Contributor: Mike Lee, Co-Founder of EdShelf
“Every company’s greatest assets are its customers, because without customers there is no company.”
- Michael LeBoeuf
If you just started building an edtech product aimed at K-12 teachers, you’re going to need feedback from them. Be it for customer discovery and validation, market research, beta testing, or something else, it is critical to talk to your customers.
You may be surprised to hear that there are many enterprising educators out there. I don’t mean they are profit-seeking; I mean they are inventive, progressive, and oftentimes tech-savvy. Some call them edupreneurs, some call them teacherpreneurs. Whatever you call them, as a startup, you can see them as innovators or early adopters, in “Crossing the Chasm” parlance.
This means they are willing to try out untested software. Keep in mind that they are not representative of mass market, though they can be a good reference point for reaching the majority later.
So how do you go about finding educators who are willing to help you out?
- Use personal connections - Chances are, there are people within your own network that can connect you with teachers.
- Your own teachers
- If you’ve been through the K-12 education system, reach out to your former teachers. Since they know you, they may be wiling to help. They are less likely to be early adopters too, which is a good thing.
- Your children’s teachers
- If you are a parent with children in the K-12 education system, go to their teachers. Since they know your children, they may be willing to help, and are also likely to be part of the mass market too.
- Friends and family
- Your own network of friends and family may contain, or be acquainted with K-12 teachers. 2nd and 3rd degree connections may not be as willing to help, but will likely be part of the mass market as well.
- Use resources specific for educator/entrepreneur interaction - As the edtech revolution is growing, so are the resources available to edtech entrepreneurs. Two organizations have risen up to complete the missing link between educators and entrepreneurs:
- Teacher Tech Talk
- This is an exciting new effort to physically bring entrepreneurs and educators together. Discussions are focused around the concerns of educators rather than entrepreneurs, making this a great avenue for customer discovery.
- This is a non-profit organization that connections beta products with educators willing to try them out. Products must be in an experimental state and companies must be willing to work with educators on a regular basis. This is not a good avenue for marketing or customer discovery.
- Use online teacher PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) - A lot of teachers seek to form PLNs as a way to informally expand their professional development. The resources and guides that help teachers do this can be reverse-engineered to find tech-savvy innovators and early adopters. Some of the more popular resources are:
- Edmodo Communities
- Since Edmodo is a social network specifically for teachers, this is a great place to find them. Like any other community, don’t jump right in and start promoting your products, however. Understand the etiquette of the community before making any posts. Or identify specific teachers and contact them directly.
- Ning networks for teachers
- Ning is a social network platform that allows anyone to create a social network like Facebook or Edmodo. There are many teacher-specific networks out there, though Ning doesn’t include a directory of them all. A Google search turns up quite a few, though there are many more out there. Some are more active than others.
- A lot of tech-savvy teachers use Twitter as a means to expand their PLNs. It’s a relatively low-effort way to publish and consume information. Most prefer it over Facebook too. You can often find teachers using hashtags such as #edchat, #edtech, #education, and many others specific to conferences, organizations, and subjects of which they are a part.
- There is a vibrant and engaged community of teachers on Tumblr. Their demographic tends to be younger and more tech-savvy. Most tend to use the tags #education, #edtech, and #teaching. You can work backwards from these tags to find teachers. Most have some kind of contact form on their profile pages.
- According to recent comScore statistics, Pinterest’s demographics skew heavily towards female. Most are in the 25-34 age range and 50% have children. Within this audience is an active community of teachers who’ve been using Pinterest to pin project ideas, lesson plan ideas, and other educational resources they can use. Though you can’t send a message to teachers directly from Pinterest, some include a link to their other social media accounts.
- Diigo Groups
- Diigo is a popular bookmarking tool amongst tech-savvy teachers. They use it to organize all the websites they use. Many users don’t fill out their profiles, so it’s not always easy to reach out to teachers from this source. But some do include links to their other social media accounts.
- Teacher forums
- There are dozens upon dozens of online forums for K-12 teachers, though their quality varies significantly. Some, like A to Z Teacher Stuff, The Teacher’s Corner, and WeAreTeachers have fairly active communities. That also means they moderate their posts and don’t tolerate product promotion posts. Lurk in the community to understand the members and etiquette before joining in. You can also find forums on specific subjects if you search enough.
- LinkedIn Groups
- There aren’t as many active teachers on LinkedIn as on other social media sources. However, you’ll be able to find a handful of active groups of teachers here if you look enough. LinkedIn has the added benefit of providing a way to connect with the teachers you find.
- Here’s a little-known tip that may not be suitable for every startup. If you see a project in which your product could be used, help that teacher fund the project, then send the teacher a free copy of your product. Teachers love free stuff, and if your product solves the problem well, you may have earned a new product evangelist.
- Use other face-to-face sources - Sometimes meeting with a teacher face-to-face is better than an online interaction. You’ll find them more forthcoming with information, especially about controversial topics.
- A fair number of teachers peruse the education jobs section, usually for part-time work. Though it costs money to post a listing in the jobs section, a well-timed listing (i.e. during Winter break, Spring break, a long weekend, etc) may attract a lot of respondents. For best results, offer some kind of compensation, such as a free meal (for a face-to-face meeting) or gift card.
- Teacher conferences
- There are hundreds of conferences for teachers across the country. Most won’t be relevant to you. Identify a few that are worth attending and focus on those, such as ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), one of the largest for IT professionals in education.
- Unfortunately, not all cities have a large enough edtech community to host meaningful edtech meetups. Silicon Valley has one, but not many others do. These meetups tend to attract more entrepreneurs than educators too. But popular ones, such as Ed-Tech Meetup in San Francisco, do host events with educators on occasion.
Innovator and early adopter K-12 teachers are out there, many of whom would be eager to meet you. It’s just a matter of doing the legwork to find and connect with them.