Ideas and Validation March 15, 2020

Looking For: EdTech Startup Ideas (for Kids, Homeschool, etc)

John Saddington @8bit

... and if you come up with anything, i'll be your first customer interview!

Details on me (as a potential customer):

  1. Dad (37), married for 15 years with 3 kids (13-g, 9-g, 2-b).
  2. Experienced homeschoolers / unschoolers but have done public and private.
  3. The two oldest are in a private, project-based school in San Francisco. We are paying ~$2,200 / mo, per kid (HOLY M$#*@#FUCK... 🤦🏻‍♂️) for tuition (~$22k per year, 10 months). Ugh. we are planning on ditching this soon, which is why i’m ready to get back to unschooling.
  4. We used to spend > $1k a month when we we're doing homeschool / unschool (materials and outings and stuff) primarily, but, it's probably less than $100 a month now. will likely move back when we’re out of this current mess.
  5. I'm a technologist, software engineer, entrepreneur. I know early-stage product development and design. My wife is essentially an expert too because she drove most of the homeschooling for our kiddos.

I'm sharing this because my private school doesn't have their shit together and can't seem to understand what "lean software development" is. They've made up a "curriculum" from scratch and it already looks like it's going to fail—parents don't know how to even install Zoom on their kids computers and the logistics is going to be a goddamn living nightmare (starts tomorrow... march 16th).

yes, i'm frustrated because this "solution" doesn't feel worth the money that they still want to charge me. yes, yes, and yes... contracts and all that good stuff and maybe #covid19 will be temporary yadayadayada....

i'm sharing this because i think a bunch of creative, motivated folks can come together and build some new solutions for a newly-remote and distributed world, especially for children and education. and, this matters because these are my kids and i'm ultimately responsible for their education.

i'm currently building my own venture-backed startup, so... i can't build anything in this space right now, but, i did build an edtech company (sold to fortune 300) previously and i know how hard it can be to serve parents and children.

so... i'm volunteering my family as tribute to your new edtech project. start a new profile here in IH, launch a new product, and interview me about what you think you're going to build.

lol

i think there's a huge market for folks, like me, who will pay for great software and education experiences.

let's go fucking do it. i'm ready to help.

---

I found an old picture of me and my wife when we visited the Hunger Games Exhibition here in San Francisco a few years ago:

fuck me my wife is going to kill me for sharing this

  1. 4

    I’m a dad in a similar boat and was just commenting to my wife as schools in NYC were getting canceled today that there is a lot of opportunity to make remote learning better as people start trying out new ways of learning amidst this crisis.

    I’m a heavily experienced full-stack technical Cofounder (with an ex-teacher wife) and would love to join up with one or more people to take on something here.

    1. 3

      I will work with you. I am a teacher with extensive experience in high school literacy and tech. I would love to see secondary schooling options move to a stackable remote experience for multiple reasons. Let's talk.

    2. 1

      This is a space I'm very interested in. Although I'm not a parent (yet) I've spent a decent amount of time in the education space through volunteering, teaching, etc in nonprofits (and my mother was a teacher).

      More than happy to partner with anyone on ideas in this space.

      1. 1

        Hi @dbtlr @xelad1

        Do either of you know the video conferencing space? What's the best way to get started with a platform we could adapt? Reliability and security important.

        1. 1

          Below answers are all good suggestions. I don't really have experience in the 'building' of those products however.

        2. 1

          as long as the "internet" is involved, nothing is secure. having said that, go for Zoom/ Slack/ Discord(free).

          1. 1

            Curious, were you a Caravaneer dev?

  2. 4

    If I wasn't doing IH stuff, I'd be doing something around this.

    1. 1

      Hi Rosiesherry,
      I am interested in hearing what is happening in the UK with remote learning.

      1. 1

        Not alot, lol.

  3. 3

    This is a good idea. I’m in an auxiliary space— I make preschool management software that the schools as well as parents log into to do things.

    Pandemic aside, is this something homeschooling parents would find value in?

    1. 2

      I think so. I think a preschool management software would be especially useful for startup home preschools. There are tons of them around, and many parents love small in-home neighborhood preschools.
      You'll want to be sure to have preschool state regulations in your software because most startup home preschools need to know more about state licensing requirements. If there's a way to make that information easy-to-digest, you would have a large market of homeschool moms willing to take a couple more students.

