightmare
I have tried to implement the kind of roll out that is happening with Voxer in UK Further Education colleges but the uptake was dismal! I was looking to use my education contacts to develop a group of early adopters who would test various products which were new to UK Education (whether US EdTech companies, or startups who offer value to FE but who were not in the sector because of the difficulty of engaging this sector).

The idea was to identify early users who would collaborate and co-create to ensure that the relevant amends were made to ensure "Product Market Fit" had been achieved. When this happens these early users would naturally become proponents and would tell other educators about how great the service was, in exactly the same way that Voxer is rolling out.

The potential here was improved products with welcome engagement and the time to roll out would be quicker than traditional methods... Oh yeah, and with significant cost savings for educators and EdTech companies. But guess which group in the EdTech ecosystem wasn't interested? Yep you guessed it, it was educators.

I am aware of a number of organisations who are looking at alternative models and they are not doing so well, the most obvious example here being EdShelf. The relationships that these organisations have with educators should make them the "go to place" for new suppliers who should be asking "Can you get input from your community on our product for us" this would prevent the kind of open season on targeting time poor educators that Steve and Lindsey describe.

So while Educators marvel at how great Voxer is and how they wish that all EdTech could be like that, in my experience and opinion, it's actually educators who are preventing this from being a reality. I've written extensively about this in my EdTech report "Developing Relationships and Delivering Value" and on my blog (in particular "Sales people in Edu: The Fox of EdTech"). Within the next few weeks I might have more evidence of this with....

A Live Example: Nurph EdChat Plan

On the 18th of June I found out about Nurph's "Record and Replay" function for EdChats and since this time I have;

1) Met with Nurph to see if they would be interested in working on some dedicated Edu resources

2) Have sourced as many EdChats and moderators as I could find and imported them into Chat Salad (Obviously with the assistance of Jerry Blumengarten and Tom Murray's fantastic resources)

3) Spent a good deal of time pulling together this EdChat Resource Plan to get feedback from moderators

4) Circulated this plan with any moderators that I'm connected with

All of this has been done with no remuneration and with no formal affiliation with Nurph but just because it seemed like a good idea.

As you can see the content of this plan is the result of listening to educators on EdChats, and my #1 objective for exploring this in the first place was to see what conversations I was missing out on, as I could not attend 200 EdChats a week, and it was extremely time consuming going through 200 different storify accounts.

The Edu/EdTech Challenge
I've come up with lots of ideas over the last 2 years (See Good Rollout Processes Come to Those Who Wait... Oh the irony!), the first thing that I do with these ideas is go to my critical friends in education and ask "Hey guys what do you think of this?" and the feedback hasn't always "set the heather on fire" so I've dropped the idea and went looking for the next project that educators would say "I love it! This should be in every school/college!"

I'm coming to the conclusion that this has less to do with my ideas and more to do with the fact that educators don't actually know what they want, and I'm using this EdChat plan to test this. Regardless of the outcome, there will be benefits for one of the groups who make up the EdTech ecosystem.

We're entering into a 4 week consultation process on this EdChat plan where we're asking the moderators we're connected with to 1) Share this with other moderators, and 2) To let us know if they think any of the ideas are worth exploring further.

I'm not saying that these ideas are great, I'm not saying these plans are going ahead... and I'm definitely not "selling" the idea. What I am doing is involving educators at the earliest possible stage and inviting them to provide their input and to collaborate/co-create IF they feel any of these ideas are of any value.

One of three things will happen here and all will have positive outcomes;

1) I'll be told that the ideas and plan is unworkable (Or that they are rubbish!) 

Outcome: Nurph have saved a lot of time and money trying to make their idea work in a sector where there isn't the enthusiasm for it. I've helped them do what startup experts advise: Fail Cheap. Fail Fast.

