edtech entrepreneurs – Problem Finders, Mistake Makers, Risk Takers, Persistent and Resilient

Start ups are nothing new and buzz words like ‘pivot’ and ‘agile development’ are most often used by people with little experience or interest in history. The reality is every business was once a start up and the majority have always either failed or quietly faded away. In tech and edtech the only difference is perhaps the rate at which businesses come and go and the unrealistic expectations of so many founders and investors.

ed-invent is a start up and so far some of the things we have had to change because we got them wrong are:

  • our original name invent-ed – it was unGooglable
  • our Freelancer.com design competition – four weak entries from the UK (170 after we went international with 30 on the shortlist)
  • structure of our final competition – originally 2×5 days now 1x weekend
  • prizes – originally 2x £1,500 now 1x £3k (winner), 1x £1k (runner up) and internships
  • recruitment – getting educators to weekday non-CPD events doesn’t work
  • our communication with teachers

The first four were fairly simple to fix, but the recruitment, delivery and communication issues have been more challenging. Some of the solutions we will be implementing include:

  • flexible time structure – i.e. whole day (inc. Saturdays) or part-time and online formats
  • with partners – including with edtech companies and their networks or with educational organisations who can provide facilities and help with communication and recruiting
  • online – core content and in how participants work in teams and pitch their ideas

One of the biggest lessons has been that even when you have channels to market these may work for one thing not others. For example OCR ‘s e-alert system is great for communicating with schools and examiners but didn’t work for ed-invent recruitment. Similarly, email marketing has also been lacklustre. For Manchester we developed a pretty sophisticated campaign that was:

  • professionally copy written, edited and designed
  • had AB tested versions for the “To” line, strapline and text
  • delivered to a list of named teachers via the best UK educational email marketing service
  • had a click-through rate of almost 15%
  • generated only 10 signups – approx. £150 per sign up. Of these only 7 turned up making the cost per person was £214 – more than the cost of paying for a supply teacher!

So what has/is working?

  • we already have several great innovative ideas generated by educators
  • a growing demand from partners who would want to work with ed-invent (inc. internationally)
  • reaching out actively to the supply teacher community (more about this in another post)
  • the whole-day sessions structure has seen a very high-level of engagement from participants and exceptionally strong feedback
  • the core premise of ‘putting educators at the heart of edtech’ is valid and relevant
  • our case studies, videos and model for getting educators to develop their own ideas all work

At the end of each session I have been showing a Giles Pilbrow cartoon from The Sunday Times relating to the sale of one of my start ups Tutpup. It reads, ‘Will we pay £100m for your spelling website? Will we B…O…L…L…O……..’ Above it I have what I call the edtech entrepreneur’s motto – ‘Rooster one day, feather duster the next’. This is my way of trying to explain that for those who think they will get rich in edtech, the journey never has a continuous upward trajectory.

ed-invent’s goal isn’t to make educators into entrepreneurs: it’s to get their ideas at the heart of edtech. However, I believe that great educators and successful entrepreneurs share four common characteristics; they are all:

  1. Problem Finders
  2. Mistake Makers
  3. Risk Takers
  4. Persistent and Resilient.