Pure & Applied is growing a team of creative problem solvers

Our last blog post was back in February and we feel guilty for not keeping in touch with you. It’s not you. It’s us. Our projects are keeping us busy.

Today, we’re taking a moment to reflect, celebrate and invite you to maybe – just maybe – consider joining our team at Pure & Applied.

Eight months ago, before we fleshed out who we were, where our company was going, and how we were going to find stability in our lives and our bank accounts – we made a commitment to each other as teammates and co-founders.

Pure & Applied was founded with the intent to grow a team of Diverse (capital D for emphasis) individuals who find purpose in co-creating the future of learning with us and our partners.

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From the beginning, we believed in learning as a strategy that bridges all areas of an organization and adds value across all industries. Learning enables individuals to act and make choices that connect with their values. For us, learning is the process that makes change possible – in behaviour, in culture, in society and in business. It is the most powerful tool organizations have at their disposal and yet many underutilize it. These beliefs drive our team, guide our process, and give meaning to our mission to help organizations leverage learning for growth and for impact. In sum, learning is our how and our why.

In what follows, we share samples of our projects that build a narrative of our strategic consultancy, which is focused on the education industry and on learning in businesses across verticals. Our hope is to inspire some of you to drop everything you are doing and join our impact-driven team.

The projects Pure & Applied takes on don’t fit into a neat box, but the common thread is our belief that each and every single project we take on merit’s its own solution – there is no pre-packaged formulas,  shortcuts, or assumptions here. Instead, we’re nimble with our methodologies from qualitative and quantitative research to design methods – the tool needs to match the task and team at hand. We take a holistic approach to understand a business from all levels, which means we don’t take projects at face value. Instead, we confirm the needs and objectives before accepting projects as we may (and often do) need to recommend alternative courses of action.

Pure & Applied Methodology

Above all, we think of ourselves as an extension of our partner-companies and their teams.  We work with organizations our team can get behind, who’s visions and missions we share.

  • CLIENT CHALLENGE: decade old education organization’s growth has plateaued

As the edtech industry evolves, this partnership required P&A to think creatively about how our client needed to adapt its product and services to respond to a future market. Our process allowed the organization to visualize its existing position and potential in the market, connect with its stakeholders for feedback, and make product changes in order to favorably reposition itself in the market.

  • Client challenge: minimal capacity to scale service offerings

Well-established consultants face the challenge of scaling their business, which is their time. We have supported multiple thought-leaders in productizing their knowledge through programme creation and eLearning instructional design. This allowed them to broaden their impact and their business model to support large organizations and companies at scale.

  • Client challenge: lack of implementation fidelity resulting in low product adoption

Low product adoption is an edtech growth killer. Faced with this challenge, we enabled our client to analyze and understand the product’s usage data and implementation KPIs in order to improve the experience for the user and the employee. This involved considering the user journey, handoffs, onboarding and user experience, training and support, and the customer relationship.

  • Client challenge: measure long-term social emotional development in children

The greatest challenge for schools wanting to implement SEL tools is in its ability to justify the costs (ie. purchase, implementation, training and maintenance) with measurable data. Our team has partnered with an edtech organization to design a blended learning experience that improves the collection of data from teachers and students in classrooms across schools and districts in the US.

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Our trajectory is exciting – we’re taking on meaningful challenges, growing closer as a team, and broadening our network connections as we share our insights. Our long term goal is to be able to financially back the startups we coach, to become investors in the organization we believe in and to put our money where our strategy is.

If this is the meaningful, challenging and fun opportunity you’ve been waiting for – join us!

We are looking for ambitious team members to help us enrich our culture. For us, diversity is a source of enrichment. We are an inclusive office that is eager to welcome people from diverse backgrounds and traditions who vary by their race and ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, culture, religion, and physical and mental abilities. We welcome new ideas – even unpopular ones – and diverse lenses, such as academic disciplines and professional experiences. We encourage an active and effective exchange of views in an environment of mutual respect.

We’re excited to share it all with writers and solutions designers.

Dear Edtech founders – hire to design solutions, not to assemble boxes.

Edtech Consulting Service Design Growth Founder

Your team’s decision to hire an external consultant is likely well-warranted. Consultants provide a unique and refreshing outlook on strategy, especially at a point of inflection.

The problem lies in how edtech companies vet their options of who should support their team in this moment of vulnerability (and opportunity).

As a service designer, edtech coach and consultant, I want to dispel a common misconception of how a consultant’s time is best spent with your company. Oftentimes, edtech founders and managers hire external help to produce hyper-specific solutions for a short timeframe. Let’s focus on this decision for the next few minutes.

EdTech Founder Expert

The presumption is that the consultants is an "expert” and the weight that this term is allowed to carry is dangerous to the health of your edtech business. Far too many strategies fail in execution because there is not enough time spent nurturing relationships, getting buy-in from the team, and understanding the business.

In this letter to you, edtech founder or manager, I urge you hire consultants who will think holistically about your problems, their solutions and their overall involvement with your company.

One common way we’ve seen an expert-opinion weighed heavily is in setting the next steps for an edtech company during a growth hurdle. Let’s take a classic edtech challenge: the painstakingly long B2B school sales cycle.

I want to be clear in my opinion to sales. There is no one way to approach sales in edtech – it always depends.

It depends on the size of the school or district, the ease of use of your product, the alignment of your product with their students’ needs and school’s improvement plan, the perceived trust in your brand and consumer testimonials, the teachers willingness to try, access to technology, the school’s available budget, the purchaser’s power to sign a cheque, the existing amount of sales numbers under your belt, the social and educational impact data that you have to share...

  “Stop. Make it stop!”

“Stop. Make it stop!”

… Okay, I’ll stop. My point is: no matter how typical the problem is, your strategy and solution will almost never follow a pre-prescribed, fool-proof plan – if done right.

Nonetheless, when founders and managers come up against the long sales cycle they inevitably decide they have a sales problem and need a consultant to come in and build a new sales strategy or sales team.

