Q&A With Rob Dickson and Julie Carter, Co-founders of GreyED
EdTech Times spoke with Rob Dickson and Julie Carter, co-founders of a new entrant on the education market, GreyED. GreyED is a services-based company focusing on helping schools and districts with large scale educational technology installations and roll outs. Below please see what Rob and Julie had to share with us.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Julie Carter, Rob Dickson
Founded: October 2014
Product stage: Market
ETT: What is the market segment your company is in?
GreyED Solutions straddles the vendor/educator fence, focusing on both the EdTech and Instruction market segments. We work directly with schools assisting in the planning and execution of technology initiatives that impact the classroom learning experience. Additionally, we work with EdTech vendors on understanding the needs and challenges schools are experiencing today to help impact product design and development. Having a footprint in these two markets allows us to leverage our knowledge and experience in each area to positively impact the other.
ETT: Who are your core customers?
Our core costumers are reflective of the two market segments mentioned above: 1) K12 districts who are looking for assistance with their technology implementations and/or who are looking for an evaluation and assessment of their current technology environment, and 2) EdTech companies with products or services for K12 districts who want to better understand the challenges and opportunities schools are faced with today in order to impact the development and positioning of their products and services. In both cases, our core customers are organizations who are serious about better understanding their own environment and are looking to leverage technology as a way to address challenges and strengthen learning opportunities for students in the classroom.
ETT: How did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
On the school side, as current and former administrators, we have lived the challenges of major technology implementations and understand the complexities involved in planning, designing and executing change within an organization. We have experienced the lack of internal capacity (the human bandwidth required to execute these implementations), the lack of communication across organizational silos, and the disappointment when an implementation doesn’t go as planned. Using our own experiences in technology implementations and organizational change, studying other organizations who had been successful or unsuccessful in their endeavors, and conducting technology audits in districts around the nation, we identified common strands for evaluation that collectively work together to build the right foundation and scaffold for building a successful implementation and technology plan.
Now, coming from the vendor side, as the extreme users of technology products and services in the EdTech space, we have experienced the frustration of working with products that weren’t exactly what we needed a solution for. We have developed home grow add-on solutions and tried to modify existing products, all the while thinking “why didn’t the company ask us what we really needed?” The lack of conversation between the product developers and the product users was evident from our position as teachers and administrators in the field. As we asserted ourselves into conversations and opportunities with vendors about their products we began to see the power of the educator voice and the difference it made to speak out about our needs, or more importantly, to be asked about our needs.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
From the school side, our solution was to take the common strands we identified in our reflection and evaluation of implementations and build a framework to help schools find their way through the technology planning and implementation process. Using this framework allows us to understand the organization from its current standpoint, identify the strengths and areas for improvement within the school and focus on recommendations for the organization based on their strategic goals and objectives. This process gives a holistic view of the organization as it relates to technology, which allows the district to better understand its own position and build from a foundation of knowledge as they move forward in their initiatives.
Now, on the vendors side, our solution to bring educator feedback into the product development and planning stages for EdTech firms was to create space for these discussions to take place. We looked at leveraging opportunities where education decision makers and EdTech companies are already together. Using local and national EdTech conferences allows us to pull together these two parties who are already in attendance for focus group opportunities with a strategic set of questions that focuses the dialogue and ensures productive conversation.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors in this market segment? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
We believe that what is different about our approach is the unique perspective of learning the environment and tailoring the experience based on the individual needs of the district or organization. We think the downfall or disappointment of consulting engagements from the client perspective is when the consultant uses a fixed method or template to apply to the organization. It is the consultant that should be tailoring their process and flexing to the needs of the organization, not the other way around.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
As a part of working with EdTech companies in their product feedback cycles, we have had the opportunity to work with start-ups who are looking for validation of their product’s need in the market, input on their overall roadmap and strategic direction as it relates to current instructional needs and feedback on their pricing and positioning in the market. Through these opportunities we have helped startups make mid course corrections to their products before they are out of the gate to help ensure success as they make their entry into the EdTech marketplace. Focus groups, market research, surveys and interviews have all been methods we have used in assisting these start-ups.
ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you through the startup stages of the company – who is that mentor?
We feel extremely lucky to have had advice, encouragement, and inspiration from a handful of wonderful veteran entrepreneurs in this space. However, of particular mention is Chuck Amos, CEO of GuideK12, and former CEO of Atomic Learning. We are so grateful for his insights and expertise; he has been an amazing support and wealth of knowledge for us as we navigate this landscape.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next few years?
We believe the market will continue to produce adaptive and increasingly personalized products to leverage the growth of devices in the hands of students and the desire to create unique learning opportunities for all students. We also believe that the use of cloud computing will continue to push the market in a direction that will allow for truly device agnostic implementations of technology with a decreased focus and attention on the technology itself.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
Getting in touch with what is happening in classrooms today and where districts believe their priorities will be over the next 3-5 years is critical. Understanding that every district has its own unique culture and footprint and that products and services cannot merely be replicated across environment is an essential component to success in this market. Don’t assume you know what districts need, ask them, and then ask again for clarification!
EdTech Times thanks Julie and Rob for the interview and we suggest you learn more about GreyED at:
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.