      1. 1

        Specifically I'm currently helping preschools with billing and student records management which is not really in this space at all, but these are different times so I'm working in the last day or so to figure out how to help all the parents stay sane and the teachers stay employed.

    2. 1

      Curious to learn about what you're building. I was the first engineer at brightwheel and have a ton of experience building preschool software.

  4. 1

    Hi John,

    You might want to give our new product a try, PixtonEDU. It's a web-app that allows educators and students/kids a unique way to create stories and demonstrate learning – in any subject – through digital comics. Many educators are already using it.

    You can visit our main website to check it out: pixton.com

    We are currently making Pixton EDU available to educators for free for 30 days during the Covid-19 crisis. You can get free access here: https://go.pixton.com/covid19

  5. 1

    Hi @8bit, I have built xlearno.com for technology education! It's in pivot but it'd be great to hear feedback from you! Let me know how we can work together. Have a great day, John!

  6. 1

    Hey John - I'm a learning technologies specialist and physics teacher. I'm in Hong Kong where we've been running remote learning since Feb 3rd. Your post actually came up on my daily news feed so I had to create an account and reply (I've used the name and description of my primary focus 'Maker Learners', but I feel I have a few things to say about this which are unrelated to anything you'll read on my profile..)

    A large part of my job is evaluating new learning technologies for our school community. On a daily basis I'll be sent several links to new platforms either by well meaning teachers that have found something that promises to fix a problem they have or by other LT specialists in my network. A problem here is that we have to be very conscious of our students/parents/teachers facing 'platforms/systems overload' and this is something we have become increasingly sensitive to as more and more companies are offering extended trial or free access to their services for the duration of school closures due to Covid-19. In fact, I created what was meant to be a small "Preparing for Remote Learning during School Closures Due to Covid-19" outline of just what I consider to be the most useful technologies now freely available to teachers right now and already I'm on my 14th page of tools (Happy to share this tome-in-progress)

    Now, I completely agree that the online space needs extra learning opportunities. I would never say 'Don't build a technology that might help', I'm just trying to say 'There are a lot of established technologies out there that are doing a great job for those teachers that know how to use them, and they are being priced very competitively right now (Most of the time: free), so... build wisely?'

    Anyway, for these reasons, I'm more interested in exploring ways of connecting good remote lessons with as many students as possible. I'm already creating and curating content for my physics students' home learning and I know that my online lessons are pretty good, so I'm interested in providing these to additional students once a weekend. I have tutored in the past and know a lot of teachers that tutor, so I guess I see this as tutoring in the era of social distancing. I'd be interested in providing a three tier monthly subscription model set up like so:

    Tier 1 - 'Directed Self-Study' - receive the weekly problem sets (Fridays) and solution screencasts (Sundays) I make for my own students.
    Tier 2 - 'Class Member' - limited to 40 students - Weekly problem sets and solution videos. Also weekly live lesson, likely run on Nearpod/PearDeck for live quizzing, polling and other challenges and using video conferencing for audio.
    Tier 3 - 'Tutee' - Limited to 8 students per tutor. All benefits of 'Class Member' but with direct tutor contact - 30 minutes Q&A time in a space with all 8 tutees following the weekly live class and email contact.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on a few things:

    • If your child was struggling in physics, would you subscribe to give them access to weekly contact like this?
    • What do you think the right price point for each of these tiers is?
    • I chose the 8 tutee limit through experience of tutoring small groups. However, as a parent, how do you feel that the 8 student group size impacts the perceived value of the subscription?
    • How do you feel about online tuition? What, if any, are the perceived benefits of having a face-to-face tutor? I mentioned tutoring in the past (About 5 years ago) and I met a lot of resistance to the idea of tutoring over the internet - even with reduced rates!

    Anyway, I hope you make it through this short essay - it's getting late here so I'd better put a pin in it. Hope to hear from you soon, John! (And anyone else with thoughts on this!)

    1. 1

      I am curious about this, as well. Is there a lot of this happening in the ESL space?

      1. 1

        I can't say a lot about ESL specifically - our students are fluent in English and study English lang & lit for the regular middle school certificate and high school diploma, not ESL. I have a few friends that teach ESL at local schools - but all primary schools. I know that primary schools are having a much tougher time of it than we are and I'm thankful for the extra self-management skills my middle and high school students have had time to learn!