The emails we receive have prescribed solutions built into them. They go something like this:

Service Design EdTech Founder

These predetermined James Bond missions (“hire a new sales team”) sound like bold and exciting changes that are just big enough to have a “real” impact on your business.

But change is not tantamount to potential.

In reality, they paint a hyper-specific and limiting portrait of the problem not only for the consultants, but also for your team.

All of the above-mentioned areas can support your sales funnel in some way. Whether it would be to nurture higher engagement from existing users for retention and organic sales, or to strengthen the likelihood of a sale by providing social and educational impact data that schools can trust. The danger lies in framing your problem as the solution and it being accepted by your team and consultant as the point to build an action plan around.

This is how a consultant can fall short and become an expensive mistake to make. By communicating the problem area to be explored as the solution, you aren’t demanding enough from your consultants. Strong consultants are holistic problem solvers, rather than siloed experts. Hire them to asses the situation. This assessment is where the real value of an outside, expert perspective comes from. But, I’m not just here to share a frustration with how needs get framed. This is a much bigger problem. I am concerned for edtech businesses.

You see, there is no one way to build an edtech business and yet there are so many formulas and frameworks that are being peddled through our industry’s networks as THE way to go about X (let x = sales in schools or product development or fundraising or how to succeed like Newsela did).  

Consultants are often looked to because they have hyper-specific knowledge and experience in seeing through strategies, methods or processes. The problem is when you allow your consultants to apply and execute a formulaic solution (whether or not you know that’s what they are doing) to your expressed formulaic problem. Without further inquiry, and curiosity, you place a bandage over growth pains, until your next round of funding comes in (hopefully) allowing you to finally focus on the real problem.

Edtech Service Designer Consulting

My colleagues and I have seen founders go through the pains of poor advice in action. Countless ineffective how-to tools and one-size-fits-all methodologies are recommended with only a surface understanding of your particular company. Do any come to mind for you?

There is no better example of a destructive relationship than when a consultant, unwilling to dig deeper before taking up an edtech leader’s prescribed solution, meets an edtech leader looking for one-off strategies in the hope of a quick fix.

Some examples of the kind of “foolproof” advice openly given (at $200 hourly rate) that we’ve come across:

How to reach teachers? Engage in Twitter chats and Facebook teacher groups.
How to close business? Get a booth at a conference for school and district administrators. Ones that are largely recommended: ISTE, FETC, and SxSW EDU.
How to hold a child’s attention? Build a product that looks like a social platform and sprinkle some gamification for good measure.
How do I prepare to go-to-market? Build out your strategy using the pragmatic marketing framework.

These shotgun solutions and prepackaged tactics can lead to an inconsistent brand, message and promise to customers and users. This hurts business.

To be fair and clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with these frameworks and solutions. In fact, I am a huge supporter of edtech companies showcasing at conferences when it makes business sense. It’s a costly endeavour that deserves a proper campaign and post-event strategy to close deals. In fact, we’ll be at SxSW EDU next week. We are looking forward to a few days of learning and inspiration from phenomenal changemakers in education, like you!

The problem is in when these frameworks and solutions are applied without due investigation and assessment of the business. A call or two with the CEO may not be enough to come to the understanding that the consultant needs to be able to offer a solution with confidence and actually deliver the outcomes you want.

You may think I’m over-simplifying my point here, but I have to argue the opposite.

What all of these well-tested tools, frameworks and methods don’t take into consideration is a team’s capacity and ability to execute.

That’s your job. That’s my job. It’s our job to design and to provide a service, to the best of our growing abilities.

Edtech Service Design Consulting Montreal

There’s an element of unlearning we need to do in our industry. My business partner, Roxanne, often says “you need to test everything”. What I’ll add to her wise words is “... and be curious”.  

There is no one way to deliver on your business promises to stakeholders. So, here’s to testing smart.

Find collaborators that will design solutions with you rather than provide you with a method and one-way or no-way process. Recommendations that are given within a few calls will not deliver on sustainable, high-impact solutions.

The journey with a consultant should be intense and reflective. It requires time, and openness to inquiry.

A consultant’s tools definitely expedite the process to uncover stress points and areas of opportunity, but it requires well-deserved time to understand the way your company operates and delivers value at a macro and micro level.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t gain any immediate value, or ROI. Part of a consultant’s role is to nurture trust and enthusiasm for a more compelling, unified and improved version of your business. Invest in a consultant that helps your manage and welcome change with your stakeholders.

Edtech Consulting Service Design

There is new life breathing in the public and private sector of education, and it requires teams to be nimble and able to adapt as market needs and government policies shift. In many ways edtech is in an adolescent stage – going through so many phases of  perceived need.

The point is, the edtech industry requires creativity from you, your team, and from your consultants in order to grow. The cost of acquisition is far too high to solely rely on recommended methods and tools that are being used over and over in the edtech industry.

It’s our job to support you in finding the problem areas, to lend you a third eye (to provide and objective perspective), and to design solutions in the best interest of the business and its stakeholders including the kids, teachers and education leaders.

Pure & Applied Edtech Consulting

We are consultants and solutions designers, and we do our best work with ambitious leaders who trust in evidence more than expertise. In our view, expertise should only be treated as one of many insights. Ultimately, in-house evidence plays the most crucial role in all company decisions.

We believe that a company can make evidence-based decisions when curiosity, testing, and room for speculation is nurtured internally. This is how we operate and just like teachers need to model behavior for their students, we believe in modelling an example for our clients.

Our team pulls from many disciplines, areas and fields, ranging from education, design, philosophy, marketing, human interventions, supply chain, finance and more. We are curious about how disciplines can interconnect to form solutions that are inclusive, innovative, and optimal to a team’s capacity for growth.

   Sneak peek:   we are in early stages of placing words to the unique differentiator I’ve been describing. I feel immense pride in the brand work we have done with the Tap in Team. Let us know what you think.

Sneak peek: we are in early stages of placing words to the unique differentiator I’ve been describing.
I feel immense pride in the brand work we have done with the Tap in Team. Let us know what you think.

