The Community is the Company

Long before I even knew that Community Management was a job I read an article that resonated with me a great deal in Jeff Howe’s fantastic book “Crowdsourcing” about the iStock Founders.

I include this extract today to remind me about two very important points;

1) Get consensus with any group that I am involved with and,

2) As Johnson puts it “Our community members don’t work for us… we work for them”

There’s also a timely reminder for myself that it’s never been about money, it’s about the search for meaning and making a difference in what I do.

Here’s the extract…

“Under this new archetype of a company – in which the community comes first – the cult of personality plays a crucial role in community building”

It’s safe to say that iStock has left the community building phase behind: there are now nearly 50,000 contributors to the website. Getty’s other divisions combined use only 2,500 photographers.

“We don’t own anything, the community does,” says Garth Johnson.

“Everything we do affects these people, whether they’re just earning enough to pay for their equipment, or they’re making mortgage payments from their photo sales. They all want a voice, and we have to give it to them, because really, the community is the company”

The upsides to this state of affairs are obvious, but there are downsides as well: even the smallest changes can roil the fickle, passionate community of iStockers. In March 2006, iStock launched a new feature on its web forums, a “Forumeter” that measured an iStockers popularity through – according to the tongue in cheek press release – ‘baffling comlex scientific methods,’ including the date and number of posts to the forum… it did not go over well. Not long after it’s launch the feature had been removed.

“Employees may be hell on overhead, but they’re paid to accept all but the most draconian policies with a polite nod. Communities, on the other hand, aren’t paid to stick around, and nothing stops them from selling their photos to one of iStock’s many competitors.

“They don’t work for us” iStocks Bruce Livingstone laughs “We work for them”

Jonathan Klein once commented that “Bruce’s brilliance is that he turned community into commerce” and Livingstone’s reply to this is that “I also turned commerce into community.”

Livingstone gets the community’s approval at every step of running his company.

Like any good community, iStock has developed its own specific rituals and patois. On iStock displaying the F5 button on the home page is code for ‘something big is coming… but we’re not going to tell you what’

We have seven forum pages about F5 as people speculate on what the changes are.

Livingstone addresses his assembled staff:

“Okay, we’ve got a bunch of things happening on Friday. Number one is the price change. Then we have all these cool things that are happening”

The cool things range from an easy way for best selling iStockers to sell their work through Getty to a 100% sales day in which contributors receive all the money from a sale, as opposed to the standard 20-40% contributors usually receive.

I’m mystified as to why Livingstone and his staff are pouring so much energy into massaging what seems like an uncontroversial move. The price of iStocks low range images is only going up a dime. “The fear is that the volume of sales will decline, someone’s always going to say the sky is falling. They are afraid that our clients will all go running to the competition”

This isn’t a totally unfounded fear. While iStock indisputably – and single handedly – created the microstock photo industry, the category has become very crowded. And then there are the clients, all 1 million of them. “They’ll say ‘you’re ruining my business because it costs me an extra £3 to buy 25 image.’ Well I’m sorry, but if that’s the case maybe your business isn’t very good.” Some debate ensues about how to introduce the price change.

Part of Johnsons job involves playing chaperone at the iStockphoto festivals known as  – iStockalypses. “The iStockalypses are crazy, dude. You wouldn’t believe the level of fanaticism. People come up and they’re like, ‘you’re from iStockphoto! Oh my god! I Loooove you guys! and hug us”


The iStockalypses are one more way in which the company bends over backward to make shooting for iStock feel more like a big, fun game than like work. Nowhere is the iStock spirit on such lavish display as at an iStockapypse; for a community that revolves around a website, these offline events have become tremendously important.

Ask someone at the office, and they’ll tell you: It’s not about the money. Ask an iStocker and they’ll tell you the same thing. In fact – would be crowdsourcers take note – if it is about the money, it won’t work. It will fizzle, not sizzle, as one of iStocks designers put it. “What’s funny is, the money people, they pretty quickly get pulled aside in the forums by the core people. Or they just don’t have a voice. People will ignore them, like ‘Oh that’s just so-and-so, they’re just here to make money’

It’s significant that people in online communities like iStock’s react with great hostility to the idea that crowdsourcing equals cost savings. No one wants to feel exploited. In the end, what iStock provides is an invaluable if impossible-tomeasure currency: Meaning. The crowd will give away their time – their excess capacity – enthusiastically, but not for free. It has to be a meaningful exchange. The profits have to come second, or they won’t come at all.”

Extracts from Jeff Howe “Crowdsourcing” p188-196.

I guess once you’ve got to this stage in the community building the next thing is what you do when there is any conflict of interest between the company’s growth strategy and the community.

I sure hope that if and when these situations arise I’ll be able to handle the situation the way that Digg did with with AACS cease and desist demands.

Here’s Digg CEO Kevin’s Rose’s letter where he risked his company by deciding to side with the community… talk about The Pirates Dilemma!

“Today was an insane day … In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying” For more info see “21st Century Diggers Revolt

Community Building: On Boarding New Members

For the past week I have been working with a group of brave, but extremely friendly, #ISTE16Pirates. Just as we did with the UK Digital Citizenship Summit, we have been using real life Pirate articles and making decisions based on their “First and Second Council Meetings.”

As the goals and destination has been set, this post looks at the importance of on boarding new members, finding ways to maintain the culture, network effects and feedback loops.

Yesterday it felt like our crew really came together and had some fun sharing some images of themselves all swash buckled up with pirate hats and parrots.

The issues of on boarding new members while maintaining the culture has been playing on my mind for a while. Last week I caught up with some critical friends to ask for some advice, which was;

1) Start with a small group of people that you know and trust

2) Get the culture right. Set the guidelines of the community

After seeing things develop over the last week and, based on the conversation yesterday, it feels like we’re on the way to achieving this.

How important is it to get these two things right? Whether an online community or in the workplace, with a group of volunteers or colleagues the advice appears to be the same and I think that Dave Logan explains this extremely well in Tribal Leadership;

“Identify your core values and then align them with a noble cause”

Nolan Bushnell also describes the importance of the culture with early users:

“Those first dozen people in your company form the seed kernels around which the culture will mold itself. A dozen individuals are sufficient for a dynamic to get going; beyond that number, others will probably conform to the ethos they’ve established.”

Bushnell also goes on to describe the importance of carefully cultivating the culture and warns of the dangers if this advice is neglected:

“In several of my companies where there have been one or two outliers, though, and I’ve found that if you don’t take care of them, change them, or get rid of them early on, they can form a toxic pod that sprouts an atrophic branch in your company.

“I once tried to change an entire company’s DNA. In the early 1990’s, I bought a firm that made some interesting products but also had a terrible corporate culture. The place had been on a 5 year decline and most of the innovative people had left. I should have fired 90% of the staff but I didn’t; I thought I could turn the company around. I was wrong. For every proposed step forward, 5 people resisted the change. The corporate ecosystem was contaminated. This was one of my worst failures.” Nolan Bushnell, Finding the Next Steve Jobs.

I’ve been involved with companies and a member of communities as a volunteer where I have witnessed this kind of decline… but how to avoid it as this group grows?

We’ve identified some goals, have a small crew that we know and trust, have some guidelines, are well on our way to modelling a couple of collections that we can show to others and will be compiling a development wishlist… so what’s next? Network effects and feedback loops?

If there are two members of the Digital Citizenship Personal Learning Network (PLN) having a discussion about #DigCit on a social media or a social learning platform, the value of the network and discussions will not be same if there were, say, 100 members of the group using the platform.

Feedback Loops

If the people checking out this new group has a positive experience and recommend others in their PLN join, then the value increases (with N2 apparently. Lol). In addition to this, the experience will be even more positive as more and more people in their PLN joins. The visits to the community will become more frequent and people will visit the community for longer periods.

The Technology Adoption Cycle

In her post “Learn to curate ISTE2015 – From someone who has been there” Allison White offers the following advice:

The tools you choose depend on what you are comfortable with and what kind of a learner you are (Do you learn best from audio notes, video snapshots or typed notes?) Sele…
from Learn to curate ISTE 2015 – from someone…

New technology ideas do not roll out in a linear fashion, the goal of any new idea/technology should be to seek out the early adopters, the innovators and tech enthusiasts (This shouldn’t be too difficult with ISTE attendees). This should be followed with engaging the early adopters and ‘visionaries’ to get their feedback… before looking to get feedback from the ‘late majority’

The graph above is from Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Cycle, the text in blue details what each groups attitude towards technology might be and the numbers in white detail how many UK FE Colleges might be in each group. Many products and services never manage to “Cross the Chasm”

As a relatively inexperienced community manager are there any concerns as we explore issues of culture and growing? Absolutely! Are there any main concerns that can be articulated? Nora Jones… What? The singer? Yep. How come? Check out how the Blue Note Jazz forum was affected by what became know as

Nora Jonestown

I hope we’ll be able to maintain the early culture… while onboarding the right people… in the right way… and at the right time… and in time for ISTE2016. What could possibly go wrong?

As this is education and the early group have a strong interest in Digital Citizenship, I hope the answer to this question is “A lot less could go wrong compared with other online communities!”

With this project and others I hope that I have taken the advice from some of the more experienced community managers who have been extremely generous with their time and hope that I have taken the advice on board and am able to apply it well.

I love the last group that Patrick O’Keefe thanks in the acknowledgement section of his fantastic book “Managing Online Communities”

“Thank you to all of the idiots out there that I had to deal with. I learned a lot from you and I share it in this book with the hope that, when you bother the next person, he or she will be ready for you.”

I’ve no idea if I’m ready, but I know that I would be a lot less ready if it was not for people like Patrick and the My Community Manager team who give up an hour of their time every week to share their knowledge and experience.

To follow the journey of this #Cmgr newbie trying to help his friends at Declara to onboard educators in the right way, assist with the development of a super user program and try to get the culture right so that educators and suppliers come together to collaborate, check out the #ISTE16Pirates Log

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

Psychometric Profile – Visionary? Writer? Strategist?

Belbin (Profile - Chart)

I found the process of going through my professional experiences for my business plan such a positive experience, I thought I’d do the same with some of the psychometric tests that I’ve completed over the years. Again, I found this to be an extremely valuable and rewarding experience.

I have had some of these results on file for a few years, but they didn’t really make too much sense.

It’s hard to believe any concept of “Visionary,” “corporate leader” or “strategic leadership” when your job involves the reasonably rote practices of going through a telephone pitch, followed by the same presentation and any other prescriptive sales processes that your employer suggests that you use.
SHL-AccessPersonality - Leadership Report (Blog Post)I’ve found it interesting  how I’ve naturally gravitated towards creating a role that plays to my strengths and areas that I enjoy. This has not been the easiest route by any manner or means.

Whether or not I can develop the skills needed to be a Founder in startupland, where I balance the needs of clients with the kind of approach that educators would welcome remains to be seen. If not, I hope that pulling this information together will be a useful document to complement my CV/Resume.

But before any thought of returning to the world of paid employment, as a result of Tech Stories ending up being one of the 8 out of 10 businesses that fail… I hope that this summary of my psychometric test results highlights that this visionary writers strategy advice would be a useful addition to any startup or team looking to identify the best strategy for engaging educators.

SHL-AccessPersonality - Manager Plus Report (Competency Potential Profile)

OH MyCmgr! Yer a Wizard Harry!

Yer a Wizard Harry

As someone who’s been re-skilling to be a Community Manager for the last 12 months+ it was like something out of Harry Potter when I realised that I had 11 years experience in this area, insane or what?! How did I miss this experience? How did I discover it?

This post looks at the value of me going through the process of developing a Business Plan… and I hope that it highlights the merit of schools and colleges getting organisations like EntrepreneurMe visit the school to deliver their student workshops.

I would never had thought that developing a business plan would provide the opportunity for reflection that it has in the last two weeks since I started work on it.

I know that entrepreneurship in education is important from the perspective of growth mindsets, developing in-demand skills like creativity, soft skills and is ideal for preparing our young people for the uncertain economic conditions they face.

Many enterprise organisations go on about the money and business side of it, and anything I’ve written in the past in support of entrepreneurship in education has been mostly from the perspective of economic necessity… thanks to the economic uncertainty that “we” ie our politicians, created for the next generation.

I’ve been involved with a few startups, but have never developed a business plan… at least not one where I was able to factor the things that are important to me personally into the plan. In the past two weeks I’ve reflected on;

  • Seeing my experiences in the past as opposed to “Being the Jack of all trades,” but when considered with regard to “T Shaped Skills,” I am able to detail to potential clients (or future employers) that, depending on what customers, users and employers were looking for, I have developed the skills that were necessary in order to get the job done!

This week I was pulling my “About Us” section together.

When Things Go Wrong
In the Testimonials section I took the unconventional and counter-intuitive step to include some comments about “when things go wrong with clients (And they Sometimes will)”

Oh the Places you'll Go - Landscape

Is this being negative at the outset? A little too honest? …or a healthy dose of realism?

The way I see it, it’s the benefit of experience. Things will go wrong for any number of reasons and may even be through no fault of the service provider or client… This is something that I highlight in our Fail Fast. Fail Cheap section.

I feel two things are VITAL in attracting, keeping and retaining clients;

1) Manage expectations, and

2) Resolve any issues quickly and effectively.

Issues can and will arise. I love MIT’s Ken Morse story about how a company’s response to a challenge turned from a potentially lost and disgruntled customer into a more loyal one.

