Technology or Education? What Comes First?‏

Technology or Education? What Comes First?‏

I have met many edtech start-ups as a part of my job. Young, restless and extremely smart people who have jumped into the entrepreneurial bandwagon to build the next Google of education.

I love their spirit and salute their commitment to changing education in the country, and the world.

But increasingly I have seen the frustration of edtech start-ups hitting a dead wall. The technology works perfectly, but the numbers don't happen as expected. The uptake is close to zero, if not negative. Schools, parents and kids, nobody seems to be interested in their product or service. VCs are avoiding them. Its a damn depressing scenario for edtech start-ups in India. 

But all is not lost. There is 4G coming, and trust me, anything can happen to this country once bandwidth is commoditised. There is no point in losing hope, rather this is the time to galvanise yourself and strike back. 

And to do that with focus, here is my two bit of advice for whatever it is worth -

  1. Please go and sit with your customer, i.e. Schools, to find out their needs, map them and compare it with your offering. Check the loopholes as well as what works with your product at customer location, not in your offices or through your sales and implementation partners.
  2. Don't look down upon teachers and Principals. They may look dumb to you and your tech savvy IQ levels, but they have the purse strings that you want them to open for high valuations, revenues and buy-outs. So respect their knowledge, however illogical it may sound. Offer solutions that solve them not replace them. Remember what looks like a solution to you could actually be a problem for them.
  3. There are many untapped areas in schools, beyond OER and Assessments. You can only tap them if you sit in school for atleast 8-10 hours a week to find them. Borrowed knowledge and ideas from educationists is too big a risk to take for setting up a start-up.
  4. Understand the difference between educational impact and technology features. Features are for phones and apps, not educational products. Education seeks impact which is measured and documented. So do that.
  5. Would you start a technology start-up without a programmer? Then how can you launch a edtech start-up without an educationist as a part of your core team? So relook at your team composition.
  6. Don't sell concepts and understanding in a market that values marks and performance. Your products may improve understanding, but to schools, you need to prove how that ultimately leads to better and better marks and grades. Remember, school fees, principal and teacher salaries and everything else depends on the student performance in the exams. So focus on that goal, whether you like it or not.
  7. Sell yourself. Don't depend on others to sell. Big companies are least interested in you, they have their own problems to sort out. If you sell yourself, you keep the additional 40-50% of revenues which can multiply your profits exponentially. Also if your prospective partner knows that the product sells, and that you have the capability to do it yourself, you can walk away with a better revenue share deal. So think about it.

Finally remember the formula for success in edtech - Education First, Technology Later. 

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