A quote from Eric Hopper speaks to me as I end this letter to you, dear edtech founders and managers: ”In times of profound change, the learners will inherit the Earth, while the [experts] will find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” Let’s be open to change, let's be curious about how our world is evolving, and let’s build mechanisms that allow our teams to adapt to the highs and lows that come with building solutions for all.

Let's connect at SxSW EDU next week! 

My best, 
Niki

Personal: @nikitashakapoor
Our Team: @purenappliedgr

How to know if you should start your own consulting business

Business validation

 

If you’ve been an active and successful member of your industry and are being sought after for your professional advice, then you’re probably thinking about starting your own consulting business.

After all, the freelance economy is growing, already making up 35 percent of the US workforce (Edelman Intelligence, 2016). People are not only joining the freelance economy because they can find work, but also because of the benefits of working for yourself. What people aren’t getting from traditional full-time employment – the freedom to work where they want, when they want, and the freedom to take on projects they believe in – they are creating for themselves by investing in themselves.

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The freelance economy is not only for the under-30s

It’s really easy to start a business when you have nothing to lose. That’s why so many startup founders are under 30. It’s not that young people are so much smarter, it’s that they are less risk averse.
Making the decision to quit your job and invest in yourself is a little bit more complicated when you’ve been in the workforce for a while. When you’ve got a mortgage, a family to support, bills to pay, and a lifestyle to uphold to, you want to be sure your business idea is worth investing in.

This summer we attended several edtech conferences and, as new co-founders, professionals were constantly asking us how we knew when it was the right time to take the leap.

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How did we know that we could build a viable consulting business? How did we know that our knowledge was valuable and that our expertise would be sought after? How did we know that companies would pay for our services?

We asked ourselves these questions, too. These are perfectly normal questions to be asking yourself before you embark on building a business, especially a consulting or services-oriented business.

Of course, there are many ways to validate a business idea, but there are a few methods that we used to test the waters before fully and completely devoting ourselves. We can’t take all the credit here, we were inspired by many of our entrepreneurial friends who also went down this path. We started out with a list of all the assumptions we needed to validate. Including the high-level assumptions of the need for educateur-entrepreneur mentorship for edtech startups as well as the need for high-quality elearning services in education and in other industries as well. Some validation strategies required that we offer up our expertise and our services for free to get feedback and other validation strategies that we tested actually earned us money. All in all, we tried many different strategies but the ones listed below proved to be the most effective.
 

We spoke to potential customers and asked very specific questions.

We spoke to many edtech founders and entrepreneurs in our local area, online, and at major industry conferences before taking the leap. We called old contacts, scheduled coffees, and went to endless networking events.

If you want to validate your business idea you are going to need to talk to potential customers. Be exploratory – what are they struggling with? Where do they typically look for support from outside consultants?  You can also, pitch them your idea and find out if it’s of value. Make sure to exclude anyone that might be biased. Check even your most basic assumptions about who your customers are, what their problems are and if your service would help them. Find out if and what people would be willing to pay your for it.
 

We looked up our competition-to-be.

Similar to stalking an old high school friend on Facebook, you want to get your Googling skills out and start searching.

First thing, searching and finding competitors is actually a good sign. Don’t be disappointed if you thought your idea was completely original. It’s a good sign because it means that someone or (ideally) someones have already proved that there is a need for your offering. This is not validation in and of itself (you still need to do #1) but it’s a good start. Now all you need to know is whether you have or can create a competitive offering?

Are your competitors showcasing their work? Read through their cases and portfolio. See what communities and ecosystems they are connected with, and support by. What are their company identities like? What are their teams like? Your competitor is not only the firm, but also the team behind it, so be sure to check them out, as well.  


We used social media as mini focus group

Social media, especially Twitter, is a great tool for market research. If you want to know what people think of an idea, test it out on them. See what kind of feedback you get. What kinds of follow up questions come up? What kinds of holes get poked? The more prodding your idea gets the better. Your offering needs to stand up to massive and targeted scrutiny.
 

We attended INternational conferences and networked in our local community.

As education specialists, we attended ISTE for business feedback and AERA for feedback from the higher education and research communities. We also attended SALTISE, an instructional design conference, to understand how instructional design and knowledge management were being practices outside of the education industry. 

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Attend a conference specific to your industry. Find out what people are working on, thinking about, and care about. Make connections with people who share your passion and who may be able to provide insight into business models, marketing, and sales strategies.

It’s also important to network with your local freelance or entrepreneurial community. These are the folks that can be found at WeWork at Startup Drinks or at the local accelerator or innovation hub. These will be your people – your tribe. Get a sense of what kind of support is out there waiting for you.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely affair, or at least it has been in the past. Millennials are changing all that – yes, there are some things we can thank them for. Millennials want to freelance, start their own businesses, live life on their own terms, but they also want community and connection. No matter where you live, your city has a co-working space. Go check it out – the energy will motivate you!
 

We started a blog (you’re reading it!)

A really effective way of getting in-depth and unsolicited feedback on your ideas or on your value as an expert is to start blogging. Start sharing your ideas, flesh out your thoughts, and offer the world a peek at your value. Doing this effectively can put you on the map before you even start your business. A blog is a great space to work out the kinks, test ideas, and to connect with others that are asking the same questions as you. It's also a great place to express your beliefs and ruminate on your values. This is where your brand will begin to bud. 
 

We created an online course

A great way to test your idea and yourself out in a limited (risk and scope) way is to create and sell your knowledge through an online course. Doing so will force you to put all your thoughts together in a procedural and methodical way. The instructional design of the course will force you to clarify your knowledge, expertise, and methodology. The production of the course, be it lecture style videos, presentations, or audio recordings – the fanciness can vary – will support your future business' marketing and sales efforts. Finally, implementing a course into a learning management system behind a paywall will enable you to start to earn money as you test and iterate your idea based on real feedback.
 

We found out how to help our partners

Make a list of your would-be partners, other members of the value chain you see yourself contributing to. Reach out to would-be partners and see how you might be able to support them. Follow them on social media to learn more about them. Connecting with other people already in your industry and finding ways to showcase your value to them is a solid time investment.
 

