The top-down K12 selling process will likely exhaust the initial capital of most EdTech startups. Selling to public schools requires a long runway to become an “approved” vendor (school reimbursements) and be in line for the spring budgetary process. Several decisions can lengthen this runway by including more stakeholders in the decision-making process.
Don’t sell curriculum on top of your platform. Aside from the cost of paying content experts, you convert a technology decision into a more complex decision. Will the curriculum replace the existing curriculum? Will it be complimentary to the existing curriculum? Curriculum reduces your market because you will be selling to specific grade levels and/or subject areas. If you think finding the decision makers in each school is difficult, then try finding a smaller subject of decision makers! User-created content is less expensive and is more in keeping with building community for Product-led Growth.
Previously, I’ve discussed the importance of building mindshare ahead of actually building a product (link). The first step is to build relationships with the first people with whom you discuss the product. By its nature, this is a bottoms-up approach and is an early form of market validation. The first step is to do lots of user research to validate the problem you are solving and as a way to see how difficult it is to find targeted teachers. One hundred user interviews may seem like a lot, but may not be enough because some teachers will not identify your solution as a chronic need. This is because most EdTech products find an audience with a only few grade levels and/or subject areas. If the portion of “nice-to-have teachers” is much larger than the “must-have teachers”, then you may have to pivot your solution.
Once you have enough market validation, you should start to build a market presence (see previous post) and start a waitlist. The waitlist and teachers you interviewed will be excellent sources to contact to review screen mockups or become beta testers. Waitlist clusters of faculty and staff from the same school are candidates for a pilot. A good indication of product-market fit will be the amount of inbound interest (waiting list or other). This will require a healthy dose of PLG and a crisp website so potential users can quickly identify the problem you are solving and if it is right for them. The process of identifying people for user research and running pilots provides an understanding of the sales cycle (who and how long?)
Your major competition is not usually other products. Your competition is fighting for attention in a school environment that is built to withstand change: