Saturday, 28 March 2015

How I Met Your Awesomeness: Declara

This is the 3rd in the exciting installment of a 5 part series of particularly special and innovative EdTech companies and startups, how I found out about them and what makes them particularly special... not just (Indeed, not even) from a technical perspective, but from a cultural one.

Today I want to tell you about Declara who, not only has been dubbed as "The Google of Learning," but... If I have anything to do with it, will be the first suppliers to contribute to the #Get2ISTE fund and might even cover all of Craig Kemps costs. Intrigued? You should be!

Startup Lady... Taking on Silicon Valley
So it's the wee small hours, not that I notice because I've been getting cracked on with a spreadsheet that I've had a love-hate relationship for 5 months+ now. 

BBC News 24 is on for some background noise, it's pointless chatter about some politicians.

The news moves onto an article for International Women's day, I miss the start of the discussion, but my ears prick up when I hear it's a woman whose taking Silicon Valley on.

That's no mean feat you know! In one of my "Sales Matter in EdTech" posts I question whether it's the arrogant alpha male CEO's and Technology's Man Problem that is responsible for any Ineffective EdTech  

Then there was Rich Hall's "California Stars," a fascinating documentary including the history of Silicon Valley... and the surprising lack of diversity with the Bay Area tech stratups today: over 90% of startup founders are under 30, white and male.

The achievements of this woman were impressive. She was discussing how she was taking on the establishment and questioning the status quo... and winning. The conversation moved onto the issue of hiring female developers, and that she tried where to hire women, but can struggle to find suitable candidates... despite going out of her way to find women who could code.

OK, startup lady...You have my attention, I am hoping to arrange some Skype Classroom sessions with people that students will be interested in, and I know that some of my EdChat Moderator friends are off to SXSWEdu to talk about Minority Women in Tech #DigiDiversity.

I jump up from my chair to catch this formidable ladies name so I can ping Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur...Such bad spelling for a teechur, don't you think?) and Shell Terrell (@ShellTerrelldetails of the company.

I find her on Twitter and see that she has an interest in social mobility, and was the Chief Science Officer for Promethean. What?! She's in education? Let's check this Declara thing out! 

When doing a search for the company an article with the title: From Near Death to Silicon Valley CEO came up... whose not going to click on that article, right? What a story! Then I check out Declara's Twitter account and the first Tweet I see is this one:

By this point in my 60 seconds of research it's not so much any "Fuzzy Feelings" it's more like "WOW!" I clicked on the website and that was it, I'm in! 

If you are a Connected Educator check this out, and tell me whether you think this is the future or not:

I am bowled over! Not just because of the concept or relevance to the way people learn today, but this time it's personal! This 100% details my learning experiences! School was not the best place for me. My OU course was fantastic, I loved it! However, the relevance to what I do today is marginal. 

It is the books that I read for leisure (*Waves* to #Read4Fun chat people), and the learning and connections I've made online that has had the most value. I am so in! Could this be the one? Could a long hard journey be coming to an end?

Right, research over, a big *Gulp* as I pull Ramona's LinkedIn page up... time to see how much my skills have developed, and whether my current plans are a waste of time or not. My introduction to her was that;

"After watching your BBC interview I was very excited to hear about Declara. 

I'm doing work that will make it easier for US startups to engage with UK educators and would love to connect to discuss in more detail" 

Mr Microsoft: James Stanbridge
I received a prompt and polite reply from Ramona and that she'd be interested to hear more, but she also referred me to someone else to chat with. Great! Thought I, put onto someone in HR who will run through a tick box exercise where the end result will be

Then I check out the profile of who Ramona has put me onto, and I have two simultaneous thoughts and emotions;

1) I Think "Wow! This company MUST be something VERY SPECIAL!" then,

I am put onto James Stanbridge, Declara's Vice President, who has almost 15 years experience with Microsoft. The significance of this is that you wouldn't leave a job with one of "the Big 3" (Google, Apple or Microsoft) for a startup if you didn't think this was a game changing idea!

Why the panic? In 2010 I called round all the major tech companies to see if my experience might get me anywhere near being employed. No chance! Not even close to an interview. So, how would a discussion go with someone with this experience today? A few weeks later we have a chat on Skype and... 

The man from Microsoft likes my ideas! Yay! I detail what I am working on in terms of UK education, but point out that these ideas are months, maybe even a year or more, away.

This isn't a problem as far as James is concerned. while the company is based in Silicon Valley they are focusing on their "home market" of Singapore, because Singapore's Ministry of Education (Aspire) really got behind what Declara are doing and saw value in this type of EdReform. Once they have finished their beta testing and rolled out across Singapore, they will then be focusing on the US.

We left the discussion along the lines of "If there are any projects we can collaborate on so we could get to know one another, that would be really useful"

I mentioned my work with Edchats and said I would email some details, and may be able to make some introductions that could be useful. This conversation happened to be on the 19th March, so emailed him details or how I was working on ideas to get EdChat Moderators get support to get to ISTE.

From #Whatisshcool... to Where did you say Craig is Based?
When I wrote the post about the crazy idea of getting Craig Kemp to ISTE (An Amazing Global Edu Race: Get Craig to ISTE), I initially said that he was based in Australia. Craig sent me a message saying he was actually in Singapore. What? Really? I've just been speaking to a really cool company whose based there! I must introduce you guys!

