This afternoon I participated in an excellent demo from Groopex, a startup that provides seamless WebEx integration and value added features to Moodle (and hopefully soon Blackboard as well).
If you are currently running Moodle and looking for a way to integrate synchronous class collaboration tools into your learning toolkit I highly recommend that you check out Groopex. Talking to the Groopex folks also makes sense if you are on a different learning management system (LMS) and are investigating the synchronous collaboration space.
The demo today got me thinking about how small edtech startups like Groopex can achieve some visibility amongst higher ed decision makers.
- Turn Every Employee Into a Communicator: Every person that a small edtech startup hires is in marketing. Every developer, every project manager, every user interface specialist is also part of the marketing department. Everyone in the company needs to make time to become active, productive, opinionated, collegial, and responsive participants in the social media and news platforms in which your potential customers (higher ed decision makers) congregate. Of course I am biased towards becoming a member of the InsideHigherEd community, which means becoming an active participant in the discussions around the daily stories, but there are other venues as well. Yes be active, engaged and smart on Inside Higher Ed, but also on other education and edtech blog sites, news destinations, Facebook and LinkedIn groups - basically everywhere. The key is to approach these communities as individuals who happen to also work for an edtech startup. Teach your employees how to cultivate an authentic voice, and encourage them to let their passions and interests shine through. The association of smart people with your startup is more important than the startup message always being pushed.
- Break the Mold of Bland Company Speak: The good news is that as a small edtech startup you have very little to lose. You and everyone in your company should be willing to say exactly what you think about education, technology, and the issues that we all care about so much. Anyone who is both honest and funny about their own company and other technology players will be appreciated by our community. Everyone worries too much about giving offense. As long as your are respectful and positive it is great to express strong opinions.
- Turn Every Employee Into a Networker: Just as every employee should be participating in social media and news sites (and have their own social media / blog / twitter presence), everyone should also be spending time making friends. The higher ed tech world is actually very small. We tend to all know each other (and genuinely like each other), and we are not very exclusive. We like people who challenge us, who have ideas outside of the mainstream, and who teach us new things.
- Educate Us: One of the best ways to connect with high ed technology decision makers is to give us something that enables us to learn new things. If you are running an edtech startup you probably know more than almost anyone about your sector and the technology ecosystem in which you operate. Take the time to create white papers and short briefing articles. It is important that these educational products be balanced, informative and critical - and that they not feature your product more than others or fall into marketing speak. It is enough that you sponsor this research, it does not (and should not) be all about your company or product.
- Partner with Departments and Schools, as Well as Entire Institutions: Try to build relationships with individual schools or departments at first, and worry less about signing institution wide deals. A professional or graduate school within a larger university is a terrific starting place to create (and publicize) new partnerships. Perhaps even think about specializing. Become the expert in the needs of medical schools, or business schools, and be able to offer these entities a product specifically tailored for they're needs.
- Practice Full Transparency: You can gain huge credibility in the marketplace if you decide to be transparent from the beginning. Publish your price lists. Don't be afraid to talk openly about your product roadmap, your developer team, and the challenges that you face. I find that most edtech companies vastly overestimate the risk that some other company will steal your ideas or your strategies. Ideas are easy, execution is hard. You have way more to gain from being fully transparent and open than you have to lose if some other company adopts one of your strategies. The degree to which big edtech and publishing companies are not transparent drives us higher ed folks crazy. You could make a mark right out of the gate if you did things differently.
What ideas do you have to share with small edtech startups that may help them get visibility in the higher ed marketplace?