Morse got a gift for a member of his family for Christmas, but found was broken when the recipient opened it. Morse dashed off an angry email to the company. He received a call on Boxing Day with the offer of a replacement… which would be sent express delivery so it would arrive the next day. 

An experience that could easily have lost a customer, made him more loyal than before the challenging customer experience because of the way it was handled.

Managing Expectations in EdTech…
EdTech is Tough! Not every project that I have worked on has worked out. What I tried to achieve in UK Further Education with CrowdControlHQ and Crowdmark didn’t work… But 12 Months later the exact same methods worked with Nurph and Get2ISTE in the US.

Managing expectations is important, as is delivering value. I will try to help educators to stay as small as possible for as long as possible in the hope that they don’t have to start chasing sales to cover overheads.

Getting the balance right with knowing when to nudge an idea along with a bit of sales effort while not annoying educators will be tricky. The clients urgency will not be urgent for educators.

But then again considering the needs and results of clients will be a priority, but not at the risk of affecting the relationships I’ve built with educators.

By highlighting that I’ve failed with projects in the past and that EdTech is tough is the best way I can see to both manage expectations and the start of building brutally honest relationships.

Likewise, I hope that highlighting that things things can and will go awry and the every effort will be made to resolve things as quickly as possible will also help with developing relationships

Managing expectations and resolving issues appear to be the kind of issues that keep community managers up at night.

Yer A Cmgr William!
“A manufacturer is not through with his customer when a sale is completed. He has then only started with his customer. In the case of an automobile the sale of the machine is only something in the nature of an introduction. If the machine does not give service, then it is better for the manufacturer if he never had the Introduction, for he will have the worst of all advertisements – a dissatisfied customer” Henry Ford

This quote sums up my attitude towards sales and has perhaps been particularly useful when working with the tight knit education communities of UK Higher and Further Education.

I wanted to put some testimonials together for this “About Us” page. However, with no customers yet, I looked at information from some of the various projects that I’ve been involved with to see what could be used to demonstrate to potential customers that they are in safe hands.

I dug out some testimonials from my reports and projects that was involved with in my previous jobs… and there was surprising amount of material I could reference, which I’m sorting through at the moment.

As well as these testimonials, I am toying with the idea of including some of the comments from the various psychometric tests that I’ve completed. The reason for this is because these reports suggest that I am particularly good at scoping new ideas and finding solutions to challenges (A potential reason for any T Shape skills).Belbin (1)

Again, the aim here would be to highlight to potential customers that they are in safe hands. The body of evidence and completed projects surprised me a little, which may sound a little weird. The reason for this was explained when I was looking for articles about people with INFJ Meyer Briggs profiles I read an article called “It is hard to be an INFJ

“INFJs can always list the things they’ve left undone but have a hard time counting their accomplishments”

Experienced Community Manager?
This definitely applies to my experiences with Community Management and pulling all my experiences together for this website I noticed two minor details:

1) The extent to which I had helped expand the network of Universities and Colleges that we worked with from 2003-2009, which went from 84 to 280 (50% market share within 3 years with one project).

2) How much I disliked the cold calling aspect of the job when looking for customers when I was in sales. What I did find enjoyable was researching how our solutions could compliment the Every Child Matters outcomes, or assist colleges within the context of Ofsted’s “Common Inspection Framework”.

Also the thing I liked best about sales was the initial meetings after colleges booked and finding out about what the client’s issues were… and figuring ways that our communications solutions could help with this. The repeat business ratio for this project was extremely high.

I have been looking to re-skill from sales to Community Manager for the last 2 years. Through developing my business plan, I realise that I have actually got 6 years community management experience. However, because the main responsibilities were sales and operations I hadn’t realised this.

Then there is the fact that most community management today focuses on online communities. As had no digital presence of any kind until late 2010, this experience just didn’t compute. DOH!

I have been writing reports for 4 years now, so can include this as content marketing experience… All this community experiences while holding down full time roles in sales, operations and market research.

So I am delighted to be able to amend my website and CV accordingly, and will be actively looking for some freelance Community Management work with education companies with a lot more experience and confidence!

He's Not an EdTech Influencer
But hopefully is set to become a Wizard of a Cmgr!

Add to this that I’m “An EdTech Influencer” (Again), this startup just might do OK when the business plan is finished… That is of course if I get the same kind of support that I have done in the past from some of those master EdTech sales people like Nikki D Robertson, Steve Isaacs, Kharima Richards, Susan Bearden and others.

Putting together my business plan has been an amazingly reflective process in helping me to identify my values, personality profile, experiences and goals.

I know that there are a lot of enterprise initiatives out there in education but, if I were a school wanting to explore the role that entrepreneurship has in this kind of context, I’d give the guys at EntrepreneurMe a call.

The Mone Review is asking why people in deprived areas don’t start their own businesses, I wonder if students in more affluent areas have more opportunities to consider their strengths, values and goals more than their less socially mobile counterparts… and if going through the process of putting a business plan together would have the same kind of impact on others as this has for me.

SaveEdShelf 12 Months Later: A Little Bit of Empathy Goes a Long Way


It’s been a busy week as I’ve been pulling together content for the Tech Stories website and thinking about core values as I develop my business plan.

I wanted to take a moment away from the website and business plan to reflect on my blogging as it hit the 100,000 mark for page views, but wasn’t sure about which area to focus on. When developing the projects page of the site I noticed that:

1) It was a year today that EdShelf hit their Kickstarter goal, and

2) There appeared to be a common theme to the randomness of the projects that I’ve beeninvolved with, which was…

When trying to put my experiences into any kind of order I read an interesting article by IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, about the profile of “T-Shaped” people;Tech_Stories - T Leadership (Version 2)

“T -shaped people have two kinds of characteristics, hence the use of the letter “T” to describe them. The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. It is composed of two things. First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective- to stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, they tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. Tshaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills” TimBrown, IDEO CEO via T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture

This explanation fitted with the projects that I have worked on and I’d like to explore my experiences to highlight the role empathy has played with all of the projects I have been involved with recently.  I detail events and then include an “E-Factor” regarding why I got involved with each initiative.

There are a lot of changes happening in education for both educators with budget cuts and MOOCs etc, as well as EdTech developers with traditional methods being replaced by social business methods.

I hope that my taking a moment to reflect on my experiences helps someone… somewhere because, as you will see…

EdTech Is Tough!!

Wimpy Blogger

Chapter 1: Redundancy & Social Media
November 2010
The company that I worked at for almost 10 years was closing one of their offices. The reason for this was due to government budget cuts and, as an education supplier, these cuts affected the business.

Given the results I had achieved in various roles at this company, I wondered if I had done enough to at least get an interview with one of the “Big 3″ Tech companies. I tried to get a hold of the head of UK Education at Google, Apple and Microsoft. When I did manage to speak to one of them, the feedback was frustrating and disappointing for me;

“Why can I not find you on any social media channels?” Was the opening question…“Erm because I’m not on any” was my reply. At the time I thought social media was a waste of time and had no digital footprint at all.

