How 3 EdTech startups acted fast to help students and teachers move from the classroom to online
With thousands of classrooms around the world going digital in March, the increase in demand for online learning tools exploded. The EdTech industry was positioned to step in and offer a hand to the teachers, parents, and students struggling to adapt to this new learning environment.
We talked with some of our customers about what this shift meant for their customers and prospects, and how they rose to the challenge to help out.
A rough transition for educators, students, and families
Subscription app Tales2Go provides high-quality audiobooks for K-12 schools and their students. Every day, they tackle what their founder and CEO William Weil calls “the word gap.” He explains that children, particularly those in low-income households, don’t have a large enough vocabulary to become proficient readers. And just “36% of U.S. third graders read at or above proficiency.”
Their mobile app provides access to over 10,000 titles, ensuring students get the necessary exposure to “spoken sophisticated words,” helping a large majority of parents that don’t or can’t read to their children on a daily basis.
William and his team have always been keenly aware of how low-income children are at a disadvantage. With so many students being forced to learn at home, this disadvantage becomes even more clear.
“53% of school children are low income,” he says, “and while these students don’t always have access to a computer or high-speed internet, ownership of mobile devices is quite high.”
William says that the school districts themselves are not necessarily organized to transition to distance learning either. Even librarians are “scrambling” to find new ways to support their students at a distance.
Another startup empowering young readers is Simbi, a startup on a mission to improve global literacy for K-12 students. Simbi’s online reading platform is a mix of innovative technology and proven pedagogy from Literacy Expert Adrienne Gear, a combination that helps students boost self-esteem while learning to read. They do this with an understanding that the “power of their voice” can help teach earlier learners all the way from refugee settlements to local schools.
Their program works particularly well for those with learning difficulties, a segment of the classroom that is experiencing a particularly tough time learning from home. These students no longer have access to the one-on-one attention they might have gotten in the classroom.
Happy Numbers, a math teaching app for pre-K to 5th-grade classrooms, is typically used to let teachers support small groups while the rest of the class works independently in the app.
The teachers get reports on their progress, and everyone keeps learning simultaneously. Their app is not only great for students but a huge help to teachers who are juggling groups of students in large classrooms.
When it started to become clear that students would not be returning to the classroom after spring break, teachers began reaching out to Happy Numbers in droves to help them keep their groups of students engaged.
Stepping in to give their tech away
With schools closing their physical doors, it was clear that there would be no typical sales process until the next school year at the earliest. These three startups are on a mission to educate children, and they all stepped up to the challenge presented by the pandemic.
“There’s a certain spirit right now in the EdTech community” says Evgeny Milyutin, CEO and founder of Happy Numbers, “Companies are rallying together to help kids.”
Tales2Go knew they had a product that could support students going remote with just a mobile device, and get them up and running quickly. They saw students were losing access to some of the resources they had at school, like libraries, and wanted to make the transition to this new situation as easy as possible.
They developed an offer giving schools access to their platform at a significantly reduced cost until the end of the school year, with a package designed primarily to cover their costs to license the content. Their goal was to give these school districts access in a cost-effective way and with flexibility.
Happy Numbers listened to their customers and found creative ways to solve immediate problems. For example, their platform is now free until the end of the school year as they focus on onboarding new users. Also instead of having the accounts on their school devices, students now get their own logins to use at home.
They’ve heard from teachers that it’s a “lifesaver” for them right now, and since the app requires no adult supervision, it’s surely a lifesaver for parents as well.
The Simbi team also stayed true to their mission and stepped up to help. Although it’s not typical for them to onboard individual educators, they opened up the platform for free until the end of the school year and are focused on onboarding new teachers.
Managing an influx of new leads
Under the circumstances, all three startups quickly found themselves being bombarded with new leads. Although Happy Numbers typically sells to schools and districts, they started getting requests from teachers who had used their app in the past but didn’t have the budget at their current school. They’ve been using Smart Views in Close to segment their current contracts and new business and track those pipelines separately.
They’re also making sure teachers are still attached in their database to the schools and districts where they teach, to keep track of demand in each district.
The team at Tales2Go has also been using Close to keep on top of all the new leads flooding in. For them, the visibility that Close provides on each lead has been “huge for their small team” who just went fully remote themselves.
“When you’re working at scale,” says William, “to have visibility and share information is invaluable.” They’ve been relying heavily on Custom Fields to keep track of important details in every lead, such as account IDs once they’re in their proprietary platform.
Cold leads turning warm again
Another common trend for these EdTech companies involved hearing from past leads that either hadn’t made it into their pipeline previously or had been lost.
Simbi saw past leads who weren’t previously ready to give their platform a try suddenly reaching out. Because they already had those leads set up in their CRM with Close, it was easy for them to rekindle those conversations.
“We keep notes on everything,” says Alex Gillis, Simbi’s Chief Revenue Officer & Head of Educator Success, “and we track who’s the decision-maker, which is often the principal.”
Using Close, they’ve been able to assign opportunities and tasks for their small team and move leads through their pipeline. They’ve also taken a proactive approach with their contacts, using email templates to send emails at scale that answer common questions and invite educators to attend informational webinars focusing on the “virtual classroom” setting.
Planning ahead for the next school year
Before the pandemic, the Simbi team had plans for a big rollout of their app with school districts. Now that things have shifted, they’ve had to delay those plans until the summer and have gone all-in on supporting individual educators on Simbi.
Right now, Alex and his nine-person team are primarily concerned about staying healthy and close to friends and family rather than letting this shift bring them down. They’re focused on “planting seeds” with prospects and keeping leads warm, trusting that their product and core values will keep Simbi top of mind for when budgets come back around for next school year.
A sunny outlook for the EdTech industry
For the rest of the school year, and even into the summer, EdTech companies have stepped up to the plate to fill the education gap. And learning platforms in this space, like StuDocu, make it easy for students to access and annotate a vast amount of learning material online for free. When students head back to the classrooms, neither they nor their teachers will forget the experiences they've had with these apps and platforms. Evgeny from Happy Numbers believes that the EdTech market overall has the potential to grow after classrooms reopen.
“Schools and districts may change their habits,” he says, “when it comes to buying products for online instruction.”
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