As we near the end of the academic year, educators are planning for an uncertain future. Districts are facing daunting budget cuts, and the very structure of school is in flux: will students return to brick-and-mortar schools with modified schedules and/or classroom designs? Will they continue to learn online? Or will it be a combination of the two? As American administrators grapple with these fundamental questions, many of them simply don’t want to hear from edTech companies.
Vendors have been good corporate citizens by offering free resources during this year’s school closures, but eventually they need revenue to keep the doors open. “Free for now” is a legitimate business model, but making the transition from free to paid takes a great deal of tact—and many district leaders will stop using a free tool rather than start paying for it. In this atmosphere, edTech providers would do well to diversify their revenue streams.
In my work with edTech providers looking to move into the international education market, I see tremendous opportunity overseas, especially for SaaS solutions that work in blended learning environments. Companies just need to understand what they need to do. Here are some key considerations.
1) Understand the market you’re looking to enter.
In the United States, the decision-making on edTech purchases is fragmented. In the international space, by contrast, the decision-making is usually led by a very small team, which gives edTech providers a better chance to establish a relationship and offer a comprehensive vision of what you can offer.
Going internationally not only provides new places to sell, but new times to sell. While some countries follow the same academic calendar as the U.S., others start school in January or February. This mean that the “selling season” isn’t focused on those spring months before the end of the fiscal year, but instead gets spread out, creating the opportunity for new revenue spikes.
Just as in the U.S., new edTech solutions won’t gain traction unless they’re presented in a manner that the local market is going to need and want. Unless you do your due diligence before taking a product to the market, you risk spending a lot of time and wasting a lot of money. It may be that there’s no application for your product in the market you’re pursuing; or there is, but you didn’t get the right information or have a complete understanding of local education requirements and therefore missed out on big opportunities.
Companies can avoid a lot of headaches and mistakes by engaging a firm or agency that can provide them with advice on taking their product internationally. These firms use local representatives known as the strategic channel partners (SCPs). The SCP knows how local schools work and what they require, and therefore makes schools fully aware the benefits of the program. Using an SCP ensures not only a successful implementation of the blended learning solution, but also contributes to scaling the program, which improves retention of students year over year.
2) Engage schools, parents, and students.
For companies that are new to a given territory, extolling the features of your product just won’t cut it. You’ve got to be ready and eager to explain how everybody that touches it will benefit. You not only have to get the buy-in from teachers and administrators at the school itself, but also from parents and students. All of these stakeholders must clearly understand how optimal student outcomes can be achieved upon implementation in the school. That requires you to not just sell, but to go the extra mile and explain how your solution or technology is supposed to be implemented and managed. You can share this information via professional development at the school, and the school can then pass it on to the parents.
One way to connect with a new community is through pilots. I am in favor of paid pilots. With free pilots, I’ve found that too often the education institution doesn’t make the fullest effort to implement your product with fidelity. With no skin in the game, they’re much more likely to throw the towel in at the first hurdle. If the school is paying for the pilot, they’re going to sit at the table and address all the issues that need to be addressed to implement that program successfully. The goal is not to make a sale but to establish a relationship with that school, to keep the dialogue going.
3) Be ready with multiple delivery methods.
Because we still don’t know exactly what school will look like in the fall, I strongly suggest that companies develop multiple blended learning models in which their content can be delivered, either in class, online, or in some combination of the two.
That information becomes extremely helpful whether you’re talking to customers internationally or here in the U.S. As an edTech provider, you have to be very transparent, and the most effective way to get buy-in from the decision-makers at any school is to go the extra mile to help them understand how your product or service fits into their hybrid/blended learning environment.
Michael Spencer is the founder and CEO of Global Expansion Strategies, an international investment and advisory firm that helps early-stage education technology companies expand internationally. He is a former co-founder and CEO of ASSIST Education, senior director of international business at K12, and senior vice president of The American Education Corporation. An edtech industry veteran, he has been president and founder of One2OneMate and vice president and co-founder of QuickPAD Technology Corporation and H45 Technology. At these and other award-winning Silicon Valley startups, he has led aggressive domestic and international expansions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.