2) That people will like the plan and, hopefully, some moderators will be so excited about the potential that they will collaborate and co-create

Outcome: Advocates of the EdTechBridge mission and alternative roll out methods will be vindicated. They will be able to say "This went from an idea to roll out within a 8-12 week period" and use this as a case study to demonstrate to other vendors the value of "Social Selling"

3) That my US experiences will be similar to the UK... I'll get little feedback or interaction from the educators I've tried to engage with

Outcome: This will be evidence to me that what the EdTechBridge post is suggesting is a challenge, forcing me to argue that the methods of EdTech sales people may be unwelcome but they are not unnecessary... They most certainly are a necessity! Both my experiences and Mike Lee's would perhaps suggest that, at the moment, they remain the most efficient and effective methods of engagement.

So, as far as I'm concerned, the ball is in Educators court. Therefore if you support this kind of engagement;

1) If you are an EdChat moderator... please engage with this plan,
2) If you are an educator and know any EdChat moderators... please share this post with them
3) Please support Mike Lee and EdShelf with their #SaveEdShelf Kickstarter campaign

I don't mind if you come back to me to say the plan is rubbish (or with no explanation at all if you don't want to be involved), but please engage. Equally please support EdShelf even if it's the smallest token amount simply to send a message to other EdTech suppliers to help demonstrate the extent to which educators' desire alternative forms of engagement.

For whatever it may be worth, failure to engage here will play an instrumental role in me leaving Edtech, because I'm finding it too confusing an environment to be able to make any sense out of.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

EdChat Moderators: ISTE or Bust

In the run up to the ISTE conference I attended some EdChats where moderators and regulars were discussing plans for and organising Tweetups at the event. Something that troubled me was the fact that some moderators were not attending due to the cost of the event.

This is entirely unacceptable!

Why do I feel that this is unacceptable? This is unacceptable any way that you look at the issue moderators give up their time to deliver value, for example;

1) Moderators give up a lot of their free time to organisie their EdChat every week

2) The PD value that EdChats have through people sharing information and learning from each other, all of which is the result of the moderators commitment to create a community of like minded educators and other stakeholders.

3) The potential that an ISTE EdChat moderator Tweetup could have to discuss some top line objectives that everyone could work on to help EdChats achieve mainstream status as a PD forum

The Cost of EdChats
Any moderators who runs a weekly EdChat has to make sure that they are available on a regular basis. If we base the value of educators time on the Washington Posts article "How much teachers get paid state by state," then the commitment of 52 hours per year would come to between $1,071-2,038.

However the organisation of an EdChat is rarely a one hour commitment per week, it can easily feel like a part time job at times.

How much time do people like Tom Whitby (@TomWhitby), Shell Terrell (@ShellTerrell), Jerry Blumengarten (@Cybraryman1) and other pioneers of EdChats spend a week on their EdChat, supporting other EdChats, exploring and establishing new ways of connecting educators with Bam! Radio Network, exploring podcasts, hangouts?

I'm sure that most moderators will spend 2-3 hours a week on EdChats, adding to an already busy schedule, which will include other unpaid work-related activity. 2-3 hours of unpaid work to an EdChat moderator could come in at $3,213-6,114

Social Tipping
Through following some Bitcoin articles I found out about "Social Tipping" which is where people make a financial contribution to any posts that they enjoy, here's more about this topic from Jason Kottke when he decided to work on his site full time.

What's to stop moderators from setting up a paypal account so various stakeholders can "socially tip" EdChats? 

I can almost sense the outcry from some people at this suggestion, including from moderators themselves. The reason for this is partly because educators rarely enter the profession for financial gains and tend to be what Adam Grant identifies as "Selfless Givers" in his book Give and Take he defines argues that;

"Selfless givers feel uncomfortable receiving support... they are determined to be in the helper role, so they are reluctant to burden or inconvenience others. Selfless givers receive far less support which proves psychologically and physically costly"

The Value of EdChats
Grant goes on to highlight work by Christina Maslach, a burnout expert, who concludes that there is a consistent and strong body of evidence that a lack of social support is linked to burnout... three decades of research shows that receiving support from colleagues is a robust antidote to burn out"

"Having a support network of teachers is huge" notes Conrey Callahan (@conreylee) a teacher at Overbrook High School [who is featured in Give and Take] and was facing burnout. Overbrook didn't have a formal support network of teachers, so where did Conrey get her support network? She built one through the act of giving help.

