A Conversation with Kevin Celisca
It all started because of a teacher. “If it wasn’t for my teacher in fourth grade, she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She understood that there was a unique way I’m supposed to learn, but she took the time to teach me.”
Kevin Celisca was telling me about his latest project. That playback of his life story gave him the inspiration, years later, to begin work on an edtech software product called Integrate Tech. It’s designed to help kids with their individual learning style, because Kevin didn’t want them to go through what he went through. The software features a smart agenda that changes the environment depending on the user’s class schedule. It’s designed to minimize distractions and provide data analytics for educators and administrators.
As an entrepreneur Kevin has some tips for founders that he also shared with me.
• Know your co founder. Make sure that you understand this person’s habits and if you can deal with him or her on a daily basis.
• Educate yourself.
• Believe in yourself.
• Do your research constantly, because entrepreneurship is constant research.
In our conversation, Kevin elaborated on this last point about research. “A basketball player, for him to be the best, he has to work on his skills every day
For an entrepreneur to be the best, he has to work on his brains every day. If you want get your tools properly sharpened, you’re going to have to constantly read books. Read books. Read books. Every day is a learning moment.”
Here’s the transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.
Lee Schneider: It’s the Cult/Tech Podcast. I’m Lee Schneider. Joining me today is Kevin Celisca, the co founder of Integrate EdTech. Hey, Kevin, welcome to the podcast.
Kevin Celisca: How are you doing? It’s a pleasure to be here.
Lee: So, first, tell me a little bit about your background. Why are you the guy to be pursuing Integrate Tech? Kevin: Okay. So a little bit about myself. I’m first generation American, and my parents were from Haiti. So when I got the opportunity to come to America, I didn’t understand…I struggled in school, and that was because of my learning style in fourth grade. So I was supposed to stay back, however, if it wasn’t for my teacher in fourth grade, she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She understood that there was a unique way I’m supposed to learn, but she took the time to teach me. However, my parents and myself gave up, and I was supposed to stay back. But she took the extra time, with no pay, to teach me how to able to learn in a certain way, because she couldn’t teach the class and give me extra time. So she stayed after school to teach me. And because of that, I understood the way I was able to learn, and because of her, I was able to work for a Fortune 500 company called Ernst & Young as an auditor, and I wanted to give back.
So my business partner, he came up with this idea called Integrate, which helps kids with their learning style, plus integrates how the classroom operate with technology, and once he presented it to me, while I was working for Ernst & Young, I saw this is the perfect opportunity to get into the EdTech space, because I don’t want those kids to go through what I went through, because not a lot of kids get that opportunity to understand that they learn in a unique way. And that’s why I feel like I’m the guy to get involved in this edtech space.
Lee: Let’s jump ahead a little bit in the order of questions and just tell me what Integrate does. What is it?
Kevin: Okay, so Integrate, what it does is it works in three different levels. It works in the admin level, teacher level, and student level. So, for the admin level, it oversees the teacher and student progress. So it would help the admin understand in a visual data analytic how the teacher’s performing and how the students are receiving the teacher performance, and it also gives the admin the ability to approve lesson plans before the teachers teach it to the students.
And for the teacher level, it helps teacher manage the technology in the classroom all in one platform, so the teacher could be more efficient in the classroom. So, for example, the software does the attendance for the teacher using geofencing. It also eliminates distraction based on the student’s schedule, so once the student walks in the classroom, the software locks them in a screen that gives the teacher full control only during that teacher’s time period. And it also does grading, and anything that you think might be cumbersome for the teacher, the software takes away the stress so the teacher can just focus on that student.
And for the student level, it basically keeps them organized into giving them homework push notification into what they have to do, as like…You can see it. For a student, it’s more like a personal assistant to keep them on track on school. And, overall base, the software also has the data analytic to understand the student learning style so that the teacher can understand how to best teach the student. And that is what Integrate is.
Lee: You’ve described this really complete software suite, but it’s a very, very crowded space, this kind of teacher/student management world. So what makes you guys different?
Kevin: So what makes us different is there hasn’t been an edtech company during this time period that has put everything into one platform. Every edtech software that has been out has been a nichey software. So one software will be successful in attendance, it will be known for its attendance. One software will be known for its grading system. So they’re all nichey, but no edtech software has ever put everything into one platform to be unified as one, as the way we’re doing it.
Lee: I can see that you’re taking a more complete view of this to make it a little bit easier for teachers and admins, and the students too.
Kevin: Yes. And we realize that the most important factor into all of this is the user interface. We want to make the user interface as a small of a learning curve, so teachers who’ve been in the education field don’t feel so intimidated by new technology coming to the schools.
Lee: How are you bringing educators into your application development process?
Kevin: We plan on beta testing with five schools and afterschool programs. The software’s free of charge when we’re beta testing it, and we want to get feedback from all different levels of how does it feel? Is it more efficient? Would you recommend any changes?
Lee: That makes a lot of sense. You know, before this question gets away from us, I did want to ask the “Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?” question, so here goes. Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?
Kevin: I love this question. So where I got my entrepreneurial spirit was because when I was in high school, I always wanted to be an accountant, because my family was always financially struggling, and I knew that becoming an accountant would be the way to go. So when I went to school, my mindset was to be an accountant. However, what was the paradigm shift for me was when I did my study abroad. I studied abroad three times. I went to England, Italy, and China, and when I got exposed to the world of the possibility of outside of accounting, that’s when I realized that for me to live this type of lifestyle, I have to become something I’m not used to, which is an entrepreneur. Because I came across a lot of entrepreneurs and different mindsets and different perspectives, and it broadened my mind to be more of an entrepreneur. And that’s how it happened. Travel, travel.
