10 Tips for New EdTech Entrepreneurs

Thinking about taking the plunge and becoming an EdTech entrepreneur?  Here are ten things that I learned from my experience with ClassBadges.  Esther, Duncan and I sold ClassBadges to EdStart in April and I thought I'd capture some of the things I learned in case I decide to go down this path again in the future.   

  1. Go all in: Pour yourself into your startup. The last thing a VC wants to hear is your brilliant plan for how you're going to do this in your nights and weekends. I learned this lesson the hard way. :) 
  2. Show not tell: whenever possible, you want to show what you've created, not talk about what you "plan" on building. 
  3. Build in the open: your brilliant idea for the perfect product is just that, an idea. Somewhere, someone else is working on something similar. Be open with your ideas, blog, tweet, tell anyone that will listen. 
  4. Connect connect connect: Take every meeting or chance to pitch your product. Lend your services and expertise to others in the space. If you're there for them, they'll be there for you.  
  5. Always be fundraising 
  6. Be humble
  7. Speak real language: Entrepreneurship isn't a game to see who can cram the most buzz words into a single sentence.  Your bootstrapped, agile, lean startup that is rapidly-prototyping a common core aligned, adaptive digital content platform will not impress anyone.  If you can't explain it to your grandparents, it's too complicated. 
  8. Ship. Break. Repeat.:  You should have people using your product at every step of the way (students, teachers, admin, IT directors, etc.).  Don't spend 12 months developing the perfect product then release it to the world. Whatever idea you have right now, it's wrong. Get it in front of real users and figure out how it's wrong and build the next version.  
  9. Have a team: If you're still "looking for a technical co-founder," you don't have a company.  If you don't have the capacity to build the product your nothing more than a person with some PPT skills. 
  10. Stay out of silos: The last thing a school needs is another product that "solves all their problems" but doesn't connect to anything they currently use.  If you generate student learning data, think about how school/students can get that data out. If you have student accounts, allow students to log in with Google Apps or Clever. 

Bonus:  Be transparent with your team and investors. I decided to take a leave and join the White House staff to work on some education technology initiatives.  Though my was in full support of the decision,  I did a poor job of communicating with one of my investors and it damaged the relationship.  

love me some Austin Kleon

The newest challenge I’m facing is continuing to make things and not just talk about making them. I’m in a very dangerous position right now; I could shave my head, put on a robe, and become the guru. I could be the guy who flies around, talking about being creative, gets a nice paycheck, and goes home. That’s not interesting to me. If there’s a reason people like my books, it’s because they came out of my practice and what I learned while I was working. Now that Show Your Work is out and doing okay, the next big task is making sure that I stay connected to my work. How do I ensure that I don’t lose my desire for wanting to make stuff?
— http://austinkleon.com/2014/04/02/the-great-discontent/

Friday Links (2 of 10)

It's Friday! Here's my second installment of web discoveries (videos/ideas/links) worth your time. I almost forgot to create this week's post, so keep your fingers crossed for next week.  Enjoy.  

Crappy Data 

This is one of the biggest problems facing K-12 edu and the future of blended/personalized learning: 

"teachers often find that learning software doesn’t provide them access to student data, doesn’t give them the right kind of data, doesn’t present the data in useful ways, doesn’t produce data they feel they can trust, and/or doesn’t account for the student data gathered by teachers or by other online learning tools"  -Christensen Institute (link)

Friday Link Pack (1 of 10)

Happy Friday! Now that my time in DC has come to an end, I have some extra time to devote to creative side projects. I've decided to start an experiment.  For the next 10 Fridays (including today), I'm going to publish a collection of the great things that I've come across on my travels around the web. This was inspired from reading the Swiss Miss blog. Most of the links will be education themed, but I reserve the right to bend the rules a bit.  Whether people read this or not, I believe it's important to exercise my curation mussels from time to time. 



Tech @ State

I recently had the opportunity to give an Ignite talk at the State Department's "Tech @ State" conference.  This was my first time giving a presentation using the Ignite format. If you're not familiar with Ignites, they are 5-minute presentations where the slides automatically advance every 20 seconds, whether you're finished making your last point or not.  

The talk I gave was on "Moonshots in Education," and I presented three big ideas for education.  If we are serious about reforming the education system, then we need to consider eliminating grade, grade levels, and rethink the concept of a classroom--see the talk for why I think this is necessary.

The next time I give a presentation I will try not to move around quite as much, remember to breathe and ask for a hands-free microphone. :)