If these examples from Grants' book don't give the first EdChat psychologist a field day, I don't know what will. I'm no psychologist but here's my take on the information above;

1) EdChat moderators are educators so are unlikely to ask for help

2) That the support network that EdChats establishes definitely does have value, maybe even to such an extent that they help keep educators in the profession!

3) Building support networks within their physical environments may have it's challenges, making online support the most viable option for some educators.   

The Contributing Factor
If you're still with me so far on this post and you see the value of moderators being rewarded for their time. However, both contributors and recipients may feel uncomfortable with the idea of financial incentives being added to the equation, the reasons for this may be for another area that educators can be susceptible to, which is based on social norms and market norms. Dan Ariley highlights the difference of Social Vs Market Norms 

The Cost of Social Norms

This is why my suggestion would be that any financial contribution would not be for personal gain, but a "payment in kind" which would be...(drum roll please)... A fund to get EdChat moderators to events like ISTE2015. If we factor in $1,000 for travel to the $1,440 this comes in at $2,440 per moderator.

Success with this could help drive the EdChat agenda forward, as an EdChat moderator Tweetup could be arranged and ideas for some top line strategic objectives for EdChats in 2015/16 could be discussed and agreed upon so, ultimately, any contributions would benefit the EdChat community both locally and in general.

Still with me? Right, here's the kicker... Paying to get over 400 moderators to ISTE2015.

ISTE 2015... or Bust!
I've recently circulated a "EdChat Resource Plan" to moderators I'm connected with where I suggest there are a number of benefits for Nurph to be a central platform for the 219+ EdChats.

If this were developed then this could also be a central platform for collecting contributions for an ISTE 2015 tip jar... But who would be doing the tipping? 

When I took a 6 week snapshot of the 150 EdChats that I found last year there were 26,000 educators who Tweeted using the hashtag.

I'm sure the number of regulars is a lot more than this, but if we take this as a baseline then 26,000 participants making a one-off annual contribution of $20 = $520,000

Then there's any forward thinking EdTech companies. It shouldn't take too much to convince EdTech companies to divert funds for one of their industry ads or a leaflet print run to support this initiative... After all what other marketing campaign would give EdTech companies the kind of exposure that getting 400 grateful influential educators to ISTE would provide? 100 companies contributing $5,000 = $500,000.

Finally there are the forward thinking school and district administrators who see that EdChats is a viable forum for PD, after all there are only 14 US states that don't appear to have a state EdChat (And they may have, it's just I'm not aware of it). What if some schools/districts contributed 1% of their PD budget to EdChats? This is a big variable so would be difficult to project some figures.

$520,000 from participants + $500,000 = 1,020,000/400 moderators = $2,550

I've no idea if this would work or not, there are a lot of moving parts involved with this... but if EdChat moderators and participants are up for exploring this... then so am I.

If your a moderator on regular at an EdChat I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to comment on this idea below.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

EdChats by Numbers

Any regular readers of my blog will know that the changing landscape of EdTech sales intrigues me. This has led me to exploring the importance of sales in the EdTech ecosystem, social selling, EdTech review sites and other alternative rollout processes... which includes EdChats.

Given my sales background, and the fact that I am on the supplier side of the fence, I've perhaps viewed EdChats from a slightly different perspective from other participants who are mainly educators. I've found that EdChats;
  • Have been a great listening post to hear what concerns educators have on various topics
  • Has been the where a quiet revolution is taking place with word of mouth sales in EdTech
But it has been difficult to listen to all the conversations when there are so many EdChats, but given what I've learned from the chats that I do join, I felt it was important to try.

For example, in the first 5 weeks of #EdTechChat I noticed that 40 companies were mentioned almost 400 times... and not one of these companies were present (I don't know if these companies even replied to the Tweets, if they did, they didn't appear to use the EdChat hashtag).

How many other EdChats were promoting the EdTech products that they liked in this way? 