“If you want to be involved with EdTech you need to be on social media… It comes with the job now”

I thanked him for his time and feedback, hung up the phone and walked over the the desk of the nearest digital native in the office. They sold me on a medium that I had dismissed as a waste of time (without doing a single bit of research on it) in a single sentence;

“William I have a Twitter account and have 4,000 followers. We discuss an idea that I have and they help me to tweak the idea by suggesting improvements. If 10% of those followers buy what I am developing, I’ll have enough revenue to start the business”

“Are you telling me there’s a business case for being on Twitter?” Asks I! I went on to explore social media and got connected

After putting 10 years into a company, redundancy was horrible, to then realise that your skill set is becoming out dated was devastating. I’ve constantly shared my experiences in the hope that other EdTech sales people who are not exploring the in-demand social business skills will open some social media accounts… The alternative options to not seeing the signs and not taking the time to re-skill is not a pleasant one!!

Chaper 2: Learning to be Sociable
January-March 2011
I had read Social Nation by Barry Libert and opened a Twitter account. I lurked and listened for a few months initially. As I listened and learned I also curated various lists. When I finally felt ready to Tweet one of my first messages was; Social Nation Tweet
In early 2011 I attended two events: Bill Aulet’s Inbound Marketing workshop and the Association of Colleges Communication Conference. Bill Aulet’s workshop blew my mind!

I had found that the sales methods which had previously had been welcome and had achieved good results, were starting to become less and less welcome. This workshop highlighted why this was the case, how sales and marketing today is more about the experiences of existing users more than ever before.

When it comes to the very best products, people want to buy them.
Great sales operations are no substitute for product-market fit
                                                     Dave Feinleib, Why Startups Fail

I produced my EdTech Report to share my research which was based on the sales practices of major tech companies, who stress the importance of co-creating and collaborating with current and potential users… and staying as small as possible and ultra-focused until you have achieved Product-Market Fit.

Chapter 3: EdTech is Tough!
January 2011
Bill Aulet detailed his process of going through the due diligence with a company he was involved, called SenseAble Technologies. An area that they considered as an early market was education, but the board discounted the sector.

The reasons for this was because they advice that a startup should aim to be market leader within 2 years of operating in a niche sector, and this would be unlikely in education.

When I caught up with Bill during a break I asked for advice with my ideas and his advice was pretty much try a different sector because “EdTech is tough” he added that he advises his students to avoid education because it’s such a difficult area to scale your ideas.

Oh No! We have a problem! I really don’t want to leave education, but I’m not going to ignore any advice that someone like the Head of Entrepreneurship at MIT is providing!!

If EdTech is so tough then how many stakeholders are missing out on opportunities? How many cool products developed by MIT alumni Founders are educators missing out on? How many EdTech startups are going out of business because EdTech is tough? I’ve considered solutions to this challenge since 2011.

Through being involved with two projects that got good exposure without any sales people being employed, some progress is being made.

Chapter 4: Communicating Social Change
March 2011
As a (reluctant!) new social media user and with the advice of Social Nation and the Inbound Marketing workshop still ringing in my ears, I attended the AOC Communications Conference. The main talking points at the event were;

1) The budget cuts, which led to my being made redundant at my previous job, meant that college marketing departments were being asked to do more with less.

2) College Marketing Managers felt doing “more with less” could be better achieved if they were allowed to use Social Media… but Senior Managers still “don’t get social media,” so the college continues to block these websites at the college.

Ah Ha! Thinks I! I know how SMT feel, I “Didn’t Get It” a few months ago, and I’ve been exploring this as a newbie… Maybe I could share my experiences and they help both SMT to understand the value of these channels, which will help College Marketing Departments to do more with less. I start to pull a whole bunch of data and research together… and try to put it into some kind of report.

Chapter 5: A Daft Draft
July 2011
I curate a pile of data and send a draft report to Social Nation author, Barry Libert, and ask for permission to use extracts from his book. Not only does Barry kindly grant permission, he also helps to tidy my “Report” into something more like a report. Five drafts and two months later, we circulate the finished document.

Compared with my sales calls, the response to this report really was quite something! As few weeks after publishing the report I would make the same calls that I had done previously, but instead of getting;

“Who is this? Are you trying to sell me something” in a rather curt and unfriendly tone when calling anyone I had not spoken to previously, I would be greeted like an old friend “Hey William, Great to hear from you, how are you?” Even though we had never spoken before but they had read the Twitter in FE report.

Realising how ineffective and time consuming traditional cold calls and emails were, I tried to get my employer to change his sales methods and replace these calls with research for similar reports… But the suggestion didn’t go down too well “Get on the phone and sell” was pretty much the extent of the response

Chapter 6: Report, Report, Report
July 2011- Aug 2012
As I was working at a small startup which was operating in two markets, trying to getting resources for marketing was difficult as budgets were limited. I had to make calls and send spam during the 9-5 work day. Therefore I developed my skills around “Content Marketing” and other reports in my free time.

Each report was written in direct response to the needs that I was hearing from the educators I was speaking to. When I was being told that people could not consider our services because of the horrendous budget cuts (The sector lost 30% of staff during 2008-2012) I wrote my Business Development Ideas for FE report which had projections of £10 million for the sector.

The cuts eventually saw mass mergers of colleges, with Scotland going from 40+ College down to 10 (With the cost savings being unknown and nowhere near as much as policy makers thought it would be). The one thing that these mergers did seem to be a success with was with affecting the culture, so I wrote my Culture in FE report.

Chapter 7: Telling a Compelling Story
I’ve been involved with seven reports now. By far the one that was the most fun to write was a random little article called: Tech Story… What Educators can Learn from Pixar’s Toy Story. The idea for this one came about through three main sources of inspiration;

1) I was struggling to get a message across to educators about how challenging educators were to sell to, especially since the budget cuts.

2) I was making my way through the 10 books on Bill Aulet’s recommended reading list, and had finished “Made to Stick,” so was thinking of ways to tell compelling stories so they would “stick”.

3) Not being able to switch off from this work-realted issue when spending time with my kids.

We’re watching Toy Story (Again) because one of my kids is Toy Story mad and loves all things Pixar. We watch a behind the scenes program and John Lasseter highlights how:

“You have to tell a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seat… [and to do that] you populate that story with really memorable and appealing characters.”

I didn’t have the imagination to come up with memorable or appealing characters of my own… so I borrowed Toy Story’s and applied them to a college setting to discuss this topical issue.

Through attending many meetings and understanding things from the various departments’ perspectives, and being able to “stand in someone else’s shoes” I could draw out the different personalities in college meetings and attribute them to characters from Andy’s playroom.

