November 9, 2017

EdLinks: Building Scalable Outcomes-Based Education Companies

New York, NY – As part of its EdLinks series, SJF Ventures hosted a panel discussion focused on building scalable outcomes-based education companies. SJF Managing Director Arrun Kapoor served as moderator, asking questions on the relationship among outcomes and return on investment, buyer purchasing decisions, efficacy measurement, customer partnerships and more.

Speaking on the panel were Linda Chaput, CEO of Agile Minds; Mahnaz R. Charania, former Director of Strategic Planning and Program Evaluation for Fulton County Schools; Bart Epstein, CEO of the Jefferson Education Accelerator at the University of Virginia; and Ann-Marie Faria, Vice President at the American Institutes for Research.

The Challenges

The panelists made several valuable points:

Bring in learning experts and instructional designers early in a company’s life to ensure there is a focus on learning outcomes from the onset. Companies can use the NERD database to find relevant education researchers.

Ensure there is a specific existing need that your product or service is addressing. More importantly, there must be an existing budget line item that can be used to buy a product or service.  One speaker made the point that even if a company can save a district hundreds of hours of teacher time, a seemingly valuable proposition, unless there is a budget already allocated to solve this specific pain point, a company will have an uphill battle to sell.

Don’t shy away from asking districts, schools and other customer prospects if they know what problem they’re really trying to solve.

Be careful of using ‘free pilots’ as a tool for selling. If this is the determining factor for a ‘yes’ decision, this typically means there is not enough buy-in or demand for the product.  In these situations, pilots can be a drain on time and resources and less likely to convert to paid accounts.

Work with customers to see if they will share data (in compliance with student data protection laws) to better assess the effectiveness of your product or service.

Often the decision maker for purchasing a product or service is not the ultimate user. Encourage teacher/user professional development in order to ensure that all stakeholders are using the product or service in the most optimal way.

Incorporate user feedback early on in product development cycles, though be mindful that requests from early adopters may only be applicable to one-off customization and not extensible to a broad customer base.