In America, enrollments in college have risen from 6 million in the 60s to 20 million in the 20s. In the UK, the 90s saw about 400,000 people apply to university each year, while today that figure stands north of 700,000.
All the while, fees and class sizes have increased and remote learning has taken over.
What’s clear is that for increasing numbers of teens the incentives - social, emotional and functional - of going to uni continue to outweigh the downsides. In other words, the product that universities offer is somehow more popular than ever.
It appears that a wave of education-tech startups have recognised this counter-intuitive state of affairs and are building for a more intuitive future in which there are more attractive alternatives to traditional education.
These companies don’t want to replace universities, they want to augment them. Even with this relatively humble ambition they will still face stiff competition from traditional education providers and from each other. Let’s take a look at the contenders...
- Campus Wire: Live courses with top professors. Learn live with the world's domain experts — all without leaving home
- Emile Learning: Building the Netflix of HS education, where students can earn HS and College credit for engaging with our premium videos.
- Upswing: Upswing provides colleges and universities with an integrated student services platform to increase student retention.
- Teachable: Create online courses and coaching services. Transform your experience and know-how into a thriving knowledge business.
- Skill Lync: Industry relevant advanced courses for Engineers
- Engageli: Always-on, inclusive, secure virtual classrooms for higher education designed to recreate high-quality, small group collaborative experiences,
- Edsights: AI-powered texting to improve enrollment and retention. Our evidence-based framework automatically checks-in with students and supports them at scale
- Leap: Helping students in India find the right college abroad, prepare for entrance tests, and also secure visas and loan
- Eruditus: Eruditus provides global access to executive education programs.
How edtech companies can find product market fit and grow
When you spot a logical tension between what is happening (the university experience is getting worse) and what should be happening (the university experience should be less popular, but it's not), this system is likely producing some kind of frustration. In this case, the one felt by students, but potentially also by university administrators - who are increasingly overworked and underappreciated.
Co-Founder of Gusto, Tomer London, in an excellent post, talks about product-market fit being easier to find when you have a case of “a customer set that is completely pissed off by their current solutions” and you manage to “delight them in places where they’re used to pain.”
So how do you use marketing to provide delight instead of pain?
- Diagnose Specifics and Play Them Back: Get as fluent as your customer in speaking about the difficulties they face. Be present on campus with them, so that you can really see things the way they do. Combining proprietary qualitative customer interviews with quantitative surveys and big data from desk research is the only way to gain a granular picture of the pain. Look for phrases that crop up again and again, then use that exact language across your product marketing touchpoints. When we talk about touchpoints, there are far more than you’ve likely considered: here is a helpful list to make sure you’ve got all bases covered.
- Build A PR Machine: Trust matters when it comes to education, more than any other sector save health and finance. This makes it harder for upstarts which by definition have no legacy to lean on. One way to establish early credibility is by giving prospective users a look inside your brand from a well respected journalist, news organisation or trade publication. It might seem old fashioned, but high authority backlinks that improve SEO make PR a surprisingly modern solution to build enduring brands.
- Use Content to Show The Difference: Chances are, if you’re in B2B SAAS, your sales cycle is longer than you’d like it to be. Content driven growth, especially editorially-generated and optimised for virality, has been a key lever for many recent SAAS success stories like Webflow, Intercom and Stir; as Lenny Rachitsky has shown. It works so well because it provides meaningful value for free and up front. It shows that you care about your users and provides a much softer introduction to your service than a cold email or paid ad. Plan your strategy so that you focus on mastering one medium to begin with (written/video/audio) and be patient - brand building takes time (years not weeks).