Some of my college contacts got in touch to let me how much fun it was identifying the “Tech Stories” characteristics in college meetings. Some even said that it helped with procurement discussions as people were able to say “Oh Stop being such a Ham or Rex” about the technology solution they were discussing.

Chapter 8: Fail Slow, Fail Cheap
October 2012
With the budget cuts now dragging on for two years with no end in sight, it was time to try some alternative models and to see if it might be possible to turn the “EdTech is Tough” sector into something easier to deal with.

I had met CrowdControlHQ Founder James Leavesley at a conference and could see the value in what he was doing, and he liked my Twitter in FE Report.

We collaborated on a Social Media Risk Report in Education. This was followed by me sending an update with a 75% reduction on the cost of CrowdControl’s services: 75% Discount for CrowdControl Pilot.

The update had a good level of engagement… but no sales enquiries. I had helped CrowdControl to “Fail Fast and Fail Cheap” …But Tech Stories was to fail slowly and painfully in this space for another 2 years.

I knew from painful experience how difficult educators were to sell to. Bill Aulet had warned me that it was tough, and maybe best to be avoided. But I knew that educators were not only missing out on great technology solutions because of this, but the budget cuts would soon be affecting their ability to innovate if they were not able to afford the latest “must have” gadgets.

I thought this model would work, In two years time I was to find that the ideas can and would work… My challenge was that I was in a “Bad Market”

“Feinleib highlights that some sectors (i.e. small businesses) can be a challenging target market for start-ups as there are two painful truths about them; 1) They are very hard to reach, and 2) They have no money. The product may be compelling and users need the solution, but the supplier is not able to reach their customers effectively!” Why Startups Fail

Chapter 9: Market Research
August 2012-October 2012
Trying to make my ideas and plans work were going horribly badly, nothing I tried was working. So I decided to ask people directly about my approach to see if the work had value to them to see if I should just return to the cold calls and spam emails.

The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, I couldn’t figure it out.

FE Market Research

Has a move away from traditional sales been obvious & welcome? Yes = 100%

Chapter 10: Bad EdTech Episode 1: Rip Offs
September 2012-October 2013
When a documentary called “Reading, Writing and Rip Offs” is aired, which details how some unscrupulous companies were telling educators that their tech was free but, through some protracted means and complicated contracts, were extorting millions of pounds for a few laptops and photocopiers.

To say I was angry and frustrated watching this programme would be an understatement! This was the inspiration of my EdTech Report: Developing Relationships and Delivering Value.

Trying to write this in a way that would appeal to and be relevant to educators and EdTech suppliers was a real challenge and it took five complete re-writes and over a year to complete.

Isolated examples like this ones on this documentary has an adverse effect on the EdTech ecosystem, making it challenging for the “Good Guys” in EdTech to thrive… and a lot easier that it should be for unethical companies like the ones in this programme to operate in education.

A question I asked my education contacts after this show was “Have you ever thought what it’s like to sell to educators” the kind of response that I got was “You know, I’ve never thought of that before” followed by “William, we must be a nightmare to deal with for sales!”

Chapter 11: UKFEChat – A Little bit of Hustle
January 2013
Having been on Social Media for two years I had joined a few Twitter chats by this point, and wondered why there wasn’t a chat dedicated to UK Further Education.

I then found that there was a #UKFEChat, but it had only been going for a few months and it appeared that a couple of the sessions were abandoned and/or cut short due to only a few people turning up. I felt the chat needed a little bit of hustle, so offered to help out.

It’s a big commitment to give up an hour each week to make yourself available to assist colleagues with their PD (and let off a little steam), and a poorly attended chat can be a little demolarising given all the effort moderators put in. But things like this need a little hustle in order to get a bit of momentum.

Chapter 12: EdTechChat – Cold Calling Is Dead
April 2013
Another EdChat I was keen to join was #EdTechChat… and WOW! JUST WOW!

When you discuss issues like Inbound Marketing with social media experts and they say “cold calling will be dead in a few years” you wonder if they will apply to education. I had been having this discussion with my sales colleagues since I read Hubspot’s book Inbound Marketing two years ago. My colleague views were that “Companies will always need to make cold calls,” I wasn’t so sure this was the case.

This was confirmed for me in the first 5 weeks of EdTechChat I saw very clearly that cold calling would indeed be dead in education soon. 40 companies were mentioned some 4-500 times without a sales rep in sight on the phone or in the EdChat.

I did everything I could to let suppliers know that these changes were on the way, and continue to do so. In Scotland the call centre industry is worth £84 billion to our economy with very few jobs for community managers. In my opinion, these jobs will not be here in the near-medium future.

Chapter 13: StartupEduChat/EdTechBridge
December 2013-April 2014
For eight months I joined EdTechChat and every week companies doing great work were discussed by educators on Twitter.

During Decembers’ chat the topic was something like “EdTech you’d like Santa to bring,” and was an hour of praise for a handful of tech companies. I dashed off a post suggesting that PLN for suppliers be established where all these companies who were doing great work could share their expertise with others.

When I heard about Steve Isaacs and Katya Hott EdTechBridge presentation at SXSWEdu I supported them with this.

It was frustrating to hear providers being praised so much by users, but hearing nothing about the process they went through to make them such great products and providers. I thought a forum like this would help others who were struggling to get a “High Promoter Score” with their users in education.

I would hardly say that I was a success but my experiences are sufficient for me to consider putting a business plan together at the moment, so I hope this post might help an EdTech startup or two.

Chapter 14: Nurph
April 2014 – July 2014
Having developed a strong interest in data curation and Twitter chats, when I heard about Nurph I felt this platform could add value to EdChats… so offered to assist with the development of some education resources.

Nurph is a small startup who may not have had the resources to commit to education. At the same time I felt this platform could provide data that could provide some key insights for moderators, and assist with certain aspects of hosting a Twitter chat.

Chapter 15: SaveEdShelf
July 2014-August 2014
A year ago today there were four years of frustration. I thought I was on the right track and that my ideas had merit. I had tried to work in ways that were ethical and welcome. I would try one thing and if it didn’t work I’d try another. So when I read Mike Lee’s post


I also felt that what he was doing was the future of EdTech sales. So I supported Alicia Leonard in her campaign to #SaveEdShelf. This turned out to be a success through a Kickstarter campaign.

My involvement with this campaign made me wonder if my ideas may be of value, but that the issue was I was trying to make them work in an area of education that was particularly difficult to engage with due to funding cuts and mergers etc.

Is hopefully obvious with this one… You have an idea, you think it will work out, it doesn’t and you wonder what went wrong and what you could have done differently. When the reality appears to be the ideas are sound but that… well, erm…”EdTech is Tough,” something I was warned about but was too stubborn to listen!

Chapter 16: Get2ISTE
July 2014-June 2015
When I heard that one of the EdTechChat moderators would not be going to ISTE2014 I raised the idea of “Social Tipping” for moderators via a blog post, but the idea wasn’t too well received. Moderators felt this would be benefiting financially from their chats.

Through her evangelising efforts with Nurph, Nikki Robertson removed some of these objections and between March 19-27th the idea was launched.By June £3,357 had been raised and 4 educators were off to ISTE.

Knowing how much time and effort moderators put into their chats it was insane that they were not able to get a little support to attend a conference and meet the people that they collaborate with online.Further researched highlighted that startups and international companies may be priced out of exhibiting at conferences, so this could be an alternative way of having a presence at the event.

Chapter 17: EdChatMod & Cmgr
August 2014-June 2015
I had been checking out various Community Management resources since I found out about Community Manager Appreciation Day in January 2014 and thought that EdChat moderators might benefit from some of the Google Hangouts and links.
As I had a lot of moderators contact details I invited them to join an EdChat Moderator forum to share ideas and resources. It was great to see Get2ISTE delegate Nikki Robertson host a “Birds of a Feather” session at the conference for EdChat moderators.

When doing research for the EdChat Resource Plan we found 89 chats had been started but abandoned. When we asked the moderators why the chat was stopped “Lack of participants” was one of the reasons. Community building is tough and the advice from experienced community managers makes it a whole lot easier!
Chapter 18: DigiDiversity & Startup Lady
April 2015-August 2015

Through following EdChat moderators I get to find out about all kinds of cool projects and the DigiDiversity SXSWEdu presentation to discuss minority women in technology is one example.

It is because of this presentation that I found out about Ramona Peirson and Declara. I have written something like 14 posts about Declara regarding my experiences as a user. This is one of the first products I have been an early user of and has been an interesting experience.

This service has exceeded all expectations and the potential for this social learning platform in education truly blows my mind. But I noticed that I had Declara in my database since 2013, when it was Peirson Labs when they attended a conference that I had a delegate/exhibitor list for. I also had an EdSurge article about them on file.

I took a moment to find out what projects people in my PLN are involved with and then passed the contact details of someone with shared interests. By doing so I’ve made some fantastic new connections with an organisation that was already on file.

Chapter 19: Chris Beyrle – 3D Printing
June 2015

When I shared an update with EdChat Moderators about crowdfunding, Chris Beyrle asked if I could share details of his cause for a 3D Printer, I said I’d be happy to share the information and to get involved.

When exploring crowdfunding for 3D Printers to see if/how I might be able to help, I found there’s synergy with 3D Hubs and educators crowdfunding for printers. This could lead to more causes being fulfilled, the idea needs some development… but could work well.

Chapter 20: Tech Stories – Starting Up
August 2015
So here we are. Four years ago I had a conversation with one of the “Big 3″ and my experiences were not sufficient to even get an interview, and Bill Aulet warned me how tough EdTech is.

At the weekend I had a Skype conversation with Good Audience, whose founders worked at Yahoo and Google, and GrowSumo, a Y Combinator startup that launched 3 weeks ago and is on fire.

Both said that education is a sector they would like to work in but are not focusing on it because they know how tough it is.

I’m going to develop some resources with them and a few other organisations who face the same issue and, depending on how these pilots go, I’ll know if there is a viable business to be had with the model I’m working on.

Whatever happens though, whether Tech Stories remains a personal brand… Or becomes a struggling startup I can guarantee you one thing:

Core Value #1 will be: Empathy

Collaborating and helping out where and when I can has worked better for me than cold calls and emailing corporate literature… So it appears to make plain good business sense.

If anyone would like more information regarding my experience please see or if you’d like to arrange to chat about my experiences, feel free to schedule a Skype call via this EdTech_Stories Calendly Page

What Are You Willing to Do For a Buck?


After a two year search and having successfully tested some concepts and ideas, I’m starting to think that I may be iterating my way to “Product Market Fit.” I’ve started to develop a website and began work on a business plan.

This post considers an extremely important question that will set the tone for any company that I establish for a very long time:

What will I be willing to do for a buck?

Also, given the criticism that EdTech companies get for only being interested in money and profit, I explore this same question for educators. Whether EdTech company or educator, it’s an important question.

I met with Business Gateway and Matt Stewart from EntrepreneurMe yesterday. Both meetings were extremely useful in helping develop my ideas and confirm that there is the potential in my business ideas for Tech Stories. This website has had a “Coming Soon” holding page for quite some time now as;

1) I was struggling to achieve product market fit with some of my ideas, and

2) I didn’t have the funds to hire a developer.

Through my discussion with Matt I can see how product market fit isn’t too far away now… Yay!

Regarding the web development, I recall reading the reason for Google’s clean page with a logo and single text box was because they only had $50 for design work… So maybe I’ve had the best possible start. Lol.

GoogleNecessity: The reason for a clutter free site – a $50 web design budget

Thanks to free applications like WordPress and organisations like Business Gateway I’ve managed to do a little more design than a logo and text box. Here’s my website:

A HUGE THANK YOU To Paul Hunter at Business Gateway and Jeffrey Mattingley and his team at Just Host Me for all their support. Next stop on the bus to startupland:

The Business Plan

One of the other tasks on the list is “Finish Business Plan” and the first section is a summary of the business where you are asked to consider things like;

  • What do you plan to do? Provide a description of your product or service
  • Who are your customers?
  • What are the estimated start up costs and turnover/profit in the first year?

How will your business make money? This question reminds me of Philip Delves Broughton’s book “Life’s a Pitch.

“Not only should colleges, universities and companies teach more sales, but it should be the starting point of a business education. It is from sales that everything follows: How you make money, how you treat people, how you wish to grow. Every ethical question a business person could face comes down to a question you confront in your very first sale: What are you willing to do for a buck” Philip Delves Broughton, Life’s a Pitch

This comment, in turn, leads me to the work of Dave Logan and David Robertson who both highlight why the core values of an organisation matter, even at an early stage;

“Every venture, at it’s inception, is imbued with a core purpose and set of values that emanate from the founder and shapes the organisation” David Robertson, Brick by Brick

“Identify core values and align them with a noble cause” Dave Logan, Tribal Leadership

Tribal Leadership

As I will be looking to charge people for my work and ideas soon, I am all too aware of how educators view for-profit organisations, and am keen to avoid some of the negative stereotypes.

However, as I consider this question for any potential business I wonder what happens if we turn this question on it’s head a little? What if we ask “What are educators willing to do for a buck?”

The idea for my tech report came as a result of watching the BBC’s “Reading, Writing and Rip Offs” which exposed the practices of technology companies in schools. It would appear education can be subject to similar questionable practices.

  • As I worked on my business plan earlier in the week ITV’s Making the Grade was on, which looks at the extent teachers are willing to go for a buck by falsifying exam results in a “Money for Marks” culture
  • Do schools and colleges admit students to their college because they need the revenue that accepting their application provides… more than based on what’s right for the student?

    According to the program some heads encourage certain practices because there is more funding depending on league tables and Ofsted results. Or teachers who won’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

Making the Grade 1

  • Universities are happy to go along with the government proposals and hike education fees up from £6,000 to £9,000. If people want to argue that this is unavoidable we could question why universities welcome banks to freshers events with the full knowledge that the student loans and overdrafts will see students enter into adulthood saddled with debt.
  • What if we looked at education conferences? Are organisers willing to accept a booking for exhibitions stands even if they know the product has a poor reputation within education?

    How many exhibitors would there be if it was based on whether or not delegates wanted each supplier there?

  • Given the expenses scandal, cash for questions and the amount peers charge for not ever turning up, I won’t even bother looking at what the politicians who are responsible for education policy will do for money.

What is Tech Stories Willing to do for a Buck? 

So what about me? What am I willing to do for a buck?

I am hoping to help startups and suppliers who are new to education (as well as educators and students) to help them find the early adopters and establish some case studies.

Question: What’s my criteria for which organisations I’ll be looking to work with?
Answer: If I like the sound of the product or can see the potential in the idea, I’ll work with them.

Question: How do I go about assessing the merit of an idea if it’s not been tested?
Answer: I have a few things that help with this, including Kipp Co-Founder’s criteria

“Great Teaching and More of It”

Whether the idea is from an education supplier, educator, student or anywhere else… if I can see how the solution facilitates great teaching, I’ll be keen to find ways to help out.

As part of my business model revolves around having explored the world of sales there are all kinds of sources of inspiration that are inescapable as I ponder this question, some of which are included above and many others besides.

I’m still working on ideas around core values and am considering what Tech Stories “Noble Cause” might look like, but what I do know is that I am committed to seeing what role I can play in;

1) Using my skills and experience to facilitate better products and services in education, while

2) Reducing the overheads for both suppliers and educators.

3) Delivering Value, which I hope will help build strong relationships

“Some salespeople put a high value on the friendships they develop in sales and the opportunity to work in a field they enjoy” Philip Delves Broughton, Life’s a Pitch

This comment resonates with me a lot! You are unlikely to develop these relationships and friendships with people by cold calling and spamming them with corporate mailshots.

I’ll leave you with a comment and core values from one of Bo Burlingham’s “Small Giants” and the next chapter of something that started out as a quirky, fun little article. header

“We will always do what is right, even if it is not always profitable” Company featured in Small Giants

Tech Stories: The Next Chapter?
While there is a proof of concept in most of what I am hoping to do, one way or another, some of the things I am trying are new…They are either new to me, new to educators or entirely new ideas and models.

Not all the ideas will work out which is why they’ll be tested on a small scale, and rolled out or dropped, depending on the early results. With the ones that scale the benefits to educators, suppliers and (most importantly) students will be so obvious that roll out will hopefully be through word of mouth referrals.

If you are an educator or a supplier working in education, or would like to be, I would be grateful if you could take a moment to check these links out and would welcome any comments, queries and feedback;

Good Audience… But What Do You Do?

As my blog has been approaching the 100,000 page views, I have been reviewing my experiences with blogging. I am finding some weird and wonderful experiences with it all.

This post looks at how there is cause for hope and plenty of frustration… depending on whether I focus my attention on the innovation and pace of change at US startups, or within UK education. This week was a classic example of how different the pace of change is.

First of all please allow me to say a huge THANK YOU!! To everyone who has read my blog!

I would like to give a particularly HUGE SHOUT OUT to those who took the time to not only read, but engage with some of the posts that led to innovation and change. Getting involved has turned a random idea into something more because you took action. Your involvement has made a big impact, so thank you!

These projects have encouraged me to wonder if I should re-visit some earlier ideas I had in UK Further Education. I sent my first update in 12 months to my FE contacts who subscribe to my updates, which asked: Is Declara an Opportunity of Threat to FE?

I had some really nice emails from people and look forward to exploring the issues in this update further. Last year the reaction to these plans left me wondering if there was any merit with what I was trying to achieve. Regardless of the reaction, I feel I’m on the right track.

I discovered and explored the work of Good Audience, Growsumo and Intercom this week too. Finding out about what these organisations do was a boost as I felt progress was being made with my attempts to re-skill from traditional sales to inbound marketing/social selling/community management.

What Do You Do?
Howard Scott is the Editor of the Association of Learning Technologies Newsletter, and asked if I would be interested in writing about any of my projects after I shared my FE update with him.
After exchanging some DMs and emails I received some feedback from Howard, where he highlighted that he was struggling to get a handle on what I did.

I can understand this and tried to explain how my various projects and research had led me to see the sales process as vital aspect in the EdTech ecosystem, but also under-rated… and, in my opinion, very much broken.

I enjoyed the discussion and appreciated Howard’s feedback. Our conversation also demonstrated that there is a lot of work to do to with explaining the merits of some of my ideas and methods in FE… but in Silicon Valley these concepts are extremely advanced and well developed.

It’s Not What You Do… It’s the Way That You Do It
Since 2011 I have followed various discussions by different groups including:

Inbound Marketers: who have highlighted that cold calling will be dead within the next few years
EdChats: Have demonstrated how and why word of mouth referrals is the most effective roll out method
Books like Crowdsourcing: Highlight the potential of the collaborative economy
Reports like Teachers Know Best: Shows how ineffective a lot of EdTech is.

Through listening to these groups you can’t help but come to the conclusion that you don’t need to be making calls for good ideas to be adopted, so have been exploring this in a number of ways.

I wondered to what extent Howard’s comments were because of where things are at the moment, compared to where they will be… and, more importantly, what might be done to facilitate the kind of change that would be required to make them work in education.

Through these experiences I have also come to realise the importance of timing, momentum and users co-creating when exploring new ideas. If used together they really can help startups (and potential users) in the search for that all important product market-fit, before going on to scale their idea.

When experimenting with these concepts I have been working on a number of projects at any one time. These can be at different stages and take different lengths of time before any meaningful results start to come through.

The existing model of education sales is that a sales rep will call 20-40 colleges a day to discuss the same product. I can see no difference from an operational perspective with someone engaging with 20 colleges on a regular basis to co-create on a number of different projects. However, the benefits with this alternative model could be significant for educators and suppliers.

Founders of these projects would not need to hire as many (or any) sales people in education, this would allow them to stay as small as possible for as long as possible… which could provide significant cost savings for the startup and reduce the amount of time educators spend fielding sales calls.

Cold Calling IS Dead!
I have been discussing these ideas for the last 4-5 years now, and BOY! Have I found making progress in FE and UK education slow going! I can struggle to be heard by policy makers involved with initiatives like FELTAG and to get buy-in for some of these ideas and proposed methods.