I set out to explore this and have continued to do so at various times over the last 18 months.This exploration has been a source of frustration and opportunities in equal measure;

Mining Data...Nuggests of Gold & Pearls of Wisdom
ISTE13 Conference Twitter Data
The Connected #EdChatModerator
ISTE13 Reflections: Record, Rewind & Replay

I felt that the ideas that I had about some kind of EdChat moderator resources had merit but, until recently, couldn't find a platform that could deliver this kind of functionality.

NB I feel that the way that Voxer has rolled out amongst educators has confirmed the potential role that Twitter and EdChats can play with the adoption of effective tech.

EdChat Resources 
Last month I found out that the Twitter Chat platform, Nurph, had developed a Chat record and replay function recently which included the kind of analytics that I felt would deliver value to individual EdChats and help to drive EdChats collectively forward in a number of ways.

I discussed my ideas with Nurph who confirmed that the features that I was looking for would be possible, so we imported all the EdChat details into the Nurph & Chat Salad, and have been working on an EdChat strategy document.

We are about to enter into a consultation phase where we share our ideas with EdChat moderators to get their feedback before confirming the development of these plans. EdChats will be the focus of my next few posts to compliment this work, starting with this post which looks at some EdChat stats.

Moderator Best Practice and Cmgr Support
I've been joining Community Manager hangout every Friday since I heard about this group 6-7 months ago and have found this to be a fantastic source of information and ideas for the kind of ethical and welcome approach that I feel suppliers will need to effectively engage with educators.

I don't see many EdChat moderators attend any #Cmgr events but think they would get a lot out of them. I have assisted some of the moderators at the EdChats I join by passing on advice from these #Cmgrhangout sessions. For any moderators reading this post I think you will find these 4 #cmgrhangouts particularly useful;
I also think that most educators would benefit from some #Cmgrhangout sessions for engaging students, parents, employers and other stakeholders (more on that in a future post).

For the purposes of EdChats one of the main reasons that I feel this is important is because;

“Starting a community is the easy part… keeping people and growing the community is the hard part” David DeWald, Experienced Community builder during a weekly #Cmrghangout session.

Community building is not easy! Anyone who is trying to do so needs all the help they can get! In Managing Online Forums Patrick O'Keefe goes into the minutia of this topic. The kind of detail that he goes into when discussing choosing a name is phenomenal, the reason for this detail is because "You don't need anything extra weighing against you" when building a community... For an EdChat this could include the time you choose.

EdChats by Numbers
We've identified at least 219 EdChats with a total of 482 moderators. However, the difficulty with establishing an EdChat can be evidenced by the fact that some 86 other EdChats have been established at some point but appear to have been abandoned.

The feedback I have gotten has been due to the fact that there was lack of participation and moderators found the time involved to organise was significant. How much did some of these factors play a role:

Time of EdChat: There are 10-15 EdChats on during these times
Monday       20:00-22:00 ET
Wednesday  20:00-22:00 ET
Thursday     21:00-22:00 ET

EdChat Focus: Geographic based: 58, Subject Based: 44, Tech Based: 24, Student Services, Counseling & College Admissions: 19, Professional Development: 15, Leadership/Admin: 13, Age Based: 11, Teaching Methods: 7, Library: 6, Faith Based: 6, New Teacher: 4, Private Edu Based: 4, Student Based: 2, Assessments: 2

Number of Moderators: 3 EdChats have more than 10 moderators; 28 EdChats have between 4-9 moderators sharing the load, the rest have less than 3 people.

EdChat Branding: 48 EdChats have a Twitter account that matches the EdChat hashtag; 79 have account currently available, 84 accounts are taken (Although 57 of these appear to be dormant).

Even the most proficient Twitter user will struggle to keep up with 15 EdChats at any one time and, as keen as I am on all things EdTech, attending 24 chats a week on the topic sure would take its toll (I currently attend 10 Twitter chats a week and that's enough of a challenge!)

However, with (at least) 219 active Twitter EdChats there are a lot of analytics and data that can help current moderators with their community building efforts, and to assist any aspiring moderators. Here's just one example of this: EdChat Twitter Accounts

Missing EdChats & Consultation
We have a number of ideas and more data like this in our strategy document (Including an idea to get moderators to events like ISTE FOC), if you are a moderator and would like to receive a copy of the plans we have to develop some dedicated EdChat resources please let me know.

Also, while we have spent a while sourcing all these EdChats we know that new EdChats may have been established please feel free to let us know of any new chats in the comment box below or complete the details on this link: EdChat Survey (or if any changes are required for an existing EdChat).

Please also keep an eye out for other posts including "EdChat Moderators: ISTE or Bust"

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Problem with EdTech Review Sites

My blog this year has been dominated by sales and culture issues regarding the adaption and roll out of EdTech. All of these posts revolve around the inefficiencies of traditional methods and in support of the pioneers of alternative roll out methods.

Anyone who has read my blog recent may have seen my EdShelf post and EdSurge post, and may see this as me supporting and/or endorsing two competitors at the same time. Would it surprise you if I were to say that I don't see it that way?

What would you think if I were to say that I don't even see them as competitors? I see EdShelf, EdSurge, Graphite, Tinker Ed, Junes Labs and anyone else looking at peer tested and reviewed roll out models as potential allies.

Furthermore I would argue that a lack of collaboration may, by default, mean that traditional models will prevail (Or at least prevail for longer than they could or should); It is my belief that it is in these companies best interests to work together, that is at least until the market consolidates. Then they can take the gloves off and fight it out. Lol.

My line of thinking is influenced by the fantastic Tribal Leadership and their Stage 5 teams, which account for less that 2% of workplace cultures.

Most teams in the tribal leadership have some kind of competition that they use to identify themselves for example, Stage 4 teams have the attitude of "We're great, they're not" (Maybe rivalries like Coke Vs Pepsi, Apple Vs Microsoft), but when the researchers discovered the first Stage 5 Team, Amgen, when they asked;

"Who are your competitors?"  
"We don't have any" was the reply
"That doesn't compute? That's inconsistent with our findings, you MUST have a competitor!" 

Eventually the following reply was offered;

"We're in competition with cancer" No mention of any companies "Or maybe [our competitor] is inflammatory disease, such as arthritis. Obesity, Parkinson's... We might be in competition with untimely death - human disease"

It's not that competitors don't exist; it's that they don't matter. Values, which are also important in Stage Four companies, are vital in stage 5 companies.

Here's their secret, according to Tribal Leadership, Stage 5 companies;

"Identify core values and align them with a noble cause" 

They have the advantage in seeing beyond the competition and aligning themselves on a noble cause. According to Mindy Watrous, CEO of Colorado Special Olympics, "People who work in these organisations support anyone. They elevate people within their organisation and others. They celebrate everyone"

What would a "noble cause" look like for EdTech review sites? 

Competitors and Noble Causes in EdTech

Would the noble cause be something like;

"To make it easier for the great tools to get into educators hands and more difficult for the inefficient EdTech" to run any ineffective, bad tech out of town. Even if this didn't sound appealing, what if we stop for a moment and ask:

Who is the real competitor of review sites? Is it other review sites?
Or is it the old, inefficient models that allow poor products to thrive? 

The review sites that exist today are pioneers in what they are doing. Most are based in Silicon Valley, so an example from the State's early settlers may be particularly apt.

The state was founded on tolerance, individualism and the hopes of striking it rich during the Goldrush. While it may have been "every man for himself" once they arrived, these pioneers traveled together in wagon trains as the journey was so perilous... safety in numbers and all that.
What's more likely in these early stages of EdTech review sites; that any one single site will become the de facto market leader while competing against traditional sales AND other review sites? Or that the agenda and mission of review sites will be realised quicker with a massively collaborative effort? Which would be accompanied by untold benefits and advantages (yes untold and, no, not an exaggeration).

If nothing else competition at this stage is a healthy thing for users, it might be argued that if the market consolidated too quickly then innovation would decline... there's nothing like a little healthy competition to keep you on your toes!

Even when the market does consolidate there will be room for more than one distribution channel, in Tech we have Google, Apple, Microsoft; Online movies are distributed by Netflix, Amazon, Apple amongst others.

Collaboration or Survival?
Shared core values and a noble cause isn't the only 24 carat gold nugget of information that the treasure trove that Tribal Leadership has to offer.

They have a 3 stage 90 day strategy that could act as a road map regarding how and why collaboration with review sites makes sense.

1) Do we have enough assets (time, money or people) to achieve our outcomes? 
If the answer is No: How do we build our assets?
2)  Do we have enough assets to achieve our outcomes?
If the answer is No: What assets do we have that we have not identified yet?
3) Will our actions and behaviours accomplish these outcomes?
Do the various review sites have the assets that could
help each other achieve their goals and thrive 
Whether we look at these questions as a 90 day strategy or as a long term strategy the answer to these questions with EdTech review sites will include a lot of "No's" because;

1) The Educators using review sites are the early adopters which incorporates less than 20% of any overall market. If these people are only using one review site it will take a lot longer for any one review site to reach the main stream mass market. Compare this with the impact and reach if all reviews were to appear across all sites.

2) There are only a few EdTech products that see the potential of review sites compared with their own sales force, so any revenue that these sites are chasing is from a small market place. Then there's the fact that most review sites are still exploring viable income generation models.

More reviews would lead to sales, which would prove the model and see other EdTech companies switching some of their sales and marketing budgets to review sites.

3) If we take the experiences of "Crossing the Chasm" into account anyone who is focusing on a US wide strategy may not win out in the long run. You should be working in a manageable tightly bounded market. Going for the mass market straight away rarely works out.

Facebook started out working with one college at a time, not moving from one college to another until they had 50% of the students signed up. Walmart conquered America by working in one rural town at a time, when they had achieved this they moved into urban areas until they were the market leader.

Too many sites working in a target market that's too big, but who are all chasing a customer base that is too small to accommodate them may see a prolonged period in the Chasm... all the while the inefficiencies that they are looking to address and ineffective EdTech that they help roll out perpetuates.

I've worked on this and studied all aspects of making this kind of model work. Unfortunately I've also accepted that it won't work in my area of education as these ideas are too early for it... I've been trying for a year and a half and may need to admit defeat, it's just too early...either that or I'm not communicating the benefits very well.

But ALL of the review sites have a chance in the US... but I feel that their short term goals and short-medium term future will be better met with collaboration. What happens if EdShelf does go into liquidation? What happens to all those reviews? How much further would EdSurge and Graphite's goals be with that data? How big would the combined reviews of EdSurge, Graphite, EdShelf, EdTechReview, AppoLearning, Tinker Ed, Junes Labs and others working on alternative methods be? Big enough to cross the chasm?

There's plenty of time for jockeying for position and fighting for supremacy once the war has been won. This is why I do not see there being a conflict of interest with speaking to and being a fan of EdSurge, Graphite, EdShelf, Tinker Ed or Junes Labs... I'm connected with and have had discussions with all (except one) of them. This is because, for me at least, collectively they are the good guys of ineffective EdTech and inefficient roll out.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite articles on collaboration "Collaborate Vs Collaborate"

If there are any "Stage 5" EdTech review sites or people working on alternative roll out methods out there, please do get in touch.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Don't Leave EdTech Startups Sitting on The EdShelf

What are the costs of being ahead of your time in a challenging sector like EdTech?

When working on the final draft of my EdTech report a question that I liked to ask some of my educator friends was;

"How easy do you think you guys are to sell to?"

The answer was usually "I've never really thought about it" this was followed by a surprised look on their face, as it dawned on them that "Wow! We must be a nightmare to deal with"

At the start of this weeks' #EdTechBridge chat the guys at Answer Pad asked how things were going... and I was feeling pretty lousy. I'd just heard news that an innovative company called EdShelf was ceasing trading.

Normally I wouldn't mention this at the start of a chat, I would simply exchange the usual friendly salutations prior to the chat. But #EdTechbridge is a EdChat and community designed to bridge the gap between educators and EdTech developers/entrepreneurs, and the truth is this gap is like a chasm at times... and far too often founders are at the edge of the startup precipice looking down.

I do not know EdShelf's founder Mike Lee, nor have I had any contact with him prior to sending Tweets and an email empathizing how tough EdTech can be after hearing this news.

Although, as an ImagineK12 company I was aware of EdShelf, but hadn't checked the site out for a while. I did check them out before the site launched and recall leaving a "note to self" to keep an eye on these guys as they are working on a similar model I was exploring, but never really got round to it as I've been focusing on my own particular challenges.

I am writing this post today because of the similarity of models. After I read EdShelf's press release I noticed a fantastic message that they Tweeted;

Of course I agree with this comment, but I was tempted to reply with a Tweet along the lines of

"Yeah, once they get to know you... but education can be extremely difficult to engage with"

I have spent a year and a half trying to breathe life into an alternative EdTech roll out method which is designed to address some of the inefficiencies that exist with the current sales models used to engage educators, but it sure has been a challenge.

Ahead of your Time
In my updated "Death of an EdTech Salesman" post I highlight that alternative models of engagement with suppliers' products will be the future of EdTech sales and I use EdSurge as an example.

We know this because word of mouth recommendations between educators is the best method of roll out.

We need look no further than ISTE for evidence of this and compare the difference in results and level of engagement that Crescerance had with their development partner Susan Bearden Vs some of the sales guys who stalked people with their scanners.

So surely the value of a website and service that gathers the experiences of educators and effectively acts as word of mouth referrals without the high pressure sales environment is obvious, right? I'm sure that the guys at EdShelf and Imagine K12 thought this would be a "no brainer" too in 2012 and that the idea would "fly out the door"... I sure did when I did my due diligence.

So why doesn't it? What are some of the challenges to this kind of model? I don't know enough about EdShelf to speculate on why they are winding up, but I can certainly speculate on some of the challenges through my own experiences.

EdShelf may be in no mood for reflection or contemplation... Even if they were, they may not have time to as they are going through the painful experience of winding up their business.While Mike and his team do this, I wonder if I might be able to encourage the sector to take a moment and reflect on what's going on here, why this model is so important... and what educators can do to help drive it forward.

Why would an EdTech review site be
forgotten about and left on the shelf? 
I have been working on an alternative model of Edu/EdTech engagement which I believe will save all stakeholders time and money... it should even help generate new ideas and/or improve the quality of EdTech startups products. But getting this idea off the ground has been tough. Here are some problems I've identified... and some potential solutions.

Educator Reviews
There are a few challenges with encouraging educators to review products on sites like EdShelf, which includes:

1) "My colleagues in IT are the best people to review EdTech products"
People seem to think that it's only IT that should review products. This is not the case! Anyone who is expected to be using the tech should be reviewing it. If a technophobe is expected to use a product they should also being reviewing them. If their input isn't MORE important than the technologically proficient it is certainly AS important.

2) Early stage products - Rolled out too early
Products that are in the early stages of development should be in the hands of the early adopter market, but this rarely happens.

The reason why this should happen is because this group is made up of the technically proficient who actually play a key role in debugging the product and help the company to iterate it's way to product market fit. The reason it doesn't is because products get rolled out too fast, a pace which is sometimes dictated by the company as much as educators, this leads to poor products being rolled out when they shouldn't

3) Nice Educators... Leads to Poor Products?
There have been occasions during EdTechBridge and other EdChats where developers have suggested that "educators are too nice to give brutally honest or negative feedback"

I think there is something to this statement. I want honest feedback with the educators I deal with as this will ensure you create great products. But you do need strong relationships for this kind of honesty.

If there is a review site which has 5 great reviews from fans, but none from educators who are being "too nice" to provide negative or honest input. With the voice of the detractors missing this provides a skewed picture... a product that is actually pretty poor may look good.