I introduce them to each other on LinkedIn and then my crazy brain gets to work. There is a lot of synergy here, and it's AN AWFUL LOT MORE than Geography and ISTE.

Could Declara to Get Craig to ISTE? 
I would like to offer 6 reasons why I think there are mutual benefits for Declara and Craig working together to see if they can get him to ISTE. Some of these reasons could impact on many US educators in the not too distant future, especially connected educators.

1) Educators who know Craig, regulars of #Whatisschool and others who follow his Tweets and blog, take a look again at this link A Powerful Way to Learn, Share and Collaborate

Now ISTE and travel costs aside, if a company like this came along and asked you; 

"Which EdChat doyou think we should be speaking with for feedback about our beta product?" 

Who would be in your short list? I'd be surprised if #Whatisschool wasn't

2) Keep that Declara link open for a moment, now compare the companies vision with what Craig and William's Global Edu Race is looking to achieve for students. Synergy?

"An amazing race style project to encourage collaboration, engagement and innovation in learning for schools around the world"

3) Declara is working on getting their service right in their home market, which is where Craig is based. 

For all that technology is fantastic... proximity still matters! And, in my opinion, this is especially true with product development. What am I talking about "In my opinion" for? It's a FACT in major technology companies! The big tech companies will have staff work out the clients office during the development stages (See P35 What Would Google Do? It's well worth a read).

Indeed, if I was in charge of education policy, I would be tempted to make it law that Edu startups should be based in a school. Ridiculous? Go read up on Professor Terman how, why and what he did to get the Stanford party started!

“When we set out to create a community of technical scholars, there wasn't much here and the rest of the world looked awfully big. Now a lot of the rest of the world is here.” Professor Fredrick Terman – Father of Silicon Valley 

4) When Declara have finished their beta testing and have got the model working in Singapore, they will be looking to work with US educators and,

5) Which group of educators are going to be the most excited about this service? Who are most likely to be the first users, the early adopters? Could this service help to drive the connected educator agenda forward? Could this company play a role in speeding up the pace of change at their school? I know edchat regulars can vent their frustration from time to time on twitter because of the lack of progress?

6) If there was a product like Declara in development in another country, would it not be in US educators (And esp for proponents of EdChats) best interest to have a man "on the inside" or at the very least, just down the road to grab a coffee with...and where that educator can host a Twitter chat on some potential ideas that result from these real world catch ups? 

So, that's my argument. My original proposal was to encourage James and Craig to connect, spend a day together, make sure that Craig liked the product/solution and then see if anything could be done about ISTE. But then Craig replied to a Tweet... and he gave me an entirely different idea ;).

How about we take Mr Kemps suggestion and test his network against Adam Bellow's ISTE keynote comment;
You are only as valuable as the people you are connected to.

But, don't worry, Mr Kemp's followers (Or Mr Kemp for that matter ;))... No need to put your hand in your pocket here. All you might need to do is something as quick and easy as click on a link and leave your email address. That's it! A link that maybe looks something like this one, with a personal invitation from Declara's Vice President to pre-register for Declara.

Now, is this suggestion simply some shoddy sales tactic? A marketing gimmick? No! it's collaboration! It's taking Adam Bellow's advice:

Know where to ask for help, go to that personal learning network

I would have, and already have introduced these two people to each other. 
  • I heard about a startup whose looking for feedback on their beta product. 
  • I know that proximity matters and Craig and James are in the same place
  • Craig happens to be one of the best people in my PLN to provide feedback on this particular idea
  • The more feedback you can get the better. #Whatisschool regulars are ideal for this one. This is a chat with progressive forward thinking "Connected Educators" who ask "What Is School" just now and "What might it look like in the future." Declara is working on this change.
Remember my post from yesterday? Not being able to reach educators while having overheads to cover is an ideal breeding ground for ineffective edtech, so what would a hyper-connected startup be able to achieve? The answer to that question is over to you...Do you want to be able to say; 

"I was there Man! I was there when the "Google of Learning" was in Beta Test?"

Or... Do you just want to help get Craig to ISTE? 

Either way it Could be Win-Win
If Craig's followers were to pre-register for Declara, then this saves the company time looking for people to sign up, it give US educators the opportunity to input on a product dubbed as "The Google of Learning" and Craig's followers would be saving the company money... Money that could be better spent sticking Craig on a plane to ISTE.

And, as proximity does matter with getting feedback on product development, Craig could discuss Declara with ISTE delegates, get feedback and suggestions regarding any tweaks and/or new ideas while in Philidephia (Isn't that the City of Edu/EdTech suppliers love? Hug a vendor when your there) and take them back to Singapore. 

I hope I have laid out an argument that shows why this is a good idea above and beyond any sense of educators "Selling out" and/or companies using this kind of support as nothing more than a cheap sales and marketing ploy.

So, if Craig's followers were to jump on board Declara's pre-registration page, would there be the potential for Declara to make sure that Craig jumps on a plane to ISTE? 

Jame Stanbridge's message does say "You'll be in good company" ...A bit cryptic? But hopeful! I'll leave it for James and Craig to sort out since they live so close to each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment