Tech Stories: Business, Movement & Core Values

“It’s a good idea and I could easily invest in you… But are you trying to start a business or a movement”

Was a question that I was met with during one of the few meetings that I’ve ever had with an investor a few years ago. He told me that he invested in businesses, not movements.

I could not really answer his question, so we called the meeting to an end. There is a Twitter conversation that has resonated with me since having the conversation.Business Tactics in Edu (Leif Gustavson)

It would also appear that when we expect business tactics to work in education problems arise for businesses, as Pearson’s found with their social listening controversy… and as Investors are also finding:

“Few industries have been as seductive, or as frustrating, for technology investors as the business of education.

“The challenge is, in general, education is a pretty slow to move category, particularly if you’re trying to sell into schools and universities,” says Steve Murray, a partner with Softbank Capital, and investor in the education technology company, EdCast.

“I don’t think that investment in education-related technologies is over, but I think there’s some hesitancy. Some people stuck in companies that have taken too long to get to scale are saying, ‘Geez! This education technology segment is tough,’” says Murray. Investors Rethink EdTech as Deadflow Declines

Maybe Leif is right, and it might be just as well I couldn’t answer the question about business Vs movement as businesses and investors appear to struggle.

Business or Movement?
“Capitalism wants each of us to live in our own little cubicle, consuming as much as possible. The Well took that need and said “Hey, let’s see what happens if we become a disembodied tribe”

This comment is from Kate Hafner’s book about the first online community, where early employees and members were returning to the world of work after spending some time in communes during the 1960s and 1970s.

While I would not have said that I was a hippy, neither am I a captain of industry or capitalist. My views about profit is that it’s a by-product of doing good work.

More than anything my decision to startup on my own is a result of empathy. Empathy for:

  • Companies: Despite their best intentions some develop products that don’t live up to expectations.
  • Employers: Trying to do good work but having to balance ethical practices with the need to meet all the company’s overheads each month.
  • Educators: Are time poor and are having to field sales calls. They can also end up feeling duped if they buy technology that proves to be ineffective.
  • Sales People: Are stuck between a rock and a hard place as they will either annoy their employer for not making the sales calls or educators for making them.
  • Edu Startups: Who have a great product and ethical methods of engagement, but they don’t get noticed despite doing everything right.
  • Students: Especially those introverted, awkward kids who get overlooked by their more able extroverted counter-parts in school.

The entire sales process is broken in education, and needs fixed. Based on the evidence above this is something that educators and investors appear to agree with… but normal business tactics do not apply.

Achieving product-market fit and methods of engagement that considers the needs and priorities of all these stakeholders sure isn’t going to be easy… and I’m not sure if it will require a business or a movement.

Normal Business Practices
“Product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market” Marc Andereessen

In a good market a supplier with a good product might expect to get 50%+ market share within a 1-2 year period. Once this has been achieved they have the potential to become a market leader.

How many products are there that achieve 50% market share in a 1-2 year period in education?

The longer it takes to become a market leader, the less chance this has of happening as rivals will move in and try to replicate the product or service. We can assess this by asking how many products do the majority of schools in any given region/age group use?

Apple Pay Activated 1 Million Cards in 72 Hours, how many areas of education would see adoption of 1 million users within three days like Apple Pay did?

Look at how long it takes for educators employers ie policy makers to implement any new ideas with initiatives like the Curriculum for Excellence and Future Ready.

So I think that Leif is right, normal business tactics don’t and shouldn’t apply with education. I think that that any business I establish will be part business and part movement.

Core Values
Given the complexity of all of the above, just like questioning “What will I be willing to do for a buck,” this makes the issue of Tech Stories core values vital!

I know that these are important to any organisation but this issue seems particularly relevant here. I’m not completely sure what Tech Stories product-market fit will be, but helping education suppliers and startups save on overheads and/or assisting educators with crowdfunding and income generation feels like the right area.

I think that some of the decisions that will be made will be counter-intuitive, collaborating with competitors or being critical of politicians who are responsible for education doesn’t make much sense from a business perspective, but it feels like the right thing to do.

I’m going to be spending a bit of time thinking about core values that will help with the day to day decisions of Tech Stories. I’ve put together some initial thoughts on this: Tech Stories Core Values Page

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