What We’ve Learned about Building Successful Education Technology Products

We’ve been working in education technology longer than most — going on eight years. In that time, we’ve collaborated with countless education partners, chatted with thousands of instructors, released hundreds of product updates and conducted a respectable amount of original research.

Our journey hasn’t been easy. We’ve made all sorts of mistakes along the way and learned a ton about what works and what doesn’t.

Now that we’re seasoned pros, we’re going to share these “lessons learned” with you. This is just our experience, so adjust accordingly, and let us know what you’ve been learning, too.

Nobody cares about your slick technology

Our application of text analysis to education in 2005 (the year YouTube launched!) was way ahead of its time. But nobody cared. Teachers only care about being able to do their job better. They want value and usability, not a technological distraction. Respect what teachers are already doing, get their frequent input, and make sure your product helps them excel.

Involve as many teachers as possible early on

The foundation of your product development process needs to be teachers. Every product needs to start with at least ten teachers using the tool in the classroom. If you can’t get 10 teachers that can’t live without your product, then you need to rethink your product. Don’t try to scale until you get this foundational traction.

Start with individual teachers, not administrators (or schools, districts, etc.)

Yes, I know the money is at the school or district level. That’s where you might end up, but it’s a horrible place to start. The higher ups have influence, but no new technology will get traction without support from individual teachers. Often a tool can please admins but never get used because it doesn’t actually work in the classroom and will ultimately fail in the market.

Another thing to consider: A typically sales cycle at a school/district is 12-18 months. If you go direct to individual teachers instead, you should be able to get a sales cycle of a month or two.

Take usability seriously

Your product needs to be incredibly easy to use. Teachers are the busiest people in the universe and have no time to spend on tools that aren’t ready-to-go out of the box. Work, work, work until instructors can get up-and-running with your tool in less than 10 seconds. Hire a UX designer who knows what she’s doing. Conduct usability testing early and often.

Ruthlessly eliminate risk for your users

It is vital to eliminate the risks for a teacher trying your product. This could mean offering it for free, or using some kind of freemium pricing model. This also means having some evidence that your tool works and has been used successfully in other classrooms.

Focus on word-of-mouth

Social credibility (via social media, case studies, etc.) is your most effective marketing strategy. If you can’t get this foundational peer-to-peer support, then you don’t have a product that actually helps the lives of teachers and students. Teachers trust each other more than anyone else, so keep your users happy and they will market the product for you.

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