Q1: Have you seen a change in the way states and districts create sustainable technology plans (beyond unreliable grant funding)? What changes have you noticed in how schools and communities are addressing quality of access to technology at school and at home?
Sharia: I have seen some improvements in the form of collaboration between public and private partnerships.
For example, when Obama was President, he had worked with cable service providers to make sure that low-income neighborhoods had access to internet connectivity.
So that way, families who don't have access to online resources now can. I can see that type of partnership being more common with how the “future of education” is unfolding.
EdTech was already going through some changes and COVID was just like hitting “fast forward.” So now it's all about connecting the dots together as a community.
And I want to see more companies getting involved. If the school doesn't have the funding and you are a corporation, leverage your corporate partners to pay for the school and gain access to content.
Jennie: T-Mobile public sector, they're doing a lot of great work similar to what Sharia is talking about.
Sheryl: Yes, with their Project 10Million, it’s incredible. I would say the public private partnerships have exploded. Like Sharia, I think the states were moving slowly. But with COVID, they've had a lot of time on their hands to think about what they haven't done. I've been on a couple of calls with a couple of state superintendents and they are beginning – en masse – a rollout, in what they call a learning continuity or remote learning plans with specific directives and engagement pieces for every district to follow in their state. In other words, where there was a void they have now realized the need to provide leadership. Should they have done it before? Absolutely. But politics got in the way. Well, I think politics have been pushed to the side and they've started to say, okay, we've got to do something because our entire student population has missed three months of school.
And quite frankly, with the conversations I'm hearing, it is going to be extremely difficult to talk about starting school this Fall fully on board. So I think, I think states are really stepping up and putting their foot on the gas pedal to get directions about this.
I've also seen funding conversations occur. Of course, the money that came in from DC, the Cares Act money, a lot of that's already spent because they bought devices and they bought connectivity. And a lot of them didn't think anything about sustainability. So in three years, when those $300 devices no longer can connect, everybody's in trouble.
So they're thinking about how can you weave and embrace funds together in different ways? How can you use federal money? How can you use title money, IDA money, general fund money, state funded money, and bring them together to create a more systemic way to fund technology that every state department, every superintendent, every school board in the country have recognize that edtech is no longer just an add-on or frill but a means for central learning.
I am heartsick about COVID, with what has happened in our country and around the world. But the educator in me says, “hey, we must make lemonade out of these lemons, because there has been an awakening about how important technology is an integral to true learning in this country.”
As this washes over us, we're going to see new learning horizons appear because of this.
Jennifer: I remember recently reading a survey about public private partnerships outside of grants. The responsibility of brands and companies and the expectations of brands and companies are increasing. We already saw Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) evolving over time and it becoming so core to the mission and value of corporations. And that study said something about 87% of people feel like brands should be involved in driving social change and being a part of the conversation. And that's a huge, consistent form of support that you can develop and depend on, versus grants that come and go.
Q2. What is special, or unique, about EdTech marketing?
Sheryl: In EdTech marketing, you're trying to market a product to fix the problem that the district has with children. It’s leveraging student data privacy, but it's also data privacy because anything that touches the network in a school district is interconnected and woven with all this new interoperability.
So the school district has everybody’s security numbers, not just children, also all their employees. And it has all the check routing and financial information for all the employees. It has data about all the employees, their evaluation, their performance, their health, and also of every child in the district.
So you talk about a treasure trove of information. For people who have bad intentions, just go to a school district and hack in, and that's where all the data sits. So nowhere else I believe in another marketing place, are you trying to get inside of very hardcore, protected firewalled secure system, other than maybe Fort Knox.
It’s the idea of children and if you want to see a volcano explode, hack some student data and you will have parents that will be marching on the White House, the State house, the jail house, everywhere because of children and the very, very sensitive and delicate nature of what we do with our littlest citizens.
Sharia: EdTech marketing is so special because of all the stakeholders involved. EdTech products will prepare kids for future skills that we'll be having in 10 years, jobs that don't exist just yet. So you're really focusing on the outcome and the skills in the long run. And this is why it's important to be thoughtful and strategic on the marketing piece.
Sheryl: I think Sharia hit a home run here. The World Economic Forum speaks very clearly about what jobs will look like in the future. How do we prepare thinkers instead of just workers? And I think that is such a critical point in marketing that a company holds the future if they're doing international work of the world in its hands. Because our future depends on this generation and how they progress, what they learn and what they know and are able to do.
Jennifer: Marketing in EdTech is different in a way that success is measured by your stakeholders. When you're looking at corporations and you're looking at enterprises, the marketing that they're doing is profit-driven, right? So you've got a really succinct metrics and really targeted metrics.
Not that these do not exist in education. But the people that you're marketing to have different metrics that they're graded on, or that shows success for them. So EdTech is talking about outcomes for children that do affect their trajectory in their lives. You really have to be tuned into that and speak authentically about that.
