shutterstock_590576

A Lesson in Hustle: How an Edtech Startup Got Their Product Into 3000 Schools in a Year

A founder whose edtech start­up sold a paid product to over 3,000 US schools in less than a year shares the secrets of his success.

By Shuba Swaminathan (Business Development, LessonFace.com)

Most first time edtech entrepreneurs find it challenging to get their product in the door at a school district given the red tape that must be cut through, and the multi­year sales cycle.

Not Aaron Feuer.

The CEO of Panorama Education sold software to over 3,000 US schools in less than a year and his company generates recurring revenue of $500,000 per year. This is especially impressive considering that Panorama, a Y­ Combinator summer 2013 graduate, only offers a paid product, no free or freemium products. Feuer and his co-­founders David Carel and Xan Tanner started the company just before their senior year of college, in the summer of 2012.

Feuer was a member of the student senate at his high school in Los Angeles. Speaking with students, teachers and parents he identified an unmet need — ­ there was no way to survey the community effectively, asking the right questions and generating actionable information from survey results. As the son of an elected official, passing a law seemed to be the best way to effect change. He successfully got a bill passed in the California legislature as a high school student that strongly recommend implementing accountability systems in California schools.

His big break happened when his grandparents mailed him a story they saw in the newspaper one day about a student at Princeton who won an election for the local school board. Feuer reached out to him and found that they shared a common belief about the need for accountability in schools. He, in turn, put Feuer in touch with the Superintendent of his school district who saw the pain points that Feuer was trying to address, and asked him to help come up with a solution. Feuer then rolled up his sleeves and custom built his first product for this school district, building all the technology himself. This was his first sale.

The second sale was to a school district in Connecticut. The newspapers covered Connecticut’s decision to commit to using teacher evaluations in their schools and that the teachers unions, school principals and administrators were on­board with the decision. This was the perfect opportunity for Feuer who pitched his software to them and landed the contract to implement teacher evaluations. There was no looking back from this point, and Feuer went on to make more sales based on the quality of his product and word­-of-­mouth recommendations. By this point, the core product had already been built, and the company could focus on adding bells and whistles to it and customizing it for specific school districts’ needs.

Feuer has the following advice for other edtech entrepreneurs trying to sell to US school districts ­

  • When trying to sell to a school district, talk to as many people as possible. The goal should be to identify who feels the most pain from a lack of solution to the problem. If this person is actively looking for a solution, even better.
  • Many make the mistake of making two pitches — they first try to pitch a solution to the problem, and then pitch why their product is the best solution. Instead, pitch why your product is the best solution.
  • Always think about whether your product is solving a real problem, and whether it is best in class. Either be the best, or stop doing it. There is an opportunity cost and it is a lot easier to sell a product that is best in class.

Panorama Education is actively hiring for roles in their Boston office. Check them out here. If interested in a role, Women 2.0 readers are invited to reach out to Xan Tanner directly at [email protected]

Do you have any other advice on cutting through red tape to make a sale?

Headshot smAbout the guest blogger: Shuba Swaminathan does business development for LessonFace.com. Prior to LessonFace, she was the founder of an edtech startup and is a seasoned product manager and engineer specializing in hardware-software interfaces. She is a co-inventor of the USB flash drive and holds 10 US patents.