We created case studies and portfolio items to showcase our work

To give yourself a head start and some practice, create examples of the kind of work you want to produce. Offer up some work to the local partners that you've connected with. This is a good way to strengthen your connections with potential partners and get some practise providing client work. Begin to collect feedback and testimonials from everyone you create work for in anticipation of articulating your offering and building your website.
 

We put our expertise to work for startups

Startups need senior level expertise badly but often cannot afford it. Consider mentoring a startup founder, meeting once a month for coffee to offer up advice, cautionary tales, and stories from your own experiences.   
As you prepare to put together your new business’ services, resources, processes, try to see the world through their eyes. Startups have to build everything from the ground-up and you will too.

 

Ultimately, you need an evidence-based mindset, a willingness to experiment and test every assumption, and the ability to put yourself out there to see what you’ve got. Feedback is gold. Hear it. Sit with it. Reflect upon it.

Seek out conversations you can grow from and learning experiences that push you beyond your typical thinking patterns. The sweet spot is where creative thinking and critical thinking converge.

At the end of the day, it's your call. You're the one taking the leap into entrepreneurship and only you will know if it's the right decision for you. What we want you to know is that if you put in the work to research, test, incorporate feedback, and iterate you will significantly reduce the risk you feel when your feet leave the edge of that cliff.

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Edtech Startups, the Secret to B2B Sales is Authenticity

Edtech Sales B2B

In a startup, every member of the team is a salesperson. Everyone.

Despite never holding the official title of “sales representative”, we've worked closely to engineer sales and renewals as members of delivery teams.

As a members of the delivery team, we’re the middle-people in an edtech company. We interface with sales, jumping-in to create a seamless customer onboarding experience and engineer the account renewal. We interface with product, gathering all the customer feedback and ensuring iterations reflect customer desires. And of course, we interface with customers, providing training and support to optimize adoption rates and impact. We also conduct research, gathering and analyzing data to produce case studies for the marketing team.

Suffice to say, a strong delivery team is essential to the success of a great edtech business.

During our time in delivery, we learned a few things that we’d like to share with edtech startups beginning their sales journeys.

What you already know

It’s no secret that one of the most challenging aspects of the K12 edtech industry is it’s B-to-B sales cycle, especially for companies with traditional licensing models.

It’s tough because even if your timing and pricing are right, you still need buy-in from end-users, influencers, and decision-makers. This is because, in education, a purchase is a very careful act. The right purchase can do a tremendous amount of good for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. But the wrong purchase can have the exact opposite effect – it can upset a community.

In an attempt to shortcut the sales cycle, salespeople try to go around stakeholders and directly to decision-maker. Doing so may on occasion win the deal but, simultaneously, it jeopardizes all the post-sale activities (including the renewal). This short-term thinking doesn’t just destroy accounts and personal reputations, it also hurts the team and the brand. It's also not a repeatable sales strategy.

The reason salespeople are tempted to take shortcuts is because it’s difficult enough to get all the stakeholders’ attention, let alone their approval. Nonetheless, the more stakeholders onboard, the better the sale will go, the better the implementation will go, the more likely users are to truly adopt the product, and the more likely the customer is to renew.

I hope I’ve made a strong enough case for stakeholder buy-in. I also doubt I had to work that hard to convince you. After all, the real question is how can edtech startups get that buy-in.

To get buy-in, you must understand your stakeholders.

It’s not enough to think stakeholders all share the same end goal – what is best for student learning. While this may be true, how each stakeholder evaluates your product differs based on their specific mandate:

  • END-USERS (teachers and students) care more about ease-of-use, engagement, and course fit.
  • INFLUENCERS, like curriculum directors, evaluate a product on the basis of pedagogical rigor and curriculum alignment.
  • IT DIRECTORS care about the technical implementation plan, the LMS and SIS integration, and data privacy.
  • ADMINISTRATORS, care about all of the above and rely on their colleagues to make sound evaluations and recommendations. Administrators also evaluate on the basis of pricing, referrals from other administrators (59%), and of course, on the basis of pilots (62%), and rigorous research (49%).

When you create your sales assets: scripts, sales decks, FAQ sheets, rebuttals, competition tables, impact data, etc. keep your different stakeholders in mind. When the time comes to actually pitch, be sure to have the right information on hand for the particular stakeholder. Hold their attention by giving them the information that is of value to them and then, stop talking and start listening.

Here are a few more tips that will come in handy as you embark on your B2B sales journey.   

Build authentic relationships.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: make friends with your customers. If you’re in edtech because you want to help students learn, then you have something in common with your customers (and if you don’t, then this is not the right job for you). Use your genuine interest and care to explore needs and solve problems together.

Your product is not the solution to every problem in education – yeah, we said it. So, be knowledgeable of what’s out there and recommend solutions that you’re not selling if they are what the customer needs. Essentially, develop a trusted relationship on the basis of your interest, knowledge of education, and desire to help in any way you can.

Spend a lot of time with your product. Get to know it well.

Do as the kids do with their video games – watch others play with it.

The best way to do a good job selling your product is if you know it inside and out. If you can easily show others how to use it for their purposes, you’ll never waste an opportunity to demo. If you really understand the use cases of teachers – their objectives, motivations, and the contexts they work in, then you will be able to offer compelling answers to their questions.

Know your customer stories and get good at telling them.

Stakeholders want to hear about the experiences others have had with your product and your team. If you’ve visited customers, observed trainings, and read feedback reports, then you’ll be able to speak from an authentic place when you share stories of student and teacher success.

It’s also important to share authentic shortcomings.

Be sure to document your team and your product's shortcomings as you uncover them. Instead of trying to spin a less than stellar case study, publish it when when you've improved your product in light of the findings. Nothing could be more endearing to a customer than transparently showcasing your rigorous iteration process.

Which brings us to our next piece of advice.

When a customer asks you the dreaded question, disappoint them gracefully.