Adjust your marketing to talk about solving that problem for children, not driving revenue, as you might do in marketing for SaaS products and selling to corporations.
Q3. How does growth hacking work for a startup with limited budgets and resources, one that needs to market its services to customers in the emerging markets across Asia?
Sharia: If you have a limited budget, start with your own network, your friends. Your friends will be your cheerleaders, right? And everyone’s online. Leverage Instagram, which is free. Leverage those hashtags, Twitter, social media. If you don't have the funds to pay for marketing services, organic growth is through your own community.
Why don't you utilize meetup.com? There are so many groups where you can share feedback and get users. Surveys can be done that way too.
Q4. How do you address app internet connectivity-related issues from a marketing standpoint?
Sharia: If the app isn't working and if schools have a product but don’t have reliable internet service, how do you market that if they can't really connect to the app, right? The connectivity has to be resolved first.
Q5. Do you have any ideas or thoughts about how parents can be more directly involved in their children’s education?
Sheryl: I think the ways parents can be involved is by outreach to the school. The school's webpage, its learning management system and content management system.
All teachers are on email. So reach out to the teacher through email or even a Zoom call. Teachers are highly responsive right now because quite frankly, everyone is heartbroken that they're not in school with their children.
So a simple phone call can be a lifeline to a teacher so they can hear about their child. It goes both ways.
Q6: Best way to market to college professors?
Sheryl: I think the best way to market to college professors is having a product going back to something Sharia said earlier that the research supports it. There's nobody that's more into research than people at colleges and universities, even if it's a community college, they live and die by research.
Having an article or having a study that's been done about your product or your textbook or your app is going to go a long way in reaching that community, and then using traditional social media channels.
Writing for a journal, co-writing with a person at a university, co-writing an article that has a research base. Most college professors are in publishing mode, 24/7. I live in that world and they're looking for companies that want a research study done, and then they do the work and they get to publish it.
Q7: Best way to market to principals?
Sheryl: Most principals are members of national organizations, NAESP, the National Elementary School Principals Association, or NASSP, the National Secondary School Principals Association.
I don't know a principal that's not a member of a professional organization. Write an article about a best practice or result that has happened through your product and pitch it to the publications of these types of organizations.
Principals are tough to reach because at the district level, a CTO like me, we don't let you talk to principals because everything has to be part of a standard purchasing process. So you go through the door at most districts through district leaders, and then they can let you outreach to principals. But if you're at a state technology conference, it's full of principals. And they're going to come back to people like me and say, I saw this. I want you to look at it. Well, it's a way to get a backdoor entry point into a decision maker in the district, to be at a state technology conference that principals attend.
Education Week (EdWeek) is a publication that all of us read and you don't even have to subscribe to it to get a lot of the articles. You can just subscribe free online and get the digital information.
Put an article in Edweek. Do an advertisement or a quasi-article/semi advertisement that catches people's eye. And in the EdTech area, everybody looks at the EdWeek Technology Counts annual report and uses that data.
Q8: What is the most effective way for startups to come in at the grassroots level?
Sheryl: There’s absolutely a way into a district through the grassroots efforts of teachers. One example that has proven the test of time is Accelerated Reader. Nobody knew about Accelerated Reader until they started attending state technology conferences and doing these great giveaways and product shows and demos and had private rooms where teachers could come and go through the whole product around promoting reading.
Accelerated Reader started at state technology conferences. It wormed its way up. Some principals do have some discretionary funding and make small purchases. And then it exploded at the district level because of the success. So I think teachers have a real place in decision making, but your product has to be stellar.
Jennifer: When you're starting out, you’d want to build a fan base and have people realize that you are solving a problem and driving outcome. And no one knows better than the teacher in the classroom seeing the “a-ha” moments. That’s how they then become your internal champion.
In addition, when you're having your initial conversations and you're just starting out, having a conversation with an educator is a lot less pressure than trying to talk to [a CTO like Sheryl] right from the very get go. It’s all about proof points. You're building up success story so when you do approach district leaders, you have something to show school leaders and district leaders. So if you don't have those relationships and you're just starting out, I would say 100% concentrate on the educators.
Q9: Which channels are best for promoting EdTech to professional training companies?
Sharia: For professional training companies, I would recommend going back to EdSearch because EdSearch does have a list of resources. And even I, as someone who's looking at PD trainings, I like to look at that, as well as Google forums. Google has their own forum for just K-12 where they do share companies that are doing PD trainings.
Leverage companies that are already doing it so far, are on Google forums, and leverage resources on AdSearch as well.
Sheryl: There’s a LinkedIn group for professional development for educators. LinkedIn is a strategy. It's the place for business, for educators. And it's come a long way in the last three or four years. It’s like when Facebook first launched, Facebook had its wave, then Instagram launched, it had its wave. This time right now is LinkedIn's wave.
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