I have met many edtech entrepreneurs through my work in teaching technology to kids, and through working with organizations that support innovation in the field of educational technology. As a co-organizer of the Philly Edtech Meetup, I also get to talk one-on-one to many entrepreneurs on a fairly regular basis. Through these conversations, it has become apparent that there are many things that edtech entrepreneurs can do to stay relevant and be successful.
1. Visit Schools
Yes, you were a student at one point (or maybe you are now), so you feel as though you know what schools need and what goes on in schools. However, not all schools are the same. and not all students are the same. If you went to school in Denver, unless you want your product to be viable only in the district you came from, you need to see a variety of schools across the country. If you've been out of school for a while, just a heads up -- a lot of schools are very different from when you attended them!
If possible, connect with a school and set up a trial of your product in a classroom, or conduct an official study. How does your product work out in a real classroom within the context of a school day?
2. Talk to Teachers
You've designed a killer app that you know that teachers will love, as it has many features that will make their lives easier. But how do you know? Have you talked to teachers about what they need? Have you presented these features to see if teachers would use them? Have you identified what grade level your product will serve? Survey teachers who teach at that grade level about your product. Show your product to teachers and ask them to give you feedback. As an educator, it's fairly obvious to me when a company has not talked to teachers because workflow for their product may be difficult, or features may be ineffective or not well designed for the classroom.
3. Talk to Students
Again, you were a student once, maybe you're a student right now, or maybe you have young children in school. If you're excited about your product, will students be similarly excited? How do you know that students would even be interested in your product? How do you know that your product will appeal to students outside of your child's school or district? If you've gotten good feedback from a couple of your friends' kids, have you been able to replicate that feedback with kids you don't know? If kids are going to be using the product in school, will they have the device they need to run it? Maybe your kids have smartphones, but do all kids? Is your product missing features that kids might want? Or are there extra features that they would never use? Have you identified the age range of students that would use your product and showed it to a sampling of students in that range?
4. Be Open to Change
When we invent something or have a really good idea, it's easy to fall in love with that idea and close our minds to the fact that maybe it isn't as great as we thought. It's important, once you have talked to teachers and students, to reassess and reevaluate your product. Does it just need tweaking or does the concept need an entire overhaul? If you ignore the feedback you received from your major customer base and decide to push on, you're setting yourself up for failure. It's OK to take a step back and decide that maybe your product needs to go in a different direction. Maybe there's one particular feature that was really popular and you decide to focus your efforts on just that one. Maybe you never considered the importance of teachers or students being able to connect with each other, and you want to spend some time figuring that out. It's OK to change!
5. Is It Cool or Is It Effective?
One mistake that's easy to make is assuming that, just because a piece of technology is "cool," it will have an impact on the classroom. You've discovered a way for teachers to do something that you think is really cool, and it is! However, will this cool feature or ability actually impact the classroom, or is it just something flashy? If, after talking to teachers and students you discover that your flashy feature really does nothing to enhance teaching and learning, why are you spending time developing and improving it? Focus on the important stuff that will make teachers and students love your product and that will make your product really marketable to schools. You can always work on the flashy stuff later.
Have you ever developed any edtech? Were you satisfied with how it turned out? Is there any edtech that you'd like to see someone develop? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments section below.