This partial view of products and lack of honest input from educators will mean the review site lacks objectivity... There will be few reviews and/or poor products might look great.
  • Non-Techies not reviewing products, a lack of understanding about effective roll out and educators being "too nice" to give negative reviews diminish the effectiveness of review sites
1) The product is inefficient
Dave Feinleib highlights in "Why Startups Fail" that "No-one sets out to create bad products, but it happens all the time" then his book goes on to explore why this happens.

He cites the #1 reason as not finding "Product market fit" which is "Being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market"

The end of my EdTech report details how events can unfold when product market fit has not been achieved (See Appendix 3 & 6.) As you can see, deep down the founder and other members of staff know the product has issues, but they are committed... there are wages to pay and overheads to cover. They realise, a little too late, that the problem is because they didn't iterate their way to product-market fit with their customers' input in the early stages of development.

With products like this the company is reliant on the sales team and may not necessarily want their prospective customers to know what their current user feedback is like... at least not without either being in the room with the current and prospective customer to guide the discussion and/or being selective with which educator reviews that prospective customers see.

The extent of this problem can be seen in the Teachers Know Best report as it highlights that 50% of the EdTech is seen as ineffective. If you were the founder with a product in the bottom 50% of EdTech would you support this type of EdTech review site?

2) Great EdTech... Same Tired old Pitch?
Even the best EdTech companies do not seem quite ready to give up their old sale practices.Companies know that traditional sales methods are less welcome and less effective, but are not yet exploring "social selling" to the extent that they should, or don't fully appreciate that community managers and social media can facilitate sales... So convincing them and an EdTech review site could eventually replace an entire sales force is a bit of a stretch for them at the moment.

Stinky Pete deserved to be left on the shelf: EdShelf doesn't!
There are a few notable exceptions, but it's no coincidence that these exceptions are those who create exceptional EdTech with educator input at the heart of what they do.

Whatever the case, it means that suppliers perhaps don't quite get the value of sites like EdShelf...yet.

Let's change that today. Now! Please take a look at this letter by Mike Lee EdShelf to shut down and then take a look at the messages of support for both Mike and EdShelf and how useful the site is to those who have used the service and how they feel about it.

Support EdShelf
I'm facing challenges with implementing a service like this in Further Education in the UK and I'm really not sure if there is a solution, there's certainly not one that I've been able to figure out! So I'm not sure what I can do...but there sure as heck is something I can for EdShelf!

I have more people in the US who follow me and read my blog than in the UK, so here's the've got two weeks to get onto EdShelf and rate any products that you use - whether good, bad or indifferent; whether you've just come back from ISTE or a technophobe who feels overwhelmed by it all

Let's show EdShelf they have friends
The more educators that rate the products... the more accurate the review... the more accurate the review... the more sales this will generate... the more sales it generates...the more suppliers will start to reconsider their current sales practices that educators don't like.

Educators, you can't have it both ways, you can't complain about pushy sales people or bad products when you're not supporting the kind of model that can, and will, make it easier for the good suppliers and harder for the inefficient ones.

I have written a number of posts on both the need for greater collaboration in EdTech as well as the value of Adam Grant/Adam Rifkins "5 minute favour" which is: Something you can do that will only take you 5 minutes but will have a huge impact on the person you do the favour for.

Educators please take 5 minutes out of your holiday to make a big difference... Please get behind Alicia Leonard's campaign to #SaveEdShelf campaign by;

1) Register onto EdShelf
2) Review products that you use regularly, which includes adding any that are not listed
3) Tweet, email, scoopit, reddit and generally make sure that your education colleagues know about #SaveEdShelf and that they register and review products they use too

NB If people get behind Alicia's campaign this may lead to a large volume of traffic with other educators reviewing products on the site. Please be patient and of you cannot get access straight away, please revisit the site later. Alternatively why not email and leave your contact details and the team will come back to you.

I'll leave you with a video of the impact that taking 5 minutes will have... It only takes one person to get the party started. Mike, my dancing will probably put people off joining your party, but here's my RSVP... I'll be there! I wouldn't miss it for the world!
Mike Lee: Lone Nut Or Visionary? A question that is now up to Edu to decide