Challenges (the short version)

Here’s a quick list I brainstormed of the challenges I’ve been trying to overcome in launching Mootup.  I won’t dive into the details of what my product does, but it’s educational technology – specifically a tool for teachers.  So that means that my purchasing decision makers are mostly in district offices, but my USERS are the teachers in middle and high schools. Later on I’ll dive into the details of these.

  • Category –  Difficulties Reaching People:
    • Difficult to reach district-level employees.  Either there’s a receptionist that at most will take a message to give to the person I’m wanting to talk to, or I just get a voice mail.  98 times out of 100, there is not a call back, even when I’m simply calling to try to talk about doing a pilot of our product.
    • Difficult to reach teachers.  They teach all day, so the windows of time when they are available are both small and rare.  Even if it’s a good time though, they never have direct phone numbers, so it’s just hard to catch them.
    • Both of the above groups do not respond to attempts by email any better than they do attempts by phone, even when the goal is simply to talk to a local teacher/administrator for feedback on a new product.
    • If none of the above groups are reachable to talk about something as casual as feedback, then there is even less of an opportunity to meet with the intent to sell.
  • Category  – Difficulties Getting Help from Those I do Reach
    • I have several examples of someone actually responding, but when it’s understood that they are being asked to meet with someone to give feedback on a new product, they refuse to help, saying “find somebody else”.
    • More often than the above example though, I have actually gotten somebody to be willing to chat, or even meet in person so we can discuss the product.  100% of the time when this happens, a lively discussion results about the product and the exciting potential it has.  The next step in the feedback process is asking the person, if they are a teacher, to actually use the product for free, with actual students, to provide even better feedback.  This step is where 19 times out of 20, things grind to a halt.  The same person who had appeared to be very engaged and excited about the new technology turns out to be unwilling to use it for free.
    • This leads me to a few possible conclusions:
      • Many teachers simply don’t like putting in the effort required to try/learn something new, regardless of how great an idea they thought it was
      • The idea simply isn’t that great in the first place, so they are putting on a show when they seem excited talking about it
      • There is a disconnect between the benefits of a product being mostly for the students, and the fact that it’s the teacher I’m having to get to participate
  • Category – Financial
    • Districts across the board are dealing with lower budgets.  Here I come in with new technology, trying to sell them on a tool that has no direct comparable, and wasn’t budgeted for at all.
    • On the side of our company, the only funding the company has is contributed by my partner and myself.  We are both young, with limited resources available, so have been operating on a shoestring budget.  It would take almost all of the funds to simply try to attend, sponsor, and have a booth at a relevant conference in another part of the country.  Therefore – little to no money for advertising or promotion.
  • Category – Time
    • Speaking for both myself and my partner, we are both already busy with the full-time jobs that currently support our families, let alone all of the family responsibilities that exist outside of work.  We both try to avoid being workaholic husbands/fathers.  Therefore, our situation is quite different from a single guy who can live on Ramen noodles, and dedicate himself 100% to a startup.
  • Category – Personal Contacts
    • I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time getting personal contacts/referrals to work out in any way.
      • In one example, I stayed in touch with a high school English teacher.  She had recently retired, but was glad to help with some feedback and ideas.  She personally reached out to the current chair of the English department at the school I graduated from.  But even with me as an alum, and a former teacher/colleague vouching for me, the person never returned a phone call or email from me.
      • In another case, a family friend was an associate superintendent in a large school district.  They were not involved at all in curriculum, but I hoped that with the long history I had with them, they’d aggressively try to help in putting me in touch with the relevant person in their district.  This didn’t happen.
      • Lastly, I’ve reached out to friends/family a couple of times by Facebook and email to let them know about the venture, and that I’m looking for teacher/educational contacts.  With the number of people I know that are hearing that from me, I’ve had higher hopes on how many of them may know some teachers.  But I get very few responses from those sorts of requests, making it seem like people aren’t paying attention any more or are apathetic.

Hopefully none of this is coming across as whining – I’m just trying to put this short version of the challenges I’ve faced out there, and hopefully get discussion from others that have faced, and overcome, similar issues.

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One comment

  1. Come on folks, comment! This is the big one I want discussion on!

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