  7. 1

    Hi. How are you? My name is Sarah and Im a Canadian teacher. Id be more than happy to help teach your children online. Please contact me to discuss. Thanks. My email is [email protected] or you can try Skype: whenfisheatstars

  8. 1

    Hm, I wonder then if what's missing in this online education space, is a platform for homeschooling children.

    We have plenty of educational platforms for tech IE Udemy, Udacity, Edx, Linux Academy, etc. but I'm unaware of a platform that serves education for home schooled children.

    I wonder if its viable to have a platform that allows accredited teachers to create their own semester courses, kind of like Udemy but the difference being that the teachers have to be verified / accredited (cant be some joe off the block).

    Or, if that business strategy doesn't work, to have a platform like Linux Academy, where every trainer / teacher works as an employee for the platform.

    I'd love to chat and brainstorm more about this if anyone would like :)

    1. 1

      I was just thinking about that. I wish there was a way to get accredited to teach "blocks" of content that students can use to build a custom high school diploma program. Kind of like microcredentialling.

  9. 1

    Hello
    Since 2015, I’ve been working on this field. I have started a Hitech school called Loop (www.loop.org.il). Recently, we’ve released one of our new Ed-Tech products offering school-aged students to learn coding online, solve 1,000+ coding challenges and many more (www.loop-8.com). At LoopX, we hold online courses for groups of 8 students from all over the world (C#, python, Java and many more)
    LoopX is a very new product developed in-house by Loop.
    Would love to provide more details and help where we can.
    Check out the video https://youtu.be/9gHWny4XBME

    1. 1

      Wasimloop, there is going to be a surge of government interest in digital equity. Right now, I think the conversation is mired in the bare bones of digital equity, but I hope the conversation will shift into high gear and incorporate actual marketable digital skills like CS+X paradigms and coding.

  10. 1

    I'm in a similar boat, I can't believe there isn't something substantial already... keep me updated please!

  11. 1

    I can help your 13 y/o with literacy and technology. I have two 11 y/o girls, and I am a teacher.

    Is your 13 y/o in eighth grade? Contact me. I want to find out more about the tools your daughter likes to use. I'll send her free digital content.

  12. 1

    Hi John,

    Great post. I'm not sure if it is relevant, but in a previous business I developed an online platform for kids to learn English (foreign children) through games and animated readers. The games were all developed in Flash which Apple basically killed.

    I'd love to revive that business someday if I had the right technical partner. I think teaching children English in the developing world is one of the best interventions for their future prosperity.

    I have about 15 years of experience in this space in Japan and Thailand. I'd love to talk about this more if anyone is interested?

    Thanks,
    John

    1. 1

      I wonder if the same can be said about teaching English-speaking natives other languages. What about reciprocal teaching? I am very interested in exploring this topic.

      1. 1

        Hi Faith. Yes, there are also opportunities to teach other languages. However, the entire world is learning English and they are very motivated so I think that would be the best place to start. However, if the games are designed correctly, it's easy to change languages. I had my games designed to load sounds and text through an xml file so that languages can easily be swapped out.

  13. 1

    Hey John! Wow, I'm a game developer and I do have some(side) free time these days and perhaps we can come up with a casual game that makes it easy for the kids to organize themselves and learn along? Let's talk about it more?!!!

    1. 1

      Hi Karanveer,
      The games in the educational space are pretty lame. Kids don't want to play them because the games are made by educational companies with 50,000 products.
      If a gaming company came up with a truly engaging gaming interface for education, people could make a fortune.
      Right now, virtual reality gaming is a wide-open space. I think there is an opportunity to make one hell of a footprint there.

      1. 1

        Love this idea and have the education and business background but not IT...understand enough but not to create something amazing like this. Really interested to discuss. My email is [email protected] or you can Skype me at whenfisheatstars

        1. 1

          Excellent. I will connect via email.

      2. 1

        Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. :D

  14. 1

    Hey John,
    Check out my app "Read", it will help your family read more books by making it fun with daily goals and streaks.

    Perfect time to read a lot!
    https://getread.app

  15. 1

    Hi John,

    I am building Questo to help parents find a life coach for the child. The learning is completely online and the child chooses a quarterly program with a coach. Coaches are free to create their own curricula.

    Believe that teachers as much as children need freedom from the school and especially parents who are homeschooling - would love a non-judgmental third adult helping child build mindset and mental models around interests, careers, EQ and behaviours. Add a coach for academic subjects and this could be really powerful - and much cheaper.

    How do we talk?

