Monday, 24 November 2014

What's Happening... At ClassDojo? Motivation, Media and the Facts

As the ongoing search for "Product Market Fit" continues I've found it useful to stop and take stock. In this post I share some of the lessons learnt... and let people know why I have no problem helping and supporting a few EdTech organisations that I am not involved with.

I've been reviewing the goals that I set myself two years ago, along with some of the ideas that I've bounded around with my PLN to try to determine why these projects didn't get the necessary buy in and to assess the best course of action going forward.

I've reviewed and am updating various projects and reports, including my Twitter in FE report, Business Development Ideas for FE and my Technology report.

By happy coincidence I've been updating this while reading Nick Bilton's book about Twitters early days "Hatching Twitter" and the trials and tribulations that it took to hatch that inoffensive (And what some would call pointless) little "What's Happening?" text box... A text box that's changed the world.

I don't know why I thought this, but I had assumed that Twitter was one of those companies that had a charmed existence... one that found it's "Product Market Fit" straight away and was an overnight success. No chance! Those companies don't exist. Twitter when through many of the same painful growing pains that any other young company goes through.

I imagine that I will be discussing this book in a number of future posts, today I want to focus on;

1) The roll out process of Twitter, and
2) The role that the vision and motivations of the founders had with the roll out

I would then like to apply these ideas to ClassDojo to highlight why I'd encourage educators to also show their support... Which they are already doing.

Roll Out & Product Market Fit
There is one comment from Hatching Twitter that jumped out and appealed to me a great deal;

"If people are going to embrace these new technologies, they will do so of their own accord, not because a company willed them to"

We get a clear example of this from the data when reviewing my Twitter in FE report. When I wrote this report 2 years ago just over 50% of colleges included Social Media icons on their homepage... Today all but 16 do!

How many FE conferences has Twitter sales people attended? How many sales calls or presentations have they made to individual colleges? None?

Like other successful companies the product sold itself. Here's Google Founder Larry Page's attitude towards marketing;

It was only when a product stopped working better than the competition that branding became a factor. By then you'd already lost. For a long time, Larry refused to even use the B word - because "branding" implied that the technology alone was insufficient for success.... Larry made it clear "If we can't win on quality, we shouldn't win at all" In his view, winning by marketing alone would be deceitful, because it would mean people had been tricked into using an inferior service against their own best interests" Doug Edwards, I'm Feeling Lucky

The trend is a familiar one with the top tech companies, we saw Apple pay get 1 million users in the first 72 hours of being launched.

There are not too many EdTech companies that can be included in the list of "Companies who have enjoyed rapid roll out because of product market fit" but ClassDojo is one of them.

Motivation & Vision
Something that always stands out with the founders of companies with this kind of growth is that their motivation and vision drives them, often at their complete disregard for revenue... at least when you compare revenue with this vision and the quality of the product/service.

"Ev had know all along that it had never been about the money... It was about making a dent in the universe." 

For Ev making a dent included giving people a voice. I did not know that Evan Williams was the founder of blogger, Twitter and Medium. Blogger and Twitter have become my window to the outside world. After reading some of Evans "Inside Medium" posts, as well as checking out some of the features of Medium, I will be using Medium and letting Educators know why it makes sense to use it for students too.

In Hatching Twitter another founder, Biz Stone, appears in the book to be unmoved by the power of celebrity or governments trying to influence any of Twitters decisions.Today Biz is supporting students through the fantastic "Circle the Schools" project and the Biz and Olivia Stone Foundation.

These 2 founders managed a team of 35 people from 2006-2009 and had made it onto the Time 100 Most Influential People and the Oprah show, as the service went from sending 5,000 Tweets a day in 2007, to 300,000 in to 35 million a day in 2009 (Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey also founded Twitter but were not always involved in the day to day operations).

What would Twitter be today without sticking to this vision? A mouth piece for mainstream media because they decided to sell to the first suitor? A plug in for Facebook? A forum that has the same kind of cosy relationships as other media moguls?

To use just one example that is topical for the ClassDojo founders, Twitter and Facebook took a very different stance with regard to user privacy. One of these companies appear to be doing what they like and using it data for ads; the other stuck to their guns and their vision.

Uber Annoying
All of these game changing companies start out with a handful of staff and I find it amazing to consider what these small but determined groups achieve... especially when you compare it with the status quo!

Twitter had 30 staff and millions of users and Tweets, ClassDojo has less than 50 staff and 35 million users. Give me these innovators over the 600 MPs who spend their days sitting around and arguing amongst themselves which party is the least useless any day of the week!

Here's an example, this week a few MPs dropped in at the annual Association of Colleges Conference, no doubt to remind delegates how great they and their party's education policies were... meanwhile over at Parliament Square students were protesting, some of whom were being beaten and arrested for protesting. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream press didn't cover the protests.

However, the press have picked up the issue student data and privacy with ClassDojo recently.

On Monday I saw an article called "Privacy concerns for ClassDojo and other tracking apps for school children" (NB Not including the link here demonstrates my contempt for the article).

Following the horrendous coverage of the Scottish Independence Referendum, the first thing that I think of when I see any news article these days is "Why is this publication producing this story? Why now? What's the angle? ClassDojo has been growing rapidly for a few years now, what's happened? A leak with some student data?

Nope. It might be argued that the press is at odds with any Silicon Valley tech companies who stores user data because of one company. This focus on ClassDojo may have been inspired by the ridesharing app Uber "Uber taken to task over anti-journalist privacy debacle," so are journalists turning on any startup that holds data?

Class Act
Please don't see this post as me dismissing the seriousness of the privacy debate but. However, the fact is that you simply do not grow to 35 million users with 1 in 3 US schools using a service in 2-3 years, without getting an a lot of things right... and from the outset!

The press articles I've read detail that ClassDojo developed their service AFTER interviewing and collaborating with educators! Their market research highlighted that class behaviour was one of the biggest issues.

I was not surprised to see the education community come out to rally round in support of ClassDojo. I am happy to add my voice in support of them, and I would ask anyone reading this to circulate this ClassDojo response to their followers: What the New york Times Got Wrong

It is also my belief that ClassDojo can actually turn this negative press into a positive and that their growth plans will not be affected by this negative press. I will be exploring some ideas in future posts.

In the mean time we have seen what negative PR can do around the privacy debate with InBloom and, as Barak Obama says in the Audacity of Hope, "I am whatever the press say I am"

So I would encourage educators to explore the facts around this story, compare any privacy concerns with ClassDojo's own data policies, look into the motivations and visions of the founders and, as always, the proof is in the pudding... Go ask the ClassDojo users and mentors about their experiences with this student behaviour tool... as well as the responsive bevhaviour of the company to educators ideas.

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