How to Find K-12 Teachers for Edtech Product Feedback

“Every company’s greatest assets are its customers, because without customers there is no company.”
– Michael LeBoeuf

If you are building an edtech product aimed at K-12 teachers, you’re going to need feedback from them. Be it for customer discovery and validation, market research, beta testing, or something else, it is critical to talk to your customers.

You may be surprised to hear that there are many enterprising educators out there. I don’t mean they are profit-seeking; I mean they are inventive, progressive, and oftentimes tech-savvy. Some call them edupreneurs, some call them teacherpreneurs. Whatever you call them, as a startup, you can see them as innovators or early adopters, in “Crossing the Chasm” parlance.

This means they are willing to try out untested software. While they are not representative of the mass market, they can be a good reference customer for the majority later.

So how do you go about finding K-12 teachers who are willing to help you out? The resources here can help you identify and connect with teachers directly.

Use Personal Connections

Chances are, there are people within your own network that can connect you with teachers.

Your own teachers
If you’ve been through the K-12 education system, reach out to your former teachers. Since they know you, they may be wiling to help. Keep in mind that they may not be early adopters though.
Your children’s teachers
If you are a parent with children in the K-12 education system, go to their teachers. Since they know your children, they may be willing to help, and are also likely to be part of the mass market too.
Friends and family
Your own network of friends and family may contain, or be acquainted with K-12 teachers. 2nd and 3rd degree connections may not be as willing to help, but will likely be part of the mass market as well.

Use Educator to Entrepreneur Networks

As the edtech revolution is growing, so are the resources available to edtech entrepreneurs. Some organizations have risen up to complete the missing link between educators and entrepreneurs, though some are not as active as others.

edSurge Tech for Schools Summits
These are a series of local conferences for educators and entrepreneurs. For a fee, you can present demos, offer trials, and solicit feedback. Teachers can evaluate products and suggest implementation plans for their schools. This is more suited for beta and final products than for customer discovery.
Teacher Tech Talk
This is an exciting new effort to physically bring entrepreneurs and educators together. Discussions are focused around the concerns of educators rather than entrepreneurs, making this a great avenue for customer discovery.
This is a non-profit organization that connections beta products with educators willing to try them out. Products must be in an experimental state and companies must be willing to work with educators on a regular basis. This is not a good avenue for marketing or customer discovery.

Use Online Teacher Personal Learning Networks

A lot of teachers seek to form PLNs as a way to informally increase their professional development. The resources and guides that help teachers do this can be reverse-engineered to find tech-savvy innovators and early adopters. Here are some of the more popular resources.

Edmodo Communities
Since Edmodo is a social network specifically for teachers, this is a great place to find them. Like any other community, don’t jump right in and start promoting your products, however. Understand the etiquette of the community before making any posts. Or identify specific teachers and contact them directly.
Ning networks for teachers
Ning is a social network platform that allows anyone to create a social network like Facebook or Edmodo. There are many teacher-specific networks out there, though Ning doesn’t include a directory of them all. Some are more active than others.
A lot of tech-savvy teachers use Twitter as a means to expand their PLNs. It’s a relatively low-effort way to publish and consume information. Most prefer it over Facebook too. You can often find teachers using hashtags such as #edchat#edtech#education, and others specific to conferences, organizations, and subjects of which they are a part.
There is a vibrant and engaged community of teachers on Tumblr. Their demographic tends to be younger and more tech-savvy. Most tend to use the tags #education#edtech, and #teaching. You can work backwards from these tags to find teachers. Most have some kind of contact form on their profile pages.
According to recent comScore statistics, Pinterest’s demographics skew heavily towards female. Most are in the 25-34 age range and 50% have children. Within this audience is an active community of teachers who’ve been using Pinterest to pin project ideas, lesson plan ideas, and other educational resources they can use. Though you can’t send a message to teachers directly from Pinterest, some include a link to their other social media accounts.
Diigo Groups
Diigo is a popular bookmarking tool amongst tech-savvy teachers. They use it to organize all the websites they use. Many users don’t fill out their profiles, so it’s not always easy to reach out to teachers from this source. But some do include links to their other social media accounts.
Teacher forums
There are dozens upon dozens of online forums for K-12 teachers, though quality varies significantly. Some, like A to Z Teacher StuffThe Teacher’s Corner, and WeAreTeachers have fairly active communities. That also means they moderate their posts and don’t tolerate product promotion posts. Lurk in the community to understand the members and etiquette before joining in. You can also find forums on specific subjects if you search enough.
LinkedIn Groups
There aren’t as many active teachers on LinkedIn as on other social media sources. However, you’ll be able to find a handful of active groups of teachers with some effort. LinkedIn has the added benefit of providing a way to connect with the teachers you find.
Here’s a little-known tip that may not be suitable for every startup. If you see a project in which your product could be used, help that teacher fund the project, then send the teacher a free copy of your product. Teachers love free stuff, and if your product solves the problem well, you may have earned a new product evangelist.

Use Face-to-Face Sources

Sometimes meeting with a teacher face-to-face is better than an online interaction. You’ll find them more forthcoming with information, especially about controversial topics.

A fair number of teachers peruse the education jobs section, usually for part-time work. Though it costs money to post a listing in the jobs section, a well-timed listing (i.e. during Winter break, Spring break, a long weekend, etc) may attract a lot of responses. For best results, offer some kind of compensation, such as a free meal (for a face-to-face meeting) or gift card.
Teacher conferences
There are hundreds of conferences for teachers across the country. Most won’t be relevant to you. Identify a few that are worth attending and focus on those, such as ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), one of the largest for IT professionals in education.
Unfortunately, not all cities have a large enough edtech community to host meaningful edtech meetups. Silicon Valley has one, but not many others do. These meetups tend to attract more entrepreneurs than educators. But popular ones, such as Ed-Tech Meetup in San Francisco, do host events with educators on occasion.