When a customer asks you that question, the one you don’t have the answer to, at least not the answer they want, this is your moment to shine. This is a pivotal sales moment. How you answer this question will tell them what kind of salesperson you are and it will tell you whether they are a candidate to use and adopt your product.

Most salespeople dread this moment, but the truth is the sooner you get to it, the sooner you’ll really qualify this lead.

You see, you don’t have the answer they want to hear for one of three reasons:

1) You haven’t developed the product feature or collected the evidence they want yet. This is a great opportunity to show them that you listen. So, acknowledge their need. Let them know where it lies in your roadmap. They may even want to be a part of the process. You could not ask for a better opportunity to learn and to iterate your product based on valuable input.

2) You have no intention of developing the feature or gathering the evidence they require. In this case, you should simply say so. But the conversation doesn’t have to end there. You should let them know why that is the case. Are you’re focusing on a more limited offering? Have you not built a business case for their need yet? Or do you tend to integrate or partner with other products and companies that provide this? Whatever the reason, come clean. You’ll want to share this finding with your product manager later. And for now, an honest response will allow you to build trust with your potential customer.

3) They want your product to be something it isn’t. In this case, you’re just barking up the wrong tree. But before you give up, make sure you and your lead are not suffering from a terminology mix-up. Take a solutions selling approach and interrogate their context and their problems. I say this because today the edtech terminology can be difficult to keep up with. Terms like LMS, SIS, content, apps, etc. are not strictly defined and there are many products that surpass the bounds (ie. the feature set) of the traditional meanings of these terms. Don’t let language get in the way of being able to solve someone’s problem. Always, talk it through.

All in all, telling a lead something they don’t want hear in a really open and honest way is a great way to build trust, trust that will come in handy today, tomorrow, or later on down the road.

Your impact data tells the strongest story.

Finally, the one and only thing that can make a salesperson’s job easy: evidence of the effectiveness of your product. If you have any pull as to how money is spent, I implore you, skip the expensive marketing videos and spend your money on research.

Conduct pilots, correlative studies, comparative studies, and control trials. Develop partnership with universities, take on graduate interns and allow them to use your product as the subject of their work. These are incredibly worthwhile endeavours. Not only for sales efforts but for the development of a product worth selling.

Then, once you’ve got all that evidence, figure out how to tell the most compelling story about it. The reason this is so important is that once the primitve age of edtech is over, and all companies are actually required to collect and share evidence of the impact of their products in order to sell, we’ll find that many products offer statistically similar impacts. We’ve yet to hear of many earth-shattering, groundbreaking technologies that merit the often made promise of “transforming learning”.

Don’t be just a salesperson. Be a knowledgeable, caring advocate for your product inside and outside of the company. Inside, push for evidence and meaningful partnerships that will equip you with compelling stories to tell potential customers (and the world!). Outside, build authentic relationships based on trust and care. If you can do this successfully, I promise you’ll have a willing audience.  

Why we're excited for the 3rd annual RemixEd Camp

RemixEd Event Details

RemixEd is a free unconference for educators, administrators, and education researchers that takes place in Montreal, Quebec. This year the event will be taking place on September 30th at the John Molson School of Business Building on the Concordia University campus.

RemixEd combines the best aspects of an edcamp and a traditional conference, blending learning, sharing, and connecting for an awesome day of fun! In addition, to the usual crowdsourced edcamp program, RemixEd is a unique model that also offers a pre-set program of traditional workshop sessions provided by members of the community. This way folks can enjoy workshops and learn practical skills and join share and listen in open, roundtable conversations edcamp-style. All in all, it's a day designed for educators.

What's new this year?

This year, planned sessions will be taking place in English and in French. "Our goal is to bring the two solitudes together to talk about topics in education that matter to us all", Roxanne explains. "There are so many amazing educators, doing really cool things in their classrooms and we need a space to share and learn from each other", she elaborates. Roxanne, Chris Colley (LEARN), Kish Gué (English Montreal School board), and Pierre Poulin (iClasse) are the organizers excited to be taking this event to the next level.

How Pure & Applied is Involved

This year, Roxanne and Niki from Pure & Applied will be volunteering throughout the day, setting up and hanging out with the kids. One important feature the organizing team decided on in the very beginning is that RemixEd needed to have childcare so that parents could attend knowing that their kids are in good hands and having fun, too. This year kids have guided activities and they will get to hang out in the makerspace on site, hosted by LEARN.

The team is thrilled to be able to offer educators and their families a day of fun, learning, and connecting.

We hope to see you there!

RemixEd Event Details

THE POST WORK WORLD: PREPARING FOR OUR KIDS

panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/79333

Eric Nentrup, Don Wettrick, Ginger Lewman and I submitted a SxSWEdu panel proposal to address the fact that the job market IS changing and education will need to as well.

In the 19th century, philosophers of education theorized the role of education for a democratic society. This role had three parts: creating citizens, creating workers, and to generally foster the development of moral agents capable of attaining a good life. Of course, as society developed, as markets grew, and as economic competition increased, we saw education for work become the primary rationale for schooling.

Today, securing employment for a sustainable livelihood heavily guides how families and youth make their education and life decisions. We see governments reinforcing this rationale by seeking economic development through education policy and curricula. For example, as companies needs more programmers, we see an influx of STEM promotion in schools. 

This need for national and personal economic growth has brought us to the brink of significant development and innovation. Artificial intelligence is poised to replace a large number of jobs that can be easily automated. Not just secretarial jobs – telemarketers, bookkeepers, receptionists, proofreaders, and computer support specialists are reported to be among the first jobs to go. Robots also stand to replace retail sales people, loan officers, paralegal assistants, drivers, security guards, cooks, bartenders, and financial advisers, to name a few (PwS report).

With this kind of change looming, leaders are thinking seriously about how mitigate the impact of job loss on families. Some are considering implementing a universal basic income to do this. UBI has made it onto the policy agenda of a number of countries including the US, Canada, India, the Netherlands, Italy, Scotland, among others. These programs are not all identical but rather test various schemes for distributing public funds to those who would need it.


