Raising EdTech! An Entrepreneurial Journey

Emerging Technologies and Edtech July 12, 2016

I started TeachPitch as an initiative to give a voice to teachers. 

A voice that they could use to ‘pitch’ directly to a community for support of any sort – from donations for a new school computer, valuable connections with other educators up to direct access to high quality learning content. 

Previously I had been speaking a lot on their behalf. Through my work as a teacher and my efforts in fundraising for an educational charity, I had been in contact with a lot of teachers from a great variety of countries. Regardless of where I was, it was very surprising for me to see that all of them had great ambition and a great willingness to become even better at their jobs through (more) learning. 

I often ended up being a spokesperson for these teachers, passing on their requests to other organisations and people, but I always felt that I could do a lot more to get their message across. Their focus on finding the best learning material was very strong and even though it varied in its nature – our users from emerging markets often struggle to find good learning material while users in developed countries have difficulty to identify what is most relevant among the abundance of information – the problem was felt continuously and deserved to be properly addressed. 

This led us to start our platform. We carefully started by requesting teachers to sign up and asking them a couple of questions on how we could help them with finding good learning material and support. 

In the beginning we literally needed to recruit professors, instructors, teachers and educators to take a look at our platform which took quite some persuasion but this very rapidly changed as more and more users started signing up. 

In June 2014 I was presented with the opportunity to work full-time on TeachPitch. This led to the launch of a revised platform in October of the same year and an explosive growth of our platform functionalities and products ever since. 

Operating in the EdTech Sector

I am very grateful that I can work on education. I am happy to be working on a technological solution that has proven to be a substantial pain relief for many teachers in this world. 

Whatever comes next in life, I feel very fortunate today to have had an impact on the workings of so many people that want to improve themselves & others through online learning. 

The EdTech sector is an exciting place to work in. If you have managed to find the right niche it can be very gratifying through the great impact your product can have.

However, be mindful that it is not solely your mission to have an impact. As a founder of a company it is your job to create a self-sustaining EdTech business. Achieving significant scale and impact is definitely a very promising start but only the first step in setting up a successful EdTech enterprise. 

My advice to aspiring EdTech entrepreneurs would therefore be to spend a lot of time thinking about their business models. Test your assumptions very early on whether your idea is going to generate money and – if yes – if the market is big enough to grow enough as a sustainable business. 

The next thing I would say is be consistent. Once you have found a good model, make sure not to alter course too fast. Even with the best revenue generating idea, it will take some time for your market to exactly understand what you are all about. The passing of these days can be quite difficult as you need to work hard for the validation of your ideas and can make you very insecure on whether it will actually work. 

Make sure you spend enough time in sharpening the message around your business model and speak to as many potential clients as you can about how the product can work for them. This is not an easy period but with the proper tenacity, I guarantee you that you will eventually be rewarded. 

As an EdTech founder based in London, I have been fortunate enough to have received a great deal of support from amazing organisations and platforms that can help you as a starting entrepreneur. 

One definitely worth mentioning is EdTech Exchange, an organisation of Europe based EdTech founders that come together once a month to discuss their challenges as an EdTech startup founder both on a professional as well as on a personal level.

Another organisation worth mentioning is the WISE Accelerator whose support we gained last year. I am very grateful for the many hours that the WISE team has spent to get the TeachPitch message across, specifically on a PR level. 

Raising Capital

One of the first questions I receive from aspiring entrepreneurs when talking about our journey thus far has to do with investment. “How did you get funding?” or “Where can I find investors?”

The first thing I would like to point out here is that starting an initiative like TeachPitch is not the same as finding investment. By that I mean to write that your idea should never be only realisable “if you had the funding to make it happen”. Your idea and its execution should be self-igniting and grow automatically through the overwhelming need for your product. Funding should be required for your product to scale so you can help more people with your solution. 

The case you make to investors should therefore be about your growth and never about your right to exist. You have users, you have a product that sells and you want to grow further to realise your ambitious growth projections. 

Another thing I would like to highlight is that you have to make sure you know a lot more about your product and the market than your investor does.  It should never be the other way around. This is not to say that investors cannot help you with their acumen in a variety of ways (it is always good to be number-crunched) but – at all times – make sure that you know how your product works and how it will further evolve as something that will perpetually solve a significant problem for your target audience. 

And then raising itself. 

With TeachPitch, we raised a round of over £300,000 last April. This round followed previous funding and grants raised of around £500,000. We collaborated with the platform CrowdCube to engage a multitude of angel investors (the majority of which we knew already) and it took us little over a month to get it all together. 

I can highly recommend a crowdfunding platform for start-ups in their seed phase as it allows you to raise funding in the most time-efficient way. The thorough preparatory work that the team at CrowdCube had done (from all the marketing up to fact checking and due diligence) allows you to communicate to your investors from one platform. As a lot of vital information is gathered in one place available online, it spares you a lot of individual phone calls and meetings with interested parties. 

Raising capital is hard work. As a founder you are tested on many levels and you are required to be omniscient about the further growth of your company from today until 20 years from now. 

In might be a little shaky at first but as you grow into it, you learn how to answer the many questions of your potential investors in the right way. What I identified as a most important takeaway is that you need to convey ‘vision’. Make sure that your investors rely on you when it comes to your product and its market and continually serve them with new insights – there is really no such thing as ‘Too Much Information’.

Also be sure to ask the right questions back to your investors. The communication should flow in two directions. ‘What can they offer you?’ Many of our investors had an interest to get involved in the growth of our company far beyond ‘just’ giving you the funds, so ask them in which other ways they would like to get involved. It is important to continually engage with your investors, just like your first clients. They are core to your growth and therefore deserve a first class treatment. 

This is not to say that you should bend over backwards to get them involved. The standards for your capital raise (e.g. your company’s valuation and the equity percentage you are willing to part with) are set so be sure to give any alternative offers a lot of consideration before taking it. 

Always be mindful of people who want sweat-equity (getting equity in exchange for their services and advice) and be sure to have a very good idea of what they can actually do for your company in concrete deliverables. 

In short, make sure you are fully in control in the raising of your investment, show a compelling vision for the future of your company and remain engaged at all times. 

So What’s Next for TeachPitch?

TeachPitch continues to grow. 

Our product is being used by tens of thousands of users in over 125 countries each day and I am happy to write that we are operating with a team of 15 people in 2 locations today to make sure that we can optimally help teachers and schools with the discovery and management of the best online learning resources.

Our product is being adopted by many schools and institutions (from London to Washington DC to Beijing) and I am happy to write that we continue to grow. 

In order for us to reach the next milestones and objectives we will be raising new capital very soon. In addition, I am very happy to write that with the help of the great accelerator SILK Ventures we will be starting TeachPitch operations in Asia in the near future. 

Raising EdTech has truly been a great adventure and I look forward to starting the next chapter to ensure that all of our users will continue to learn more and teach better. 

I would like to end my article with a quote from Charles Bukowski from Factotum sent to me by a fellow founder and great friend that ‘keeps me keeping on’ as a starting entrepreneur. I sincerely hope it can help other starting EdTech founders as well. 

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”