Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Who's your customer?

One of the things I have been struck by the past few edtech gatherings is that the traditional education technology industry doesn't seem to know a lot of teachers or students.  Coming from the world of teaching, this struck me as pretty bizzare.

But I realized, because the person with the checkbook is the superintendent and to a lesser extent the school principal, these companies know the superintendent in general and only know other people if that's what it takes to make a sale.  The likelihood that they are going to get to know teachers or students well is unlikely (other than their support team on occasion).  That's pretty broken!

It seems to me that one of the only ways we are going to get software into classrooms that actually does things which are useful to students and teachers is if we change the customer.  I don't want to be too simplistic here, but why don't we make the student (and their parent) the customer and the teacher our partner (i.e. the one that let's us acquire customers).  Now the only problem with that is that it completely screws up the revenue streams of the existing companies, because superintendents aren't paying, school leaders aren't paying, and teachers aren't paying.  But really, other than the people running those companies, who cares?  Once students are your customers and teachers are your partners, you are going to build things they like.

Just to make one last argument to the people actually trying to change the outcomes for kids through the software they build (and I'm going to be optimistic here and say that is why most people in this industry build software for education rather than just to make money).  Let's look at this industry for a moment.  It's about a $4 trillion industry globally.  It spends between 1-2% of that on technology.  Anyone who thinks that number is going to get larger needs to learn more about the politics of public education.  So if we do the math, institutions spend $80B or so a year on technology (hardware, software, and services).  That's not too bad.  Unfortunately Pearson, HMH and News are going to get well over half of that.  So everyone else is battling it out for $40B.  Compare that to making students your customer (i.e. focusing on the consumer side of the learning market).  Just to start, tutoring and test prep is $100-$150B per year globally, children's books, apps, etc. are all large markets.  So the consumer side is probably 4-5x larger today (before the shift to more direct learning by students has really happened) with much less friction than the institutional market.

So I will say it again.  Other than the fact that this is not what we do today, why not make the student your customer?

1 comment:

  1. Great post.

    Selling to students/parents has some issues of its own. I'm concerned about equity (I'm still optimistic that EdTech can help close the achievement gap). And putting teachers into the role of salespeople (as soon as they becoming channel partners, they'll start getting kickbacks of some sort).

    That's not to say the model won't work - book fairs & candy sales have been using it for forever - but there's some delicacy/nuance to pulling it off successfully.