Welcome to SmartBrief Education’s original content series about the unique stories of teacherpreneurs. These are the innovative individuals confronting challenges, creating solutions and bringing them to market.
“The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system.” — Peter Thiel, Zero to One
“Sorry, that money is no longer available,” said the grant guru in our district office. Say what?! I had just lost anticipated and much-needed grant money at the last minute for the K-8 urban public school where I worked as a computer literacy teacher and building-technology coordinator. For those of you who have been in this boat, you understand my frustration and disappointment.
There were numerous attempts to contact vendors, emails and calls for proposals. Some were nice and friendly and others were straight to the point. No luck. The result: Goodbye grant money to wherever grant money goes. Poof! Score: Antiquated procurement system: 1 and beneficial programs for my students and sanity: 0. Maybe I should have tried flowers?
If there ever was a straw, this was it. I needed to be the change I wanted to see. That’s when 3rd Quote — a marketplace that democratizes educational technology purchasing for schools and providers — was born.
Currently in the U.S., educational technology procurement is likened to someone living in New York securing the most wonderful, cutting-edge job via LinkedIn and a Skype interview that starts tomorrow in San Francisco, but they have to take a steam train to get there. Huh? How can that be? We are asking students to do 21st century thinking and giving them 21st century technology but that path is steeped in 20th century processes. This is the change I wanted to see. It’s time to bring educational technology procurement out of the Stone Ages.
Maybe you have had similar experiences? You see something in your classroom, school, district or the education profession/industry that could be fixed or made better. An optimistic voice yells, “Yes!”, but your logical voice opines, “Whoa, hipster, not so fast! Can I actually find what I need and make this happen?” There is good news on a few fronts.
Investing in educational technology topped $2B in 2014. The costs of starting a business have never been lower. And perhaps the most important advantage is — grab your selfie stick — you! You already have a huge advantage: You are an educator with first-hand academic and practical knowledge.
Here are a few reasons why I believe educators make great entrepreneurs. They:
- Make abstract content relevant everyday.
- Reflect on our approaches, learning, instruction and goals.
- Understand schools, students and our fellow colleagues.
- Know how to collect, analyze and make changes based on data.
- Know how to deal with failure and quickly devise a Plan B.
- Have been most likely exposed to design thinking.
- Have one heck of an established network.
- Already want to change the world.
So how can educators turn an idea into reality?
- Educate yourself. Read everything you can find about the problem you look to solve.
- Network and collaborate. Talk to everyone that will listen, help improve and validate your idea.
- Listen to the feedback you get and be agile (and humble!) enough to make adjustments.
- Learn to code. Or find someone who can!
- Establish relationships with great mentors.
- Find the right people to help, they are all integral parts of your success. I worked with designers, coders, web folks and educators.
- Create a minimally viable product (MVP), then get more feedback.
- Name your company insightfully: We chose 3rd Quote because it is always listed first and as a tech director, I always requested three quotes.
- Identify and engage with meaningful partners: I worked (and work) with an amazing PR team (sorry Mark Cuban!).
- Seek out like-minded organizations within the industry. Consider joining organizations like the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), networking is important.
- Find solid legal counsel to help navigate the business formation process.
- Don’t give up, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Be the change you want to see.
What did I learn along the way that I wish I had known at the start?
- Patience is imperative in many areas (traction, visibility and messaging/marketing).
- Forget the Hollywood rendition of start-ups.
- Harmonize the balance between the inevitable highs and lows of start-up life.
- Understanding investing basics (seed rounds, convertible notes and one-pagers.)
- Many start-ups have the same trials and tribulations, trust me when I say this, you will not be alone!
I feel compelled to take a moment to address the idea-to-reality conundrum. Since getting involved in start-up life, people routinely ask me for advice on their idea. The simplest advice I can offer is this: Make it happen! Put it on paper — even with crude sketches — to bring it to life. It is here where the magic of a start-up happens. You realize what works and what doesn’t.
Yes Principal Little, you taught me well from your many observations. I offer this closure like good teachers do: Every day I feel humbled, honored and extremely fortunate to be the change I wanted to see. Yes, there is risk, little sleep and my Starbucks card is always being refilled. But the rewards of helping educators solve a real-world problem of purchasing education technology mutes those challenges. And drawing on what I learned as a teacher helps immensely. I miss teaching, but knowing 3rd Quote is making a real-world difference makes me feel like I never left the classroom.
Edwin Wargo co-founded 3rd Quote with partner Alpesh Patel. He is also a former school technology coordinator. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @edwinjwargo with any comments or questions.
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