While I was a Teach For America corps member and program director, we were constantly bombarded with surveys. The surveys gave deeply reflective people an opportunity to express our ideas, our concerns, and our attitudes. Yet, these surveys often took hours, and they were quite complicated in nature. Sometimes I didn’t understand why some of the questions were asked, even as I grew to be a manager with the program. If it wasn’t for a deep internal motivation to help make our program better, and perhaps a shot at a free iPod, (This was back before the iPad days…) I probably would’ve ignored all requests to take these surveys.
I was thinking about this fact yesterday, as I witnessed a huge turnaround in our focus study group for MPrep. When we launched in the beginning of February, this study group was originally organized to track the academic impact of students continually using MPrep. We wanted (and still want!) to know if MPrep increases retainment of information, academic scores, and attitudes toward education. We had a plan in place to measure this and have since been working closely with Jesse Mutua, a University of Nairobi Master’s candidate that is doing his thesis on mLearning.
But this isn’t a project. Or a research study. This is a business, and if something doesn’t correspond to what our customers want, we adapt, or if our users want more, we give it to them.
What we noticed a few weeks ago was that students began to ‘plateau’ while using MPrep. This was super common in my classroom. Novelty fuels students. It keeps the appeal of learning, the spark, alive. They seemed slightly bored, despite the ranking system we had worked in to increase competition. Chris, our operations associate and Impact Lead, Jesse, and I brainstormed ways to increase motivation, and we decided to test our theories yesterday.
Seems simple, right?
But no – it’s not. So many companies and even teachers ASK customers (and students, in our case,) what they want. You can’t just ask. What we’ve found from our impact group is that it is a microcosm of the market, an amazing glimpse into what customers want. We are truly lucky to have such a great picture of our clientele from this group of students. And no matter how many surveys, questionnaires, and interviews we conducted during our market research, they’re all mediocre compared to the observations we’ve made watching users USE our product in a simulated environment.
5 months of research could’ve told me what I learned in one day.
Observing your product in action is way more worthwhile than asking customers for feedback, from a statistical and practical perspective.
Now, I’ve read the Lean Startup, I’ve engaged in thorough conversations about design theory, I’ve read all those entrepreneur blogs on pivoting — all that jazz. But true and simple, I don’t think we would’ve known WHAT to do, HOW to pivot, had I not been a teacher, had my team not been in hundreds of classrooms throughout the US and Kenya, had I not lived in poverty for a year in rural Kenya, and at least, partly understood what the students at Chandaria Primary lived through.
This has been my mantra for a while, but so many entrepreneurs, especially in the education, health, and the agricultural fields jump into their startups without a deep understanding of the market. They’re young and willing to take big risks. That’s awesome and noble. But after this whole experience, I am a firm believer that you must be at least a novice expert in education to make things work really well in an ed startup. There’s something about being a teacher/educator that gives you a great perspective of what students need, that gives you the intuition and the ability to pivot quickly and correctly, that makes your schools, teachers, and parents trust you.
MPrep is by no means perfect, but we do have 15 experienced teachers on our team. Our platform has been designed by and for our market. And our experts in the field all know education and Kenya well.
As we hit the vanity metric of 1,000 users today or tomorrow, I’m proud to say we’re building a team of deeply passionate educational gamechangers. We’re excited to see how our ideas grow and how more success stories like Chandaria Primary evolve.
— Toni Maraviglia, CEO