But when I shift focus and look at other sectors, it really can be a breath of fresh air! When I compared my experiences and plans with what Sherman Lee, Luke Swanek and Russ Thau do, I couldn’t help get the feeling I’m on to something.

I read a great post by Russ Thau, Vice president of Sales for Intercom, called Why Cold Calling is Dead;

“Times have changed a lot… and so should the skills we value in a salesperson. For instance, I prefer good writing skills over good cold calling abilities any day… With high-quality, strategically promoted content, you can reach a much wider audeince than 50 calls a day, and know the people coming in are at least slightly interested in your product”
Under Traditional Models a Sales Person can come with overheads of $94,000
I found the same thing when I did a similar exercise looking at the cost of education conferences, which I detailed in The Trouble with Conferences… Confessions of an EdTech Salesman. My #Get2ISTE posts hopefully went some way to prove that alternative methods are more effective and efficient.

I’ve said for a while that the pace of the roll out of EdTech is dictated by the company’s sales team, and Russ’s figures support this.

How much cheaper could/would EdTech be if we were able to remove these overheads?

With thousands of EdTech companies sales reps calling and presenting to educators, what are the costs of college staff with fielding calls, addressing emails and attending presentations?

Is it the equivalent of a full time member of staff each year? My research estimated it at £30k

When researching my EdTech report some suppliers told me that they would be able to charge as much as 50% less than they do at the moment if educators were easier to engage.

Reduced costs isn’t the only opportunity that educators could be missing out on because they are hard to reach and engage with. They could also be missing out on cost saving/revenue generating opportunities too.

Good Audience
In 2011 I wrote my Business Development Ideas in FE Report and suggested that there was both revenue potential and cost savings to be had by turning back room costs and shared services into additional revenue streams. Last month read a post by Dave Cooper, Are Colleges Responding to Digital Disruption, which picked up on these same issues.

“As I travel round the country I am finding education marketers are facing exactly the same problems I faced and require the digital tools and support to avoid the inevitable digital disruption”

Last week Good Audience Founder, Sherman Lee, sent me a link to a post that was interesting so I checked it out. Good Audiences’ model of “providing dedicated marketing assistants so organisations can get back two hours of their life every day” are very much in line with these ideas.

Having just written to my FE contacts for the first time in 12 months there were a number of bounce backs, many of which were from College Marketing departments. Are there opportunities here I wondered;

Were these bounce backs due to budget cuts?

Were these marketing posts filled by others?

If not, what impact will this have on college admissions?

If they were, could partnering with Good Audience help generate more income?

Good Audience looks like it could benefit FE. More details about this in my next post, in the mean time which FE college would not benefit from someone with this kind of experience?

“We started this company really by accident. My wife started selling these t-shirts online, kind of like the ones Justin Beiber wears, and I was trying to understand how I could help her reach more people. These teenagers were all over social media, so I ended up following about 50,000 of them manually by hand and we ended up selling $30,000 worth of merchandise. So, I knew that, even though we were just messing around, there really was something there” Sherman Lee, Founder Good Audience

I checked Good Audience out further, as a few ideas were floating about in my head, this led me to GrowSumo who is “A partner program where people and organisations can get paid for recommending the products they love”

The potential for this with some of my UK and US connections in education and at other EdTech companies really does beggar belief! This could be a real game changer in a number of ways.
More on Good Audience, GrowSumo and Intercom in future posts, but on a personal level, it was SOOO good to hear about these Silicon Valley companies and how their work mirrored my research and experience.

Change When Change is Hard
I noted with interest that Sherman Lee and his colleagues tried to re-locate to the UK, but this almost killed their startup: Trying to raise investment money in London almost killed our tech startup

I find this ironic given all the entrepreneurship programs I’ve seen come and go, or David Cameron wanting to see the next Google coming from the UK.

The latest big idea is commissioning Michelle Mone to head up an initiative in collaboration with the Department of Work and Pensions to see why people in disadvantaged areas are not starting up on their own… Boy the stories I could tell on this one!

But if my previous experiences with the political classes is anything to go by, this will be all flash and no substance… and will lead to little by way of meaningful change.

I know that both startups and affecting change is hard, but I have also found some serious challenges within UK Education. I also have more than enough evidence to believe that I would have such an easier time with a lot of my ideas if I were able to relocate to an EdTech hub like California or New York (Sigh).

Whether incorporating my ideas into an existing organisation or starting up on my own, while the approach has been refined, my ideas remain unchanged from 4 years ago. The biggest struggle has been with getting the necessary buy-in.

But regardless of the struggles and challenges I’m learning as I go, and continue to make the necessary adjustments. For example, I’ve known for a while that one of the biggest challenges that I’ll face has it’s source in the organisations culture. Articles like this allow me to learn, develop and iterate accordingly Leadership Innovation;

“Paradoxically, the analysis revealed that those employees, largely middle managers, with the most negative attitude toward innovation were also the most highly sought after for advice about it. In effect, they served as bottlenecks to the flow of new ideas and the open sharing of knowledge. A further analysis of the people in this group highlighted their inability to balance new ideas with current priorities and to behave as leaders rather than supervisors”

Getting a Handle on My World of Work
So in answer to Howard’s comment, which may be relevant to other in UK Further Education Colleges and why people may find it hard to get a handle on my work:

I’m an ex-sales guy trying to figure out where the puck is going to land, the current models are dead (or are dying). I spent two years trying to make my ideas for improving the quality of products in FE while reducing the number of sales calls to colleges and sales overheads for the companies.

Things didn’t go to plan so I have spent the last year looking for “Product Market Fit” in other areas of education and have spend the last 12 months testing my ideas by working on things that looked promising and then collaborating a few people to test the idea, with no expectations (and no sales calls), to see what happens.

This model has seen me move from project to project and write about whatever appeals to me. I agree with Russ Thau that you can reach a wider audience with some interesting content. My attempts at exploring these things are not without their challenges.

While there are plenty of jobs looking for traditional sales in Scotland, there are no courses in My World of Work for Community Managers or any jobs advertised for them… Neither are there many sales or business development roles that don’t rely on cold calling and sending spam Vs inbound, social selling or content creation, reading Intercom’s post was a breath of fresh air.

Intercom’s services look at lot like John Golden’s Social Selling Advice
I’m not sure how it will all turn out in the end but, for the moment, I’ll run with Sherman’s advice he offers startups in this interview with Good Audience Founder, when asked;

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own company?
Don’t die! That’s the only time a business will fail is if the founders decide to give up. It’s happened to me at other start-ups and it’s happened to many of my friends, they just no longer believe that they could do it and that’s when things just stop.
I’m off to prepare for a meeting with Business Gateway in the hope of changing the status of my website, which has said “Coming Soon” for far too long.