In this post I detail how I found out about Sumdog and why I feel they tick a lot of boxes. But first... How tough can it be to get everything right? Very!
Getting it Right is Tough!
I read an article earlier in the week by Paul Moss (@EDmerger), educator and Founder of Degrumbler. The article was called Was it Worth Becoming a Teacherpreneur, which is an honest reflection of the joys and tribulations of Startupland.
Here we have a hard working, dedicated educator who believes in an idea so much that he continues to work in the classroom, but then goes home at night to develop his idea.
While I 100% feel for Paul (And empathise a GREAT deal!Been there, done that!). However, it's always good to have another educator join the startup ranks as they can share how challenging it is to get everything right to create a great product and deliver value with colleagues.
From 2005-2008 I worked on something that went from an idea that others hadn't managed to figure out to working with 50% of FE colleges and, while I managed the project, had a 100% repeat business ratio. A record I was extremely proud of.
I was so pleased with this project and truly believed in the potential. Today I don't even know if the project is still going.
It's not a great feeling knowing that there's little to show for all the time and money that people put into it... One I'd rather not repeat!
I've also spent the last year on a project where the results are not what the people involved thought they would be. Again, not the best feeling.
Startup Ambitions...Silicon Valley Style
In 2010 when that company I worked for downsized and closed the Glasgow Office, I set myself the goal of either:
1) Working at a Hot Shot Silicon Valley Startup
2) Working for one of the Big Three (Microsoft, Apple, Google)
In 2016 I did indeed work with a Hot Shot Silicon Valley Startup and got the attention of one of the "Big Three" too (Yay!)
My experiences? That just because it's a hot shot Silicon Valley startup complete with core values, more needs to be done to assess the company's culture... Or maybe the issue is that startups are a little too tough and unpredictable.
Appreciating that there's a big difference for companies who have "Crossed the Chasm" (Organisations who work with 30% or more of any given sector) I wondered if things would be a little easier to make a difference... easier to help create something that's "Built to Last" as Jim Collins might put it.
Sumdog... First Encounter
Just like Flipgrid, people at Sumdog may not have been too aware of my work until recently. But I've known about them for quite a while... And I've been developing my skills with companies like those squarely in mind!
In September 2015 Chris Van Der Kuyl gave his Keynote at the Scottish Learning Festival where he was calling for greater collaboration... I felt that I knew what was needed, and felt I could help.
I started curating how many Scottish Schools were on Twitter.
When exploring Scottish school websites I noticed that next to Twitter, Facebook and Youtube Icons... there were also some Sumdog icons on some school websites. This was of huge interest to me for two reasons:
1) If you're willing to include an icon on your homepage you must be a fan. I've seen this with Edmodo, Remond101 and a couple of others... and I sure do take note when I see them!
2) Look for the bright spots. Which companies have excelled at getting people to use their products? Twitter? Facebook? Youtube? LinkedIn? Ever seen icons of those companies on a school homepage before? A more effective method than a whole team of sales people? I think it could be.
Did I reach out to Sumdog after spotting this? Nope. I already knew that my skill set wasn't quite where it needed to be... I just kept plugging away.
After working on a few projects with good results by December 2016 "Developing a Super User Program" was well and truly on my radar. Where would you start if you wanted to explore a super user program in Education? The same place as any other sector? Google? Apple? Microsoft?
At the Scottish Learning Festival 2016 it was suggested that I should check out what Microsoft is doing in Scottish Education... So I did.
This lead to me exploring the MIE Network and, when I saw that only a few Scottish Educators took part in the Skypeathon in 2015, I wondered if I might be able to encourage others to take a look.
One of the people that I was in contact with when pitching in with this was Michael Sinclair (@FilltheGapLearn) who is an Educator, MIE and works at Sumdog part time too.
When discussing the Skypeathon in a group forum when Michael mentioned his work with Sumdog there was nothing but positive responses from people like Amy Storer (@techamys)... Word of mouth recommendation, it's gonna be big ;)
Michael Sinclair... An Awesome Conversation!
After the Skypeathon I met up with Michael and we had a fantastic conversation! Things that really stood out stood out for me about his work at Sumdog included:
1) The way that Michael collaborated with the developers... an educator who sits down with the development team to detail his classroom experiences and curriculum expertise. Everything that I've been advocating for on my EdTech report Developing Relationships & Delivering Value and my StartupEduChat post!
2) That the CEO was always interested in hearing about people's ideas
3) They work with 30% of US schools and 50% of Scottish Schools
The first two points above scream at me culture! Get the culture like that right and you've got a chance at making the 3rd point a reality, to "Cross the Chasm" and to become a market leader.
A New Goal
So what do you do when you set yourself the goal of working at a Hot Shot Silicon Valley startup because you think those organisations get the culture right, but find it to be a little underwhelming?
You double down on the culture. After this conversation with Michael a new goal was set and Sumdog, along with Flipgrid were well and truly on my radar.
Did I contact either organisation? Nope... Skills weren't quite ready.
A notable Absence
Part of my search of looking for companies doing great work in education has involved curating education supplier exhibitors. For the last 2-3 years I've curated suppliers who exhibit at ISTE, BETT & ASU GSV.
Not only have I found it curious that suppliers who attend one event don't attend others, but that some suppliers who do really good work, don't attend some of these events (In 2015 only 1 company that featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education were at BETT).
I didn't notice Sumdog or Flipgrid when curating exhibitors at these events, where I have found a few new innovative edu companies though is through exploring Edcamps.
In April I read a CMX article about how Edcamps scaled and realised that there were some areas that I could help, so pitched in (Still working on this).
I noticed that both Sumdog and Flipgrid were Edcamp sponsors, so decided to put a bit of hustle in.
I reached out to both and started to look into what they do in more detail.
Now at this point you may be wondering, when are you going to talk about what Sumdog does?
Well... As Paul's post highlights having a great idea is one thing, implementing it (and talking about the technology for that matter) misses the point.
Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast, Technology for Lunch and Everything Else for Dinner.
In addition to this, what difference does my assessment of Sumdog make? I've never taught in a classroom setting. But since you ask...
When wondering whether to ask my contacts to get involved with an idea I ask one of two questions:
1) "Great Teaching and More of It"
According to Mike Feinberg that's what technology in Education should do.
Does it free up educators time? Does it allow them to spend longer in the classroom? Does it facilitate learning outside of class time?
2) Hole in the Wall Project
Through projects like Sugta Mitra's hole in the wall project, we see how much students are able to learn on their own, so I wonder if any tech or tool that I'm looking at would assist with self learning.
Based on the information that I've curated over the weekend, Sumdog ticks both those boxes!
I'll leave it to educators to tell you more as I'm currently pulling together educators comments, feedback and articles across Twitter, Pinterest and Declara that will detail what educators have to say about Sumdog but [Spoiler Alert] based on what I've read when curating the info: It's worth a look.