Actionable Innovations Conversations Show Notes: Ketan & Manish Kothari

Winter Series 2022 — Week 6

At Actionable Innovations, we believe that listening to other perspectives informs our view of educational innovation. That’s why you’ll meet special guests during Actionable Innovation Conversations who reflect a wide range of specialties and interests. We also think that it’s important for educators to understand start-up culture and to dialogue with entrepreneurs so that products can be developed in tandem to meet the needs of teachers and students.

A few minutes before last week’s conversation with entrepreneurs Ketan and Manish Kothari, an educator who also is an entrepreneur asked us:

Are Ketan and Manish educators, or edtechers? Just trying to gauge the conversation. So many edTechers are not educators, and their perspective is different.

We agree that their perspective is different! Ketan and Manish Kothari are serial entrepreneurs, executives, and investors who have played key roles in building several education technology businesses. Currently, they serve as advisors to several companies. At Edmodo, the brothers helped build and grow the world’s largest community of K12 educators, students, and parents to facilitate effective collaboration and communication. They co-founded Root-1, Inc., which was acquired by Edmodo in March 2013. Prior to that, the pair cofounded AlphaSmart, Inc (IPO, NASDAQ in February 2004). Another education enterprise founded by the duo is Aspen Learning. During our February 25th conversation, they indicated that they have always incorporated education advisory councils (made up of students, teachers, and administrators) with their various startups and companies. They clearly value the input and feedback from education practitioners and feel that it’s essential for entrepreneurs to listen to teachers and make things happen for them.

Other takeaways from this conversation include:

  • Manish noted that young people today often are pressured to discover their passions when they are young and in the context of Don’s Proust questionnaire, he indicated that virtual might be overrated. Don agreed and commented that perhaps “passion” should be replaced with “purpose”.
  • Ketan and Manish have been in the field of ed tech before ed tech was a “thing” and thus have a great longitudinal perspective on the industry. A great deal of what the brothers have learned has been because they are situated in Silicon Valley and were steeped in a culture that valued innovation. They were also surrounded by people who could help them piece together their startups including engineers, designers, and financiers.
  • Ketan was recruited to work at Apple when it was still a small company and that culture had an impact on his future work.
  • The idea of an AlphaSmart came from educators and they worked with educators to design and prototype the device long before 1:1 computing was more of the norm in the U.S.
  • Not all of their ventures have been traditionally “successful”, but important lessons have been learned in the spirit of failing forward.
  • We discussed teacher feedback and startups, nothing that Ed Surge’s summits had been a great model for this.
  • Manish noted that the feedback cycle that companies need is not always aligned to the timing that teachers and school districts can provide. Companies need feedback more quickly. “As an example, investors who invest in your business, typically want to show or have some sort of data and efficacy or improvement in a short period of time, maybe a month or two months. Whereas most people on the educator side will take longer than that to give you the feedback. So one disconnect I feel that there is in this cycle of getting very useful feedback is that the timelines are very different.”
  • We touched upon the idea of ed tech being the silver bullet for improving student outcomes. Not everyone is convinced that ed tech should be looked at as a factor in high-stakes measures of student achievement.
  • We also briefly discussed how companies balance investing in incremental changes in products and in innovating on their products.
  • Ketan and Manish are incredible networkers and connectors. They are always willing to share their lessons learned and support others. Please feel free to reach out to them if you’d like to connect.

Watch the entire conversation below for more details and leave additional comments and questions and comments here on Medium. Many thanks to Ketan and Manish for so generously sharing their expertise with our community.

Resources Mentioned

Next Actionable Innovations Conversations

We have added even more speakers to our lineup! Check out the current featured special guests and register today.

Dr. Gary Stager will join us on March 4th and Alefiya Master will be our guest on March 11th. Alefiya is the founder and CEO of MAD-learn, an app development program for students.

Click here to follow us on social media and to find our previous recordings on YouTube.



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