ARTICLE: Annie Hensley

Defend your EdTech product’s marketshare by thinking like a startup

Are you adapting to meet your users’ changing needs in the pandemic as quickly as your competitors? As an established EdTech company, you’ve already carved out a unique spot for your product (or suite of products) in the market. Now that you’ve solidified your place within the EdTech space, your focus has shifted from staking a claim to defending and growing your marketshare. And as your product matures, your primary goal is to add new features that make your users happy. But if you’re not listening carefully to them and adapting your product quickly enough, someone else may beat you to it.

But as you work to evolve your product, you must be intentional. If you aren’t careful, your strengths — an established corner of the market and a known customer base — can actually become liabilities. Rather than working to expand your reach with a sense of urgency, you may suffer from a false sense of complacency. After all, you “already own the market.” Similarly, your desire to please all of your users may lead you to design silver-bullet features that attempt to address everyone’s needs. Unfortunately, if you do that, you risk creating solutions that don’t serve anyone as well as they should. 

These tendencies are especially dangerous in the post-COVID-19 world. With the majority of students now unexpectedly engaged in remote learning, all EdTech companies are at an inflection point. These unavoidable shifts are revealing new gaps and vulnerabilities within the EdTech space writ large — and possibly within your own product, too. But the flip side of vulnerability is opportunity. There is much to learn from the hungriest startups; they know that an industry rife with instability is also ripe with new opportunities. 

The truth? In this environment, established companies like yours can’t afford to play defense. Unless you learn to think like a startup, you may lose out to smaller, more nimble-footed organizations that know how to zero in on opportunities to disrupt the playing field. 

The EdTech Startup Advantage: Agility and Focus

There’s a reason startup companies tend to be more innovative and disruptive. They usually start out with a limited amount of VC funding — and an equally limited timeframe to prove that their product has legs. In order to make an impact, they must capture as many users as possible right out of the gate. Which means that their initial offerings need to demonstrate a good product-market fit, meet users’ needs, deliver an exceptional user experience, and make a great first impression. 

Startups achieve these goals by quickly zeroing in on a small set of core features for their minimum viable product (MVP). Rather than solving a wide range of problems, new EdTech products tend to start small. They commit to solving one or two problems really well. So well, in fact, that startups often steal established companies’ users despite offering a smaller range of features. If a new product offers just one of your product’s flagship features — but they figure out a way to do it better — you’re likely to lose users.

How to Get Your Established EdTech Company to Think and Act Like a Startup

The good news? Your EdTech company can learn to think like a startup. Doing so won’t just make you more agile and efficient. It will also set you up to build features your core users won’t want to live without. Here’s how. 

Define a Primary User

It’s not uncommon for mature EdTech products to think about multiple user groups. It’s ok to have secondary and tertiary users. But when it comes to planning new features, don’t try to juggle all of your users’ needs at the same time. Instead, identify your primary user group based on your new feature’s primary use cases. Who are they? What do they care about, and what are their most pressing needs? Then, commit to serving those needs first. 

Do that, and you’ll probably find that your product or feature is still usable (or at least adaptable) for your secondary and tertiary users. Once your product update is released, you can gather feedback from those non-primary users and make adjustments as needed to better meet their needs. 

Define the Scope

Minimum viable products only work to the extent that they are truly viable. While MVPs require focused streamlining, they should never have a slapdash quality. At the end of the day, you have to release enough that users value to make it worth their while.

To that end, be sure to invest in up-front research to understand what functionalities matter most to your primary users. Start by defining your “non-negotiable” items — the ones that are required for market fit. Next, prioritize the remaining items and add them to your roadmap. It may help to map items on an impact versus effort chart. In an ideal scenario, everything you pursued would be high impact and low effort, but of course, that’s not usually the case. Most items fall somewhere in the middle — and it is the product owner’s job to make discerning judgment calls based on users’ needs and your engineering team’s capacity.  

One word of caution: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. From unforeseen technical constraints to new dependencies, unknowns are bound to arise during the product-building process. From a user experience standpoint, it’s better to deliver fewer fully formed features and functionalities than multiple elements that aren’t fully optimized. 

“Fit and Finish” Matters

Successful startups excel at creating a positive initial presentation. They start with a small, focused product that is visually tight with an easy-to-use experience. And they do that by making room for “fit and finish” within their project scope. In an already established product, on the other hand, it can be tempting to deprioritize the visual and interactive experiences in exchange for added functionality. But this only makes it easier for new players and outside startups to come in and disrupt the market. 

Even for a mature product with a loyal user base, the first impression you create for a new feature is incredibly important. It should feel polished, inviting, and intuitive. Even minute inconsistencies in your UI or product interactions can quickly add up. If your feature doesn’t look or behave as expected, your UX can undermine your user’s trust in your product — and cause them to question their loyalty. 

As you seek to grow and evolve your EdTech product in a competitive and rapidly shifting marketplace, you’ll need to stay nimble and focused in order to succeed. By adopting the lean, focused mindset of a startup, you can quickly move your product in a direction your users are sure to love.

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    Annie Hensley

    As Director of UX Design, Annie is responsible for ensuring our team continues to deliver superior client and user experiences that result in tangible business outcomes. That includes fostering collaboration and crossover between our design and research teams, mentorship and career guidance, stewardship of Openfield’s culture and values, as well as, contributing to strategic decisions that ensure our company continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of EdTech clients and users. As an IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC), she is committed to ensuring accessibility standards are met by our team. Annie is a lifelong runner who completed the Boston Marathon for a second consecutive year in 2023. She is an avid lover of parks of all sorts – theme parks, ballparks, and National Parks (even revisiting Parks and Recreation too many times to count).

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