The first thing to say is: growing a company is really difficult.
I’ve been part of three as an operator and two of them succeeded and one of them just flat out failed. I have the utmost respect for people that start companies with a passion to serve schools. If it was easy everybody would be doing it. Well, it’s not easy.
If you want a successful path to growth you have to start by addressing a big problem that many in education are working to solve. And in education, there are lots of those big problems.
If you’ve got a deep understanding of the problem, then I think you design a product that dramatically improves one of those jobs to be done by a student, teacher, or administrator. It needs to address the current job that many people are working to improve and to solve. That’s probably the most important first step.
And you’ve got to build it elegantly. It has to be a pioneering approach and an elegant, focused approach to solve that problem.
Second: no matter how good of a product it is, it really doesn’t sell itself.
There are a number of ways to go about getting this out to schools and districts. The good news is that macro trends are driving changes to the traditional model of selling to schools and districts. This was more of a top-down approach: get the administrator’s approval, and then we’ll distribute that across the system. That’s still happening, and there are successful companies that are scaling that way.
But now with broadband, with cheap devices, access to those with these app stores that make it easy to access technology, there’s a much more distributed model of getting access to these technologies. And therefore there are also business models that have changed to be able to take advantage of these macro-trends.
How do you figure out if your product is a “must-have” vs. a “nice to have”?
The bigger problem is you might be selling something that’s a nice to have versus something that’s a must-have for that school. That could be an opportunity for that entrepreneur to figure out, okay, what could make your product a must-have?
Because in my experience selling tech products that were thousands of dollars or tens of thousands for most school sales, the cycles were much shorter. I’m talking about 60 to 90 days or less. And these tools had an implementation cycle, but it wasn’t a huge one.
I think a common misconception is it takes way too long to sell to schools and districts. I think one other misconception, too, related to that is that they don’t have money to buy products and services. I hear that from many entrepreneurs, ” they just don’t have money.”
Yes, budgets are tight. There’s no question that public school budgets are tight, but school leaders do have the resources to invest in tools that solve real problems for students, teachers and administrators. And the school budgets, by the way, they’re typically 75 to 80% people costs.
They’re always looking for tools that can leverage the people that they employ, basically, helping those people do more in less time, or do the same work more effectively. And in my experience, a five-figure investment is doable for most schools and districts that are trying to solve a high priority problem for them.
They can draw from the professional development budget, they can draw from the technology budget, that they can draw from title funds and other sources to pay for those types of solutions. If you’re an entrepreneur and the district is telling you they just don’t have money to buy products and services then that could be the case.
That also could be an opportunity to reflect on what else could you do to make this a must-have type of product for them versus a nice-to-have product.
- Check out Graham’s company Edovate Capital.
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