Innovator and early adopter K-12 teachers are out there, many of whom would be eager to meet you. It’s just a matter of doing the legwork to find and connect with them.

Know of other resources? Please leave a reply and let me know!

This article was originally posted on the Edtech Handbook and has been updated for this blog.

How to Determine an Effective Cofounder Match

Last month, I wrote about how to find a technical cofounder. Here is a follow-up.

Let’s say you have found a potential cofounder. Life is great, you got your cake!

But wait. Are you sure this is the right person?

Having a cofounder is like having a spouse. You both will be undertaking one of the most difficult activities a pair can do. So it is very important that you have the right partner.

How can you tell if this cofounder is the right one for you? It ultimately depends on your compatibility with each other, though here are a few personality traits to consider. Without these, your cofounder (or you, for that matter) may not survive the early stages of your startup.

Sometimes the exhilaration of finding a cofounder is so great that people don’t consider whether or not this person is compatible with you and will make an effective business partner.

Here are some questions you can ask to determine an effective cofounder:

Passion & personal interest
“Are you interested? Do you genuinely care about this market, these customers, and this solution? Will you still care about it in 2-5 years or more?”
Mental stamina
“Do you know the risks involved in starting a company from scratch? Have you done this before? How comfortable are you with risk? How comfortable are you working with no or little salary for the foreseeable future?”
“How comfortable are you with frequent change? Would you be willing to change the entire business model if we discover our current idea will not work?”
Communication, interpersonal & conflict resolution skills
“What is your communication style? Can you communicate effectively with a wide range of people? How do you resolve conflicts? How self-aware are you? Do you have leadership skills?”
Personal integrity
“Can I trust you? Do you trust me? How do we really know we can trust each other? Do you keep your word? Are you reliable? Are you a self-starter? Will you follow through on your responsibilities?”
Complementary talents & skills
“What talents and skills do you have that I don’t? Are your skills competent enough to help prove this business model and create a minimal viable product? Are your skills competent enough to hire great people?”
Complementary personalities
“Do we get along? Does your personality and communication style mesh with mine? Could we travel together on a 6-hour flight, then a week-long hotel stay, without strangling each other? How about working almost 24/7 for several years together?”

It is typically better to have worked together with this person before, so you have an idea of this person’s working style and temperament. It’s easy for someone to say, “Yes, I am comfortable with startup risk,” but much harder to demonstrate it if you haven’t seen it before.

Some of these traits, such as complementary personalities, are even harder to assess. Determining such a fit takes time. Social activities is one good method of doing so. Go get a meal together and chat about non-work topics. Then try to find an environment that may be stressful, like working on a paid contract or pet project together.

It’s hard enough to find someone willing to be a cofounder. Finding one that is a good match for you significantly narrows the pool. However, the wrong choice can be catastrophic. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, nor in desperation.

Finally, be aware that your first choice may be wrong. If so, and you truly believe your cofounder is not a good fit, it is my belief that you should part ways as quickly, yet respectfully, as possible. There is no room for the wrong people in a startup.

How to Find a Technical Cofounder

I have a technical background and get about an offer a month to join some engineering team or be a technical cofounder. Active software engineers probably get two or more offers a month.

If you are a non-technical entrepreneur, it can be very, very difficult to find a technical cofounder. But it is not hopeless. Here are some ways to find a technical partner for your venture.

Work for a company that is known to have great engineers
Be a great product manager, marketer, or whatever your role is, and foster deep connections there. Find like-minded people and fostering genuine friendships. Or, at least, solid & respectful working relationships. Also, do a kick-ass job in your role. If you are known as a sharp individual, others will more likely want to follow you.

I was lucky enough to have worked for Yahoo! (YHOO) in its second act. The dot-com bubble had just popped and amazing talent was all over the market. I was able to hire phenomenal software engineers and grow a strong team culture. Many of us have said we’d love to work with one another again. This means we all have access to a large pool of talent. With all the funded startups that are unable to hire, that’s a huge ace up our sleeves.

This is a relatively slow method, however, depending on how quickly you can connect with someone. But such a connection can be long-lasting and meaningful.

Learn to write code yourself
Go to hackathons and developer meetups. Or even contribute to an open source project. The development community is a friendly one (for the most part) and you will often find many people eager to help you out. You can earn the trust of other developers if they see you willing to do this. Also, you will be able to speak their language.

This can be a difficult journey for some. You may have little interest or patience to learn how to program. That lack of motivation can make this method fairly time-consuming. But if you are able to hack it (no pun intended), there are a ton of free resources out there for you. From Codecademy and Try Ruby, to free programming books and free online courses. If those don’t work, pay for a programming course at a local college or workshop. Sometimes having a human being who can answer your questions can help.

Be an inspirational champion for your cause
This works if your passion and business idea serves the community and the world in a greater way. Get yourself involved in various organizations & volunteer groups and be a recognized leader. Build up your personal brand both offline and online. Become someone that others want to follow.

I know of one charismatic individual who has done this via Quora, Twitter, guest blog posts, and various speaking events. He doesn’t have a technical background, but his charisma just radiates.

The common denominator of all these tactics is building meaningful relationships with others through proof of your abilities and talents. I will trust you more if I have worked along side you, seen you try to write a web app yourself, or know you to be an inspirational leader in your field.

What do you think?