Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Product Market Fit in UK Education... It Requires Collaboration!

Yesterday's post focused on how important the culture within a startup is in order to achieve product market fit, and the need to listen to users and prospective customers. This may have come across as being a critical of suppliers at times, todays post should balance the argument by highlighting that...

It Takes Two to Achieve Product Market Fit
OK so you have a game changing idea all you need to do now is;

1) Thrash out the details and write a business plan
2) Do your market research and get user feedback on the idea
3) Get your friends together, and
4) Make it happen

Sounds so simple, but this simple plan is so fraught with pitfalls that few founders game changing ideas end up fulfilling their potential.
Front Cover
Starting up is tough...
Even for the successful ones

Those that do might be paying so much close attention to their users and the market that they are able to spot when they are on the wrong track, or when a side project has more potential than the organisations main focus.

For example, I was intrigued to read that Twitter was a side project to Odeo, an early podcasting company, but the founders admitted that the idea wasn't going to plan (No easy thing to do), and finally decided to kill the idea when Itunes entered the market.

So companies that achieve product market fit take the time to listen to the market.

But what happens if you can't reach your market to get feedback? This can be the case with education.

Evidence of this can perhaps be found in the fact that;

1) Many of the most used tools in education are from mainstream tech companies who first achieved product market fit did so in other sectors before moving into education.

2) Some of the most innovative EdTech companies are educators-turned-entreprenuers and/or worked for Teach for America after university, so had first hand classroom experiences

Outreach or Out of Touch?
When I realised that I was operating in what Dave Feinleb calls a "Bad Market" in one area of UK education (ie Small, hard to reach and has no budget), I decided to test the same ideas in other areas of education.

I had no relationship with this group of educators and, knowing how tricky unsolicited introductions are these days, I came up with the best correspondence that I could think of... which had surprisingly depressing results!

There was no selling involved in this correspondence. It was concise. A number of initiatives were highlighted. All these projects had case studies to demonstrate value. Any reports mentioned had been well received by existing connections. There was an offer for me to discuss my experience in any project or report that might be of interest.

Unresponsive... And Other Barriers?
The result? A few bounce backs. A bunch of "unsubscribes" and two meaningful replies. Two replies.
The poor response led me to wonder...
  • Is it me? 
  • If this is a challenging conunderum for myself then surely it's a challenge for others.
Some people involved in the education sector may disagree with this assessment... but these might be the same people who, when you are starting out and testing ideas, are surprisingly uncollaborative and protective about sharing access to their members.

One memorable example for me was a reply from a professional association that effectively said "If you want to talk to or engage with us in any way shape of form you need to be a member... and then you should exhibit at our conference."

Membership to another education association has a condition of being "Financially Solvent." I understand the intention here but, at the same time, no matter how great a startups ideas is the condition of "Must be in the black" has every chance of excluding 99% of new companies.

Is it Me?
"Maybe it's your approach" I hear you cry... After all plenty of other suppliers seem to manage. Right? I might tend to agree and move onto other sectors, if it were not for the fact that;

Blog stats for this week
Can you tell that the posts are
designed to engage UK educators?
1) The reception I get from educators in other countries is a lot different from this

2) My market research highlights that other suppliers face similar challenges

3) Of the "Other suppliers who seem to manage" with educator engagement... not many of these organisations create products of services that their users universally praise.

So maybe it's me. Maybe not.I'll continue to explore these issues regardless and see if I can find ways that startups who have encountered these same challenges, can engage with educators more efficiently.

An Investment in Technology?
Depending on your role in the education ecosystem you may be wholeheartedly agreeing with the assessment above, or you may be profusely disagreeing with me. Whatever your stance these have been my experiences.

Is there any ways to test the hypothesis that educators can be a challenge to engage when it comes to implementing new ideas? And if this is proved to be the case, are there any quick fixes to change this? I think there might be.

The BETT Conference was on recently and we had the usual soundbites regarding how and why an investment in Education Technology is so important and various government initiatives proudly boasting that £XYZ millions have been allocated for this that and the other.

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Prof Coe's High Cost/Low Impact Vs Low Cost/High Impact Edu examples
But would it be prudent to roll out more untried new projects at the cost £XYZ millions when educators are not adopting technology that has a proven track record and IS FREE OF CHARGE?!

I have already highlighted this to The Right Hinourable Nick Boles MP and in reply, I was told that;

"We are looking at how to get education technology embedded within education, as well as among senior leadership and governors, and any suggestions you have, including those from your experience in the US in this regard, would be warmly welcomed"

Excellent! Happy to oblige... Here is one suggestion based on my experiences with the UK and US education...

A Class (Dojo) Assessment
We should look for ways to assess if UK Educators are a challenge to engage with for startups and technology providers.

ClassDojo, the popular classroom management solution is looking to engage more UK educators and could be an ideal opportunity to assess the situation. Why suggest ClassDojo?

  • Fit for purpose: ClassDojo is currently used by 1 million educators, which has been achieved largely through word of mouth referrals
  • Relevant: ClassDojo has proven to be effective in dealing with low level class disruption, something that Ofsted has cited as being an issue with learning.
  • Culture: ClassDojo has a reputation for being innovative and listening to it's users.
  • Cost: ClassDojo is free.

Given these factors ClassDojo offers a great opportunity to assess if any investment with UK educators regarding technology should be an investment of time as much as (if not more than) any further hardware or software capital investment programs.

There is the added advantage that, based on their track record and user experiences, that any technophobic teachers who trial ClassDojo may find it such a positive experience that they may assess, trial and generally be more engaged with technology and startups in the future.

Want to find out more the first Twitter chat #DojoChatEU starts tonight at 8:30pm

As I highlight in my EdTech Report "Developing Relationships and Delivering Value" improving relationships between educators and developers could have significant and far reaching implications with regard to the effectiveness of the products and services that suppliers are able to deliver.

Look how Twitter Founder Biz Stone is collaborating with Education
What has been your experience with the issues above? Do you agree or disagree that education is a challenge for startups to engage? Please feel free to leave a comment below with your experiences.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting. I've spent a year trying to develop a new Edtech product. Educators are such opinionated people but getting feedback via surveys, social media etc has been fruitless. I've now changed track and am focusing only on one2one interviews. It's slower and more time consuming but I'm getting far more information.