The Five Biggest Misconceptions in Ed-Tech

A how-to guide for anyone interested growing an online education company

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Misconception #1: Students Will Love It

My product provides high quality, engaging educational content that students will prefer over traditional ways of teaching/learning.

Reality Check: Great teachers have a way of bringing even the most boring topics to life through interactive activities and hands-on learning. Unless your product enables teachers to do what they do best, or you’re creating educational content for TikTok or YouTube, students probably will not go out of their way to consume your content. There are a few exceptions to this (especially at the elementary level, for example Prodigy), but for the most part, if your product is educational content, you will most likely struggle to get traction and usage from K12 or college students.

My Advice:

If you really care about impact, make sure you’re not just focused on students or parents as users, but on teachers as implementers. Nearpod and Reverb are great examples of tools that enable (rather than replace) teachers.

Misconception #2: We’re Better Than the Competition

My product has a better UX and relevance to students than what is currently on the market.

Reality Check: Educators care about more than the look and feel of a tool. Having a fresh look and feel is great first step to engage students, but educators will also want to know your answers to the following questions:

  • Does it integrate with their LMS?
  • Does it provide helpful reporting and data to assess their students?
  • Does it suggest or provide interventions if students aren’t meeting expectations?
  • Does it provide enough content/value to make the effort to implement a new tool worth it?
  • Does it comply with data privacy standards?
  • Is it recommended or approved by their district administrators?

My Advice:

Spend a lot of time talking to your customers/implementers (ideally) before you invest in building your product, and as you shift your focus to marketing and sales. You’ll want to get a sense of:

  • the real costs of switching
  • what they’re worried could go wrong if they adopt
  • whether they need administrator or even district approval
  • whether there is budget available for your product
  • if they already have multi-year contracts in place
  • whether there are data privacy concerns
  • what features would compel them to try something new

Misconception #3: Using Our Online Learning Tool is a No-Brainer

The need/problem that we’re solving is so great, teachers will see the value for their students

Reality Check: In education, the mere existence of a problem doesn’t prove that there is motivation to solve it. There are endless problems and needs educators are solving for on any given day (especially now with Covid-19). The urgency an educator feels to address the problem you’re trying to solve might not correlate with the actual urgency of the problem (at least as felt by you, the founder or ed-tech company employee).

My Advice:

Understand that there are many factors at play when a teacher is deciding what resources or tools to use. As much as possible:

  • make that curriculum alignment explicit in your marketing materials
  • create Google alerts around issues your product addresses to inform where your marketing/sales efforts could be best targeted
  • look for regional trends in adoption to lean into
  • personalize outreach to decision makers in those areas where you see favourable trends
  • make implementation/onboarding as intuitive and quick as possible (in-platform tutorials, clear messaging in marketing collateral etc)
  • integrate with the most common LMSs
  • offer professional development opportunities for educators (and eventually train-the-trainer models)
  • in your sales and marketing strategy, build in ways to make potential customers feel responsible for and empowered to address the problem at hand
  • as a part of your account management/customer success strategy, look for ways to make customers feel proud for going above and beyond by using your product to solve a problem

Misconception #4: Our Go-To-Market Strategy is Focused on Organic Growth

Because our product addresses a real need, we expect it to practically sell itself (by word of mouth, search, thoughtfully designed website etc)

Reality Check: It’s true that referrals go a long way in the education industry. Teachers trust teachers, which is why platforms like Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest are so popular among educators. However, teacher networks are often hyper-local, so personalized referrals from early adopters will only take you so far. Furthermore, teachers are skeptical as to whether a tool that worked in a different context will work in theirs. Breaking into a new market often requires relationship building with local leaders who can open doors for you or help you understand how your messaging needs to be adapted to meet local customs.

My Advice:

Don’t count on organic growth. Especially in the early stages of growth, you might have to do activities that don’t scale well before you can become more efficient. Beyond investing in user/implementer research to inform your product roadmap and marketing strategy, as previously mentioned, you should develop a more active marketing and sales strategy:

  • present at regional conferences
  • develop individual relationships with early adopters in as many regions and contexts (different student body demographics, rural vs urban, large district vs small district etc) as possible —
  • leverage early adopter relationships for social proof to help you scale: collect written testimonials, film product being implemented, write case studies
  • make it easy for customers to share your resource, and prompt them regularly to do so
  • aim for diversity on your team from the start, so your product can work for as many markets as possible
  • include a direct sales process in your go-to-market strategy
  • think like a salesperson at every stage of the customer journey:

Misconception #5: Our Pricing Model Removes the Adoption Barriers

I will reach a broader audience by making my product free (at least in the beginning).

Reality Check: Just because your product is free, it doesn’t mean teachers will use it. With educators, time is as big of a barrier as budget, so your product still has to provide a lot of value to them. If you’re thinking of a sales funnel that takes a user from unaware of your product to a customer, you might have the following categories: 1. lead 2. engaged 3. trained/qualified 4. active/customer, it’s easy to move a teacher from “lead” to “engaged” when the offer is free (whether that’s because it’s sponsored, a free trial, or a freemium type model). It’s a lot harder to convince them to take the time to understand and actually use the product so they become active customers.

  • educators might perceive the product to be of less value, before they even try it
  • educators might assume that the offer is too good to be true and there must be some strings attached, therefore not even considering it

My Advice:

Don’t forget that there are more barriers to signing up customers than price. To convince educators to take the time to learn about your product and implement it in their classrooms you should:

  • provide training and extra support to under-resourced districts if your focus is on equity
  • focus on how your product is a value-add for teacher — does it save them time? align to the curriculum? improve student outcomes? make their jobs easier somehow?

The Bottom Line

Finding product-market fit and getting traction in schools is HARD. The education market is complex, users often aren’t the implementers who often aren’t the buyers. Developing a proper Go-To-Market Strategy, that addresses each of these five assumptions, using the suggestions I’ve provided, can help you start to develop traction that will help you scale and eventually become profitable in the education technology market.

Brooklyn based Start-Up Advisor, Impact Investor, Filmmaker, Writer, and Leadership Coach. I focus my time on the future of learning and the future of work.

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