No Educator Left Behind.
As budgets are slashed, educators are increasingly footing the bill for teaching our kids. We’d like to help reverse that.
Another day, another story about teachers draining their anemic salaries to pay for school supplies. According to Education World, the average U.S. teacher (the one we pay $35k to work a 55-hr week) is now forking over $500/year to make up for district and state budget cuts.
How far are we going to push educators? Have them mortgage their homes for the privilege of teaching our kids?
We understand the issues: state budgets are collapsing and the tax-base is shrinking. School cuts are inevitable! But still: Mayors are approving $450m sports arenas. Governors are spending millions for YouTube subscribers. And the Feds…well, they’re still being the Feds.
Underfunding our teachers isn’t inevitable; it’s a choice. One filled with political and fiscal dilemmas, but a choice nonetheless.
Arguably, here at Storybird we’re a bit more sensitive to this issue given our ties to educators. With more than 400k teachers and librarians on our platform, we hear their collective sighs, gasps, and groans louder than most.
So instead of just shaking our heads, we’ve decided to do something about it.
Up until now Storybird’s business model was primarily freemium, an approach where we offer most of our tools for free but charge for larger groups and Pro features. Freemium is a staple of internet startups; if you get it right, the margins will grow your business.
In our case, though, we weren’t getting it right. We were charging the one group who had less money than everyone else in our ecosystem to foot the bill for the platform. The same group who was responsible for our growth and popularity. In business terms, this is called mis-alignment. In the schoolyard, it’s called stupid.
So we’ve shut down our freemium model: no limits, free access. Teachers don’t have to pay to use Storybird’s pro tools in their classrooms.
Now, what wasn’t stupid was our other model — ecommerce: selling books our members create and artwork our artists contribute. We’ve experimented with selling merchandise before, but our a-ha moment was a test of Fundraisers.
Storybird Fundraisers allow parents to buy their child’s books and art projects and, in turn, Storybird donates 30% of those sales back to educators. Effectively, we treat schools and libraries like retailers, giving them a wholesale price while charging the customer retail. Schools can earn $1500 from a typical fundraiser that takes only a few minutes to create.
More important, Fundraisers are win-win: educators can use Storybird for free AND generate funds for school needs; parents can buy meaningful keepsakes rather than the rubbish typically sold for fundraising; and students see their work in print.
Tim O’Reilly famously said “create more value than you capture.” His view was that platforms create such massive value for everyone involved that the platform owner could take less and, by so doing, paradoxically strengthen their position.
For us, Fundraisers aren’t as profitable as freemium. Selling software is high margin. Selling books and art prints is low. But Fundraisers are better aligned with educators and their goals, effectively putting the power of our platform in their hands. In the long run that’s the right strategy.
So, our vote is cast with educators. They’ve paid their dues; we’d like to help pay them back.
PS. We made a video for educators. You might like it.