While politicians are busy determining the optimal configuration for a basic income, WE in education need to prepare for the impact this may have on our kids, on their growth and development. If young people are guaranteed a basic income what new (or age-old) factors will shape how young people decide what to do with their lives? Will the education for work paradigm persist? Or will we see a shift in the common wisdom of the people? Will emotional factors be weighed more heavily? Will people become less risk-averse? Will this result in more diverse and creative innovations? These are among the questions our diverse panel of experts wants to explore on the SxSW stage.

Secondly, if UBI is not a part of the solution, then we still need to consider the following questions about how education might respond to automation and job loss.

What does the job market of the future look like and what will it need of the young people entering it? What kinds of jobs should we create? What does the curriculum of the future look like? And if schooling isn’t all about job training what should it focus on in terms of human development and citizenship. 

We want to get people in education riled up and thinking about this.

Help us by voting for our panel here:

panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/79333

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Edtech startups, want to stand out? Build an authentic brand

Edtech brand

What is a brand?

It’s not a logo, it’s not a marketing campaign, and it’s not your mission statement. It’s the soul of your company – what makes you, YOU.

We learned this from good friend and Brand Strategist, Erin Willett. We've worked together on a number of startup projects where branding never failed to improve customer perceptions, and even employee morale. 

Erin’s taught us that building an authentic brand is the key to compelling communication and to building meaningful relationships with all stakeholders, including your customers.  

In this day and age, there is so much competition and feature parity that it’s critical to showcase who you are and what you stand for through your brand.

Again, achieving this is not as simple as creating a logo and pretty packaging. You've got to dig deep into the psyche of your organization and tell your story.

The heavier the competition you face, the more you need to invest in telling your story, so that you can leverage your brand to beat out your competitors in reaching your audience.

There are so many well-known examples of strong brands winning the market over that I hope I don’t have to make this case for you here. Take your pick

Edtech companies struggle to differentiate their brands

When it comes to the education technology industry brands struggle to differentiate. This was incredibly apparent walking the exhibition hall floor at ISTE this year.

Walking the floor we read “improve outcomes”, “save teachers time”, and  “engage students” over and over again.

We get it. Everyone’s done the research and these are the boxes that decision-makers and influencers checked on the surveys. So, the market is saturated with brands making the same promises the same way.

The good news is that makes it a great time to stand out. It’s time to dig deep and develop an authentic voice to communicate to your story.

Instead of focusing entirely on product benefits, share why you are in the market in the first place. What is your purpose? Emotional consumers want to know.

Brand mistakes you can’t afford to make

As you do the work to develop your brand, don't make these mistakes. They'll cost you in the long run.

Assuming Educators Are One Big Homogenous Group

Don’t treat educators, administrators, and students as homogenous groups of consumers. To do so is to commit the marketing fallacy we call ‘casting the widest net’. This is what companies that don’t know their audience do.

Instead, invest in finding out who your customers and end-users really are. Take the time to refine their personas. Focus groups, surveys, and interviews may not be enough... you might just need to make friends!

Once your personas are created you'll know who your brand will speak to most. Develop your communication with them in mind, while staying true to who you are. Target this persona to get early adopters, to conduct pilots, to develop case studies. 

Not Conducting Your Own Research.

Only you can get to know your customers. Stop relying on shallow research conducted by large firms asking unimaginative and predictable questions. This research is designed to produce a high-level report that can appeal to as many clients as possible. It's not enough to develop a clear and precise understanding of your customers or their culture.

Your brand, is who you are. Use it as the lens through which you conduct your research. Focus on how to frame and get the most out of your conversations, surveys, or interviews. 

Don’t try to be the “next big thing”. The next big thing didn’t.

'Fake 'til you make it' is some of the most common advice startup CEOs get. Don't get us wrong, projecting confidence and believing in your product is essential.

But sometimes, startups trying so hard to be "the next big thing" over-embellish, over promise, and speak too soon. To. Their. Detriment.   

If you spend your precious startup dollars keeping up appearances you'll miss out on great opportunities to work your brand journey. Every great business started somewhere. Be open about where you're really at, share your story, and people who believe in you will want to help.

Their reward is getting to say how they knew you when you were still underground. 

Not Owning Your Voice

Decide who you are and what you stand for independent of what you think people want from you. Stop telling customers what you think they want to hear and start saying something you believe in. That honesty is more compelling and refreshing than anything else you could say.

It’s true, showing personality can be risky. Saying the wrong thing can really get you into trouble, do we even need to bring up this year’s Pepsi commercial fiasco. On the flip side, if you're woke and you have the courage to say what needs to be said you have everything to gain.

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Personalize Challenge to Inspire Confidence in Learning

A few weeks ago, friends and I went to an obstacle course activity in the forest. To be clear, this was not your friendly, neighbourhood obstacle course. It was originally designed for military training in the 70’s and more recently, it was opened to the public in the name of “fun” and “good times”. Being the fun-and-good-time-loving-people we are, we decided to give it a try.

We arrived at the location on a hot and sunny morning, far from the lush comforts of our fair city. We walked into the forest to meet our guide. There, he asked us to put on the harnesses that lay on the ground waiting for us. Each harness had two ropes attached to it with a carabiner at the other end. The carabiners were used to clip onto loops bolted in trees, ensuring our safety. There was also an attachment on the harness for zip-lining. Our training began five-feet off the ground. We learned how to properly attach ourselves using the carabiners and the procedure for maneuvering across the platforms.

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With the basic training complete, we headed off on a two and a half hour trail with three courses to cross, each increasing in height and difficulty. The first course was an hour long. As we jumped from platform to platform, swinging and zip-lining, we used all the strength of our arms and legs. It felt like we were enacting old video games like Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong. It was all “fun” and “good times”, until I reached an unmanageable obstacle.

The challenge required that we jump from a platform to catch a Tarzan rope and swing into a net-wall, latch on, and then cross the net-wall to the next platform. I was last in line and when it was my turn to jump I just froze. I was so afraid that my arms wouldn’t hold me as I swung across and that I would fall to the forest floor. My friends tried cheering me on, they tried describing their process, and finally, they tried describing how good I would feel once it was done. But I fell deeper into the stress and the seconds felt like minutes passing. I began to feel like I was holding up the group and the social pressure made it impossible to move. Then, our guide told me that the trick was to put my feet directly on the knot at the bottom of the rope and to just step off the platform. In doing this, he said, I would simply swing across. This trick coupled with fear of disappointing my friends egged me off the platform ledge and into the net.

When I landed everyone celebrated my accomplishment. I felt really proud but my confidence was shaken, nonetheless.

As we moved forward, the obstacles became increasingly wobbly. Now platforms, too, were swinging and I had to rely on my arms to hold me up for dear life. By the time I reached the end of the first course I had froze on multiple occasions. Each time, I felt less and less confident in my ability to move forward and more and more like a burden to the group. I thought to myself “I’ve had enough”, “get me out of here!” and a few times, I yelled it. I held on so tightly to the ropes that my fingernails dug through the gloves we were wearing and into my hand. It was blistering hot, physically onerous, and tightrope-level high. At this point, the anxiety and the fear took over and the fun died. Nevertheless, I persisted for my friends and for myself. Though, at this stage, only ego was left to motivate me.

Everyone insisted that I go first for the second course so that we could all stick closer together. As I approached the first challenge — four giant swinging platforms forty feet high — I choked. I started to panic as the platform beneath began to swing uncontrollably. I cried out, “ guys, I’m so over this!” A friend came up to ease the platform’s swing and I got off and climbed down.

On the ground, I felt some shame, but mostly relief. From then on, I supported the others as I followed along with our guide on the ground — the safe, solid, stationary ground. I was happy on the ground. I started making jokes and was on my way back to fun and good times. But when the others reached the end of the final course and began to celebrate their major feat, I felt like I couldn’t celebrate with them. I couldn’t go home and tell my family about how I killed it at the obstacle course. I couldn’t join in the dreaming of the next crazy activity we would try.

I did some good reflecting on this experience, especially when prompted with a feedback request via email. I felt like I had started off with a fitting degree of challenge — which allowed me to enjoy myself through the first bit. But the challenge-level increased in such large increments that I was unable to develop the proportionate amount of the confidence to move forward from obstacle to obstacle. Secondly, I noticed when I was watching from the ground that they would often let go of the ropes entirely to take a break and consider the best course of action. I realized that in my moments of anxiety, I forgot that I was wearing a harnesses, that it was completely secure, and that I couldn’t fall to my doom. Upon reflection, I realized that I hadn’t trusted my harness at all. During the training, I had conceptually grasped that I was securely attached and that I could not fall, but I didn’t actually test it. So, I didn’t commit letting myself fall to my repertoire of strategies for this activity. Without that mental and physical recuperation that the hang-time afforded, my fear took over and I decided I was unable to do something I was completely capable of.

How I felt during this obstacle course was terribly visceral, but still similar to how people can feel when they are in a high-stakes learning or training situation. An optimal experience needs to be created for learners to be engaged in an activity from beginning to end. An optimal experience requires certain conditions. The first and most important condition is that the perceived challenges stretch one’s existing skills, making things interesting in the first place. The second is clear goals and immediate feedback about the progress that is being made. The experience of engaging in “just manageable” challenges by tackling a series of goals, continuously processing feedback about progress, and adjusting action based on feedback is the key to sustaining engagement and creating the perception of progress.

Creating this kind of learning situation is difficult because if a challenge begins to exceed the learners skills, they becomes nervous, as I did. Essentially, on that platform I entered into a frame of mind that impeded my engagement and my progress in the activity. If skills exceed the challenge we get too comfortable and can become bored. The relationship between the learner and the challenge requires knowing the learner, their context, and careful design. When all this comes together and the right challenge is at hand, the learner is in an ordered state of mind — thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and actions are streamlined. This is the state we need to bring about in our learners, by creating situations that provide challenges that stretch skills without straining confidence.

Another important take-away from this is that if you are learning for doing, it’s best to learn by doing. The training gave me the technical ability to maneuver and showed me how to unlock my carabiner and latch it on to a loop properly. It did not, however, address the obvious psychological aspect of the activity. Taking a few minutes to practice falling would have gone a long way and taken the mystery out of letting go.

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Event-organizers, Let’s Go on a Brain Date at ISTE 2017


Want to go on a Brain Date, skip to the bottom.

One of the reasons I love going to ISTE is to connect with other educators, advocates, and innovators. In a nutshell, networking and connecting with the edtech community is the reason this conference brings me back year after year. I enjoy meeting new people, learning about them, the contexts in which they teach and learn, and the obstacles they face. Before I leave for ISTE, I always try to set up a few meet-ups in advance. At the moment, I use Twitter to accomplish this.

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As much as I enjoy networking, I know that for some conference goers, there is nothing more stressful than the idea of trying to chat up someone new. It’s a lot easier to pull out a device and check Twitter than it is to take the risk of approaching a stranger or of getting stuck in the wrong conversation. After all, our time at ISTE is precious. Each of us is on a mission to learn something that can solve a local problem and to bring that newfound knowledge home to share with colleagues and collaborators. This is important work.

Now, what if this process of connecting and learning could be more deliberate and less scary? What if there were something that could guarantee that you connect to the right people at ISTE? That is what a Brain Date does. Two years ago, I had my first brain date at C2 Montreal, an interdisciplinary conference that the Harvard Business Review called “a conference like no other”. E-180 is the social business that makes these Brain Dates possible and they refer to their work as “engineering serendipity”– a tagline my sentimental heart eats right up. Basically, it’s a matchmaking tool for people who want to teach and learn. Participants can set up their profiles and list their offers and requests for knowledge before the conference. Once onsite, E-180’s matchmakers make sure you connect to the person you’ve come to meet. This guided process takes all guesswork out of who you are meeting with and why. Christine Renaud, the founder of E-180, says that “Brain Dates remove the barriers to networking and help people get to the meaningful conversations right away.”