Lee: Travel broadens the mind, as the expression goes. Interesting. Now, you’re a new company. You’re doing some beta testing. How have you reached out to teachers, parents, and students? In other words, how have you reached those beta testers? What has worked, and what hasn’t worked?
Kevin: So as a new company, what we have been doing was we’d been doing this app called Meetup, and Meetup has given us connections to all levels of life, of investors, schools, EdTech investors, teachers, principals. And they have certain groups involved in specific niches. So I was able to get involved with New York EdTech, and once you get involved with those people, they’ll connect you to their other schools.
So, for example, I’ve recently graduated college, 2014. I’m not too sure that’s recent or not. But I graduated college 2014, and a lot of my friends were already teachers. So what I would do is I would ask them how were their experience are. So I already had connections, because I was freshly out of college, talking to my friends who are teachers. And then, my friends who are teachers would introduce me to more teachers, and the other teachers would introduce me to the principals. And then it becomes a snowball effect because I’m constantly talking to people. I’m not staying in my house doing Google search. I’m actually out in the field, talking to people, seeing what has been good and what has been bad. So, for the most part, just using this app called Meetup, joining those certain groups, that’s how it’s helped me connected, and using my college connections as well, to get inside the school.
And I also was a substitute teacher after I quit Ernst & Young, for a little time period, and I also did my own beta analytic within the school industry. Because I haven’t been in high school for a while, so I saw that when I was in high school and how high school is now was completely different. So, that gave me some great insights into understanding the market.
So, for the most part, I can’t say anything hasn’t gone wrong so far. Since we’re a early-stage company, everything has been going right, but that’s where we have been going to. And we’re also part of a startup called 1776, and they have been connecting us with government officials who are telling us multiple entries of how to get into the edtech space.
Lee: That’s so important, because so many people might have a great idea, and they may start Google searching, like you’re saying, but, really, it’s about getting out into the field. Using Meetup is a great idea. Building a cohort, building a network, and getting people that you can talk to, building conversations with potential customers, that’s all great stuff, and a lot of people just don’t do it, or do it really late.
Kevin: Because a lot of people always just makes an assumption that if it’s not on Google, it’s actual facts. But, in fact, what I found out was when we first did our Google search, they told us that the school market are all using Apple products. However, when I went into the field and did my own observation and my own personal Google search, it turns out that schools that were using Apple tools were switching to Google Chromebooks, and most schools that I was coming across was using Chromebooks. So Google searching was actually misleading.
Lee: It’s certainly true from what I’ve seen that Google Chromebooks and the whole Google app environment and the Google educator environment, that’s totally winning, versus the Apple environment. Totally changed, totally winning.
Kevin: Yes, it really is, and I’m loving it.
Lee: I like to provide some guidance to edtech founders just in general, meaning I’m leading up to the “teachable moments” question. If you had some advice to give to new founders, what would it be?
Kevin: Let me just start out with the founder, the founder’s part. So when you’re creating a company and you want to get a cofounder involved, you wanna make sure that you understand this person’s habits and if you can deal with him on a daily basis, because originally, we had another founder. We thought we were good friends. We were good friends. We actually still are friends. However, when you have friends and business, it doesn’t always mix, because the personality for business, he may not be able to handle pressure and his perspective might be much more different, and it can slow down the process.
So, that can be a costly factor, because the first mistake was assuming that friends and business can work together, but that’s not always the case. So what we had to do, we had to basically buy him out of the company and at an early stage before the problem got worse. So if you and a cofounder are not agreeing to a lot of topics, I advise you guys to part and not continue, because when the money starts rolling in, you’re gonna have issues, and a lot of companies fail because of founders’ disagreements. So you wanna make sure you pick the right founder, and if you can deal with him. It’s like marriage. You’re stuck with the person all the way through the exit. So you don’t want to make that early mistake.
The second thing I would like to advise you is before even starting a company, I advise you guys to get some type of education, like understanding, watching YouTube videos on how to do a startup, reading The Lean Startup, because I’ve seen many founders who gave up up to 80% of equity because of lack of knowledge of knowing the proper steps. And it hurts, because they have a good idea, but they gave out too much equity early in the stage. You wanna get some type of understanding and knowledge on processing, because there’s a lot of steps you can take, but you wanna have at least a foundation, like the legal stuff, of how much equity founder A should have, how many founder B should have. So you wanna have that clear understanding of who you’re working with and the clear guidelines of what’s the expectation for both of you.
And, lastly, I would say, no matter what people say, always believe in yourself, and constantly read books. Because people will tell you that your idea is insignificant and someone in the market has it, but before you actually believe anybody who tells you something, even experts can be wrong. So you should believe in yourself, because while I was doing this process, a lot of people told me there’s no point because of X, Y, and Z. If I had listened to them, I would not have been part of the process of actually rolling out my software. So, you wanna be really careful to what advice you take. There’s a lot of advice, but you just wanna take 10% of it. And then, even evaluating that 10% and making that personal decision what makes more sense to you.
Do your research constantly, because entrepreneurship is constant research, research, because, for example, a basketball player, for him to be the best, he has to work on his skills every day. For an entrepreneur to be the best, he has to work on his brains every day. That’s where the tools at, and if you wanna get your tools properly sharpened, you’re gonna have to constantly read books. Read books. Read books. Every day is a learning moment.
And I think that’s about it for what I would give to the founders.
Lee: That’s all really sound advice and gives a lot of perspective. Hey, Kevin, thanks so much for joining me today on the podcast.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s no problem, Lee. It was a pleasure for having me on. I would also like to give out my social media for anybody who would like to reach out to me for any advice, because I’m open to social media. I’m a sold believer on it. If you wanna find me on Facebook, it’s Kevin Celisca. Celisca. In Instagram, I am insta_kev10, and on my Twitter, it’s therealcelisca1.