Monday, 25 August 2014

Collaborate... As If Your Business Depended on It!

The EdTech community rallying round EdShelf has shown the potential benefits when all stakeholders come together to pitch in and help out... What if EdTech orgs changed their perception of competitors and started viewing them as collaborators?
Like many people I read EdShelf's blog post that the company was closing the business and I found the heartfelt tone very emotive. However, unlike many people who read the post and sent messages of support to Mike Lee, I had never engaged with him or his company prior to this point.

But boy! Did I empathise a great deal with him and the struggles he had to make his idea work!! I have been working on plans to improve the roll out process of EdTech in the UK for the last 2 years, and had been struggling just as much with getting buy in with my proposed business model.
I saw Alicia's Tweet and took a few moments to detail my experiences in the hope that it might help. I'm not sure how much this post impacted on the overall result (My view is that the post had a limited impact compared with other factors)... But WHAT A RESULT!

The word spread to such an extent that, on the day the business was due to close, there had been such an outpouring of support that EdShelf decided to see if crowdfunding could do what the investor discussions could not... Save the company, not just financially but also in terms of sticking with their original mission.

What an experience for Alicia Leonard! Try telling this Pre-Service Teacher that her ability to make a difference is limited because she didn't have the experience, resources or the authority.
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I've blogged and Tweeted about EdShelf to support #SaveEdShelf quite a bit over the last few weeks and want to highlight that this post isn't another in support of the campaign... it's a post to ask what else could be achieved with more collaboration like this?

At the moment #SaveEdShelf is something of a unique example but I'd like to see more of it... Indeed, it is my view that it's something of a necessity to;

1) Prevent other EdTech companies from going to the wall, and 
2) Because the current roll out model is unsustainable and inefficient
Many EdTech companies struggle because the cost of overheads tip the balance before the sales orders have time to come in. Would so many EdTech companies go out of business if some functions were shared including Sales & marketing, as well as admin etc?

As individual organisations EdTech companies promise time and cost savings to educators but, collectively as an industry, are these time and cost savings negated because of the time it takes to listen to the thousands of sales calls and presentations made each week? 
I KNOW there are more efficient models, but the level of collaboration required may be outside the comfort zone for some people/organisations. 
Diverse Portfolio 
This is where EdShelf's successful Kickstarter may benefit the whole sector, and not just one small startup. If you take a moment to look at the backers for EdShelf you'll see a diverse portfolio of investors from people across the EdTech spectrum: educators, suppliers, policy makers, think tanks, teaching assistants, admins and even competitors.

I've explored the roll out process over the last two years and my assessment is: I am 100% convinced that this is the kind of diversity that's needed with each and every EdTech project/company or idea, but this kind of collaboration rarely happens. 
Where it does happen is with larger, well funded organisations who have enough resources to have the luxury of time to test and refine their ideas... a luxury that startups simply don't have!

Competitive Edge

As I mentioned I did not have any interaction with Mike Lee prior to reading the "EdShelf Closing" post, I also have absolutely no vested interest with any success that EdShelf may or may not have achieved... That said, I certainly HAVE benefited from helping out someone who, under normal circumstances, would have been a direct competitor: How helping a Competitor has Been Beneficial 

These are ideas I have advocated for some time now, and can be seen in previous posts. For example;
I feel that my advocating for greater collaboration prior to #SaveEdShelf is an important point, as is explaining my involvement with EdShelf before, during and after this campaign.

I got involved because I thought I could provide some insights as to why this model hasn't worked out but how it can, and why it could eventually be a mainstream roll out method. During the campaign I shared any updates and did what I could to spread the word.

A result of helping to spread the word and doing a few "5 minute favours" is that we have got to know one another, so there is now an environment where we are willing to share ideas and collaborate. Compare this with the typical competitor working relationship of "Don't speak to them, they're the competition." Talk about "Collaborate Vs Collaborate"

Taking Sides  
So all things considered this has been a fantastic experience. Although there does appear to be one downside with my being associated with #SaveEdShelf. 
I get the impression that some people who I had quite a good relationship with feel that by supporting EdShelf that I've "taken sides" 

The reason I get this impression is because some organisations that were previously very friendly and responsive have seem to have went a little quiet. So please allow me to stress that:

What I did here I'd do for anyone: I did some "5 minute favours;" I wrote a blog post; I asked someone "Can I help" and they responded with "Yes Please" so I helped; I collaborated.

I did everything I have been advocating in my reports and blog since I started writing content
Just because you help one company and do what you can to help them succeed does not automatically infer that you want others not to succeed and/or that you won't want to talk to others in the same space! 
I am keen to hear from, and collaborate with, anyone in Edu & EdTech who is trying to do great work! I know others are keen to share ideas too, and have reached out to competitors previously 
Jiminy Crickets! What do you mean people won't collaborate?!
Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Or maybe it sounds a little naive, maybe as naive as;
  • Thinking that an EdChat where suppliers come together to collaborate might work
  • Thinking that raising awareness of a company in trouble on social media may make a difference 

For anyone who feels this is a naive perspective I'd encourage them to see the reply that this weeks Community Manager Google Hangout panel (#Cmgrhangout) gave to my question: 

How do you encourage competitors to collaborate with each other?

The panel spent 5mins answering this and I was delighted to discover that I was already doing what these Community Managers were recommending... These guys are so experienced that I'm not about to ignore their advice!

I'm going to be reaching out to a number of groups who are working on alternative roll out models with the offer to collaborate. I'll keep you posted on any progress.

In the mean time I'll leave you with the #Cmgrhangout discussion on the topic of collaborating with competitors (The responses to my question is from 21:30-27mins):

How Can I Help? Let's Collaborate...

1 comment:

  1. It's true - I had NO idea! I'm just really glad I tweeted that night because I really do use edshelf in ALL of my assignments where I have to incorporate technology (which is pretty much all now!). It's my go-to and I'm not sure how I'd finish my masters, let alone deal with my classroom next year without it! Thanks for the post and the support!