In preparation for my Brain Date, I wrote in my profile that I wanted to learn about informal online learning strategies and that I could share knowledge about how to validate your edtech business idea. This resulted in my meeting a number of people who could share their knowledge and stories with me about how they learn online, what tools they use, and how they keep track when they are down a deep click-hole. I was also able to share my knowledge and experiences in building an edtech startup with entrepreneurs who had great ideas, but wanted some direction.

Brain Dates are compelling to me, as a member of the education community because they are such an interesting use of technology. Today, different stakeholders in education think differently about the role technology might play in teaching and learning and the limitations we should place on this role. Similar conversations are being had regarding regulating developments in AI, for example. These are exciting times that require very careful consideration. In a world where innovation is focused on finding new ways to communicate online, E-180’s Brain Dates have innovated something so essential to our humanity–IRL connections. Here is an innovation that is helping us make advancements in the way that we satiate our intellectual and creative hungers. I love online communication as much as the next millennial, but there is nothing that compares to sharing time and space with someone engaged in a thrilling conversation. Being able to will these rare moments into existence through Brain Dates will take my learner curve to the next level.

I hope that ISTE will consider adding an activity like Brain Dates to their program in the future. So, I’m thinking I should test it out this year. I don’t have a fancy matchmaking application myself, but I would very much like to connect with you. If you’re into game thinking, laboratory schools, or rethinking how we can improve learning events–like workshops, edcamps, and conferences, let’s meet-up at ISTE. Let’s test this out together.

I’m Roxanne by the way!
Click on your preferred meet-up time below and we’ll give this a shot.

Monday, June 26th 1:00PM–1:30PM — Booked

Monday, June 26th 2:00PM–2:30PM

Tuesday, June 27th 1:00PM-1:30PM

Tuesday, June 27th 2:00PM-2:30PM–Booked

Wednesday, June 28th 1:00PM-1:30PM–Booked

Wednesday, June 28th 2:00PM-2:30PM

How Game Thinking Can Help Us Develop Better Learner Personas

It’s official, I am obsessed with watching online lectures and presentations to learn from at home. I’m especially interested in videos made by experts outside of the field of education and educational psychology on how their industries are learning or how they are developing and applying learning principles. The video format works so well for learning outside of my area of expertise because it allows me to more easily understand a foreign discipline’s paradigm. Recently, I’ve been binging on tech influencers talking about game design and development.

Gamethinking

Learning from the perspective of a game designer provides me with a different lens through which I can re-examine my own strategies and be inspired to develop new ones. Gaming is a $108 billion market that is investing a tremendous amount in research and development to better understand how to promote engagement. Engagement, after all, is the life-source of all games and to some extent, of learning, too. As someone who works on e-learning applications, online courses, and on instructor-led learning programs, engagement is a major interest of mine. That is why I want to explore it from diverse angles. So, I play the ethnographer in a “foreign” industry observing methods, strategies, and approaches to see how I can diversify my expertise.

One of my new favourite people to follow is Amy Jo Kim. Kim is a startup coach and game designer. She has an impressive client list, having worked on Rock Band, The Sims, Ebay, and Netflix, to name a few. Kim has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience, to boot. She is often invited to speak at conferences and has posted a wealth of knowledge on Slideshare.

In her talk on Creating Compelling Experiences, she discusses the concept of gamer personas, which relates to how I think about learner personas. In user-centered design, a persona is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a game, application, brand, or product in a similar way. The persona helps the designer to imagine how to best design elements of the game such as the game mechanics, the lifecycle, the interface, the content, etc.

In this video, Kim introduces a gamer persona taxonomy, which (for the gamer geeks reading) is a modification of Bartle’s Taxonomy of Gamer Types that can be used to help design games that involve social engagement (ie. multi-player games). The four types of social engagement Kim identifies include: competition, cooperation, exploration and self-expression. Kim explains that different mechanics should be used to attract each of these persona types. To attract those who enjoy competing — primarily males–words like “win”, “beat”, “taunt”, and “challenge” should be used to describe the game. To attract those who enjoy cooperating–primarily females–words like “join”, “share”, “gift”, “help”, and “exchange” should be used. Exploration verbs like “view”, “read”, “search”, “collect”, and “complete” should be used to appeal to personas that are somewhat less socially-motivated but who like engaging with content. Lastly, expressive verbs like “choose”, “customize”, “layout”, “design”, and “show-off” can be used to appeal to creative types. The connection between language and persona lends itself very well to marketing but also to how learning experience designers create to motivate learners. Whether I am developing an e-learning experience or an instructor-led experience or even a learning program or curriculum, I need to think about who my learner is and select key terminology accordingly.

Before you can make decisions about what kind of language will be most effective to attract your target learner you need to understand the learner. For edtech startups, this means identifying the persona of your early adopters so that you can imbed the right language into your products. For example, are they tech-savvy male teachers between the ages of 30 and 45? Do they also coach the basketball team after school? What kind of device do they use at work and at home? What games do they enjoy playing? This level of detail is important. It takes you beyond a basic audience analysis, as you’ll rely on actual interactions with your target learners. You’ll want to investigate into four aspects of your learners: geographical, demographic, psychological and behavioral.

The same goes for those who are developing learning programs that want to create deeper engagement or just encourage adoption. This information will allow you to show learners exactly what they want to see in their learning experience — themselves. In this case, game thinking teaches us the importance of considering the types of verbs, adjectives, and nouns we use to describe the learning applications, programs, and even events we create in order to ensure adoption and engagement through fit. After all, not every learning application is for every teacher or every student. Students and teachers are not homogenous groups — a mistake I’ve seen too many edtech companies make. How we make it possible for learners to see themselves starts with something as simple as the words we use to describe a task, an objective, or an offering. So, get specific when writing your user interface content, your onboarding content, your programs, and curriculum. Take the time to thoroughly investigate your learners, develop their personas, and match the language to them to pull them in.

References

Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs. Journal of MUD research1(1), 19.

Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., & Klein, S. P. (2006). Student engagement and student learning: Testing the linkages. Research in higher education47(1), 1–32.