This is really hard…
Building products for teachers, students and parents is really, really hard. I’ve helped create products for consumers (at Evenly) and small businesses (at Square) — both of which were challenging — but building software for educators can feel like a ‘riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. That’s probably why there are so few scalably successful companies in education — particularly in the K-12 domain. So why is this the case?
Although I’ve experience a number of unique constraints, I think the below 2 reasons cause 80% of the headaches —
(1) Phenomenal seasonality.
If you sell ice cream, your business probably does better in the summer — so you have pretty high seasonality. Education is like the ice cream industry but on steroids. Almost all adoption for new products and services happen right at the beginning of the year (August / September). So that means, there are 3–4 weeks to gain new users or launch new features.
This seasonal concentration is crazy! It puts huge stress on the growth and product teams — you have 1 time every year to launch new products and seed new behaviors. If you swing and miss, you have wait 11 months to bat again.
(2) Minimal virality.
In schools, most decisions are based on minimizing downside, not increasing upside. This fear results in a ridiculously slow adoption cycle riddled with gatekeepers. Any products that require district or principal approval, must be iron clad (i.e. MVPs wont work here).
Products that experience scalable success in education, therefore, generally need to go directly to teachers. However, even in this scenario, going directly to teachers usually only results in small spurts of growth within a school — schools operate incredibly independently (i.e. teachers in public school #1, dont talk to teachers in public school #2, even if they are 3 miles apart).
No doubt, building products in this environment is damn hard — but it’s also so fun. When you succeed you’re helping teachers teach, kid learn, and parents support their children :)