    Aditya

    1. 1

      Let's talk. I can teach and have lots of online experience with teaching. Please contacte at [email protected] or Skype.. whenfisheatstars

    2. 1

      Hi John and Aditya,
      I am a teacher and Ed tech in the classroom specialist. I would love to work with both of you

      I looove Aditya's idea. I would like to incorporate life coaching for teachers, as well. Any new Ed startup needs to bring the teachers, and job satisfaction will do it

      1. 1

        Hey faith, lets get on a zoom call. I am at myname at questo dot co.

  16. 1

    Hi John!

    Thanks for posting this. As a former (and probable future) teacher at various levels, I really empathize with your frustrations. It seems so many schools—private, public, or charter—really can't seem to get their shit down. Parents and teachers tend to vocalize these shortcomings the most, but the ones who suffer the most are the kids.

    That being said, I designed my solution to (hopefully) sidestep all of the bullshit like staff training, parent onboarding, and red tape hamstringing. It's called Prismatext, and its premise is very simple: read a book, learn a language. It works with existing texts to bring customers "blended language" versions of their favorite books, where they can now learn 250+ words and phrases in a target language by repetition and context. Oh, and there are helpful footnotes with translations! And you can read it on any device!

    In a perfect scenario, I envision English and Language departments uniting under the Prismatext banner, but obviously I have to be much more realistic.

    Firstly, do you think this is something that you, as a parent, would be interested in for your children? What about for yourself? How much would you be willing to pay for one book?

    Do you see the current state of schools as a "more trouble than it's worth" to sell to them?

    Lastly, if you have any doubts as to the efficacy of the product, would you care to share them? (I need to get better about addressing people's concerns!)

    1. 1

      Hey Zakke - I'm a learning technologies specialist for an international school in Hong Kong. I just wanted to give you my initial thoughts - hopefully it's food for thought, don't feel like you have to respond but I'd love to read your response if you did.

      Anyway, my first thought was 'Great, I could bring this learning technology to my English teachers and my Languages teachers and tell them "I've found this fantastic tool for an interdisciplinary unit".

      But then my second thought was 'Wait, they're currently already doing that by challenging the students to translate the text themselves and then to check that alongside Google Translate results/teacher feedback'. As an educator, I actually prefer this method because it's more resistant to my students developing the fluency illusion. I would be careful with how 'helpful' you make the platform, and if you haven't already, consider embedding something that provides challenge, perhaps by recording a metric that will measure progress (This could be as complicated as multiple choices for words and grammar in the secondary language sections or as simple as a record of the changes in reading speed as the words become familiar). Overall, great idea though - I'll be keeping an eye our for updates!

      1. 1

        Thanks for your enthusiasm! And yes, one of my concerns while working on this product was giving readers the illusion of fluency, and I think I have adequately addressed it at present (trying to find the sweet spot between translating individual words and entire phrases—it's tough!). I also don't want to market any books as a path to fluency. Really, it's just a creative way to drill vocab without having to use flash cards, with the added benefit of knocking out all of those books you keep saying you want to read, but never do :)

        I think the method you describe is actually a much better path to fluency as well—it instills in the students an appetite for exploration and self-correction, which is a very active form of learning. My approach through these books takes a more passive route. While I think it could be useful to just read the books, ideally the books should be used alongside something much more engaged and designed to learn the language at hand.

    2. 1

      Hi Zakke,
      I know you are talking to John, but I can tell you from my experience as a district administrator that big textbook companies own the textbook space. The good news is that the big companies like Pearson are doing a crappy job of building engaging digital learning tools. Their stuff is old, ugly, and mostly a digitized version of existing textbooks with few good interactive features.
      Some companies are catching up, but small ed tech providers are growing fast.
      I've also noticed that big educational companies are in a hurry to buy up new programs, as well. Digital tools are always changing ownership as big companies eat up the small companies.

      1. 1

        Hi Faith,

        Thanks for the response. It's true, the education space is dominated by a few mega-companies; I have a few friends that work for a number of them. I think where I differentiate myself is not only my turnaround speed, but in that I don't need to appeal to education companies or schools. My B2B play is to small- to mid-sized publishers who want to enhance their existing IP in a brand-new market at a very reasonable cost.

        Still, I'd be wise to be aware of the current market movements, as you pointed out. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

        1. 1

          Hi Zakke,
          Have you looked at Vooks? They are trying to break into the video books space, and I think a product like yours might work well with a Vooks format. Would adding video/audio enhance your product?