Do We Really Need All Those EdTech NDAs?

How many non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with edtech companies have you signed?

April 26, 2012

How many non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with edtech companies have you signed? 

I'm always signing these things. 

Whenever an edtech company wants to give a "forward looking" product briefing on plans for upcoming features or tools, or whenever the discussion goes to pricing. There is a great range about how much of the product roadmap an edtech company will share, but almost no company will share anything substantive without first getting a signed NDA.

Is the NDA really a CYA?  

Is the risk of a potential or existing customer sharing roadmap or pricing information with another potential or existing customer so great? Or is the worry that this information will be shared with a competitor? And if this risk is so large, does an NDA really offer that much protection?

Maybe the NDA is a legal protection, so customers or potential customers don't sue if product plans change. But how often do customer really sue over changes in features, and if they do sue does the NDA really offer any protection?

Why are edtech companies so concerned about keeping product roadmaps hidden from the competition? Haven't we learned by now that the worst reason to adopt any platform, product, or service is the current feature set? Features change and evolve all the time, what matters is execution, support, integration, interoperability, and a host of other factors. I've honestly never witnessed a feature that was so innovative and groundbreaking that it offered any sustainable competitive advantage. Unless simplicity, elegance, and a customer focus can be called a feature.

I wonder if the managers at edtech companies worry too much about secrecy, and not enough about community building and engagement. Being willing to go against the tide of keeping product plans and pricing hidden, or at least cloaked under NDA, may offer brave edtech companies a comparative advantage in the marketplace.  

Academic technology decision makers need to be able to look ahead 12 to 24 months in making any purchasing decision, and our most effective method for evaluating companies, products and services is to talk to our peers. It is not enough for us to rely on the company to understand and evaluate future plans (under NDA), we need to compare notes and ask our colleagues lots of questions.

Can anyone share examples of edtech leaders and companies that have been willing to think differently about the ubiquitous NDA and the default towards product/pricing secrecy?

Perhaps someone from an edtech company could share how the NDA issue looks through your eyes.


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