Sometimes you’re not going to beat ’em so you might as well join ’em.
EdTech CEOs are generally quite competitive in nature. You have to be competitive to survive the ruthless competition out there to acquire customers and large contracts. And competitive people want to win against the best competition. It’s a concept that been ingrained in our collective psyche since our first soccer game or spelling bee—just win.
However, winning in business isn’t always about making the most money, sometimes it’s about being smart to create opportunities in ways other than winning new contracts. And sometimes being smart means not thinking of other companies as competition, but thinking of them as potential partners.
New EdTech Technology, Old Industry
Many new EdTech companies are founded on novel technology ideas that have sometimes been developed for other industries like the financial or medical markets. And many new EdTech founders or CEOs have tunnel vision that the way to succeed in the education market is to turn that novel technology into a product and sell it to educators, administrators, students or parents. With the limited budgets of schools, districts and states, that mean competing for scarce dollars with the bigger established companies.
Compounding the feeling that they should handily beat large, legacy companies for business in education is that their technology is often clearly superior. The big companies are bureaucratic giants who are sometimes behind the curve by years when it comes to technology development. This leaves new CEOs likcing their chops thinking about getting new business that would have always in the past gone to one of the big players.
Jack Be Nimble
So the CEO start answering education RFPs, writing about how their company is “cutting edge” and “nimble” and often fall short. The CEOs just can’t believe that they are losing to large, slow, technically inferior companies so often.
Such is the confounding world of education procurement, where many factors come into play other than simply who has the best product for the best price. And one of those factors is the district or state’s comfort in a company’s ability to deliver what they promise. And a district or state that already has a relationship with one of the big companies is going to feel more confident hiring them than they would in hiring a small upstart. As the old saying goes, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”
Look for Potential EdTech Partnerships
So maybe the answer is, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This is where networking comes in. Sure you might try cold-calling, but you’ll have a much easier time getting your technology in front of the right people if you get there through trusted introductions. Think about this possibility from the beginning of your company. As you attend trade shows and conferences, don’t just network with superintendents and district technology directors, spend time getting to know people from other vendors big and small.
It may be that you get interest from a big player to license or buy your technology if it is superior to theirs. While this might not be what you dreamed of when starting an EdTech company, sometimes it is the smart move.