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.
- 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. :)
- Show not tell: whenever possible, you want to show what you've created, not talk about what you "plan" on building.
- 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.
- 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.
- Always be fundraising
- Be humble
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 team was in full support of the decision, I did a poor job of communicating with one of my investors and it damaged the relationship.