Karl Rectanus explains his Techstars experience as “a fire hose of goodness on a roller coaster of emotion.”
October 29, 2014
Fresh off Techstars Demo Stage, Lea(R)n CEO Shares Lessons and Marching Orders
Raleigh-based Lea(R)n graduated from Techstars' Kaplan EdTech Accelerator last week in New York City.
What does that mean? 100+ mentor meetings in three weeks should explain it pretty well.
Rectanus is just days from pitching Lea(R)n before 350 investors and EdTech professionals in New York City, an event that represented completion of the prestigious Kaplan Edtech Accelerator program, powered by Techstars. Rectanus’s startup Lea(R)n was chosen from more than 500 applications to join Kaplan’s second accelerator class. Of 11 companies in the program, Lea(R)n was one of just three from outside Silicon Valley and New York.
As he reflects back on the three-month whirlwind, he now has a clear vision for the direction of the software company—to save teachers and administrators time and money with a neutral and objective platform to vet the best technology for their classrooms. There are pilots underway and a “huge” pipeline Rectanus’s team is working to convert to customers. He expects to also partner with other members of the accelerator class.
And, though he wouldn’t provide specific funding details, he believes Lea(R)n is on the way toward raising the funds to aid a national roll-out. “We won’t stop until every school in America has access to LearnTrials,” Rectanus says. “And then we won’t stop. It’s a $90 billion global e-learning market, growing at an incredible clip, and we’ve got a solution that can help K12, higher education and corporate learning around the world.”
So what happened over three months at Techstars? Rectanus describes it in three phases. Month one was “Mentor Madness.”
Rectanus met with Techstars founder and CEO David Cohen, author and VC Brad Feld, startup guru Bob Dorf, former Washington Post owner and current Facebook board chair Don Graham, Kaplan CEO Tom Leppert and numerous Kaplan executives and EdTech entrepreneurs.
Advice from mentors helped him decide to table any plans to work with technology providers or sell ads on the platform. Before he contemplated any such strategy, he’d need to earn the trust of educators. He calls that “the fulcrum on which the rest of the business rides.” That decision changed the business model—originally money would be made from the product companies, who would pay to sponsor trials of their software for teachers and administrators. Techstars blogged about the decision here.
Through mentor meetings and potential customer interviews, Rectanus found that educators would be willing to pay for Lea(R)n’s offering of a platform that could save them 80 percent of the time it takes now to make decisions about new technology. His research found that schools and districts are spending more than $5 billion a year on hardware, software and online content and the more than 100,000 education apps in the App Store are rated, on average, 4.2 stars.
“It’s impossible for them to know what works when everything looks the same,” Rectanus says.
Month two was focused on execution. Once the new vision was set, Rectanus found it much easier to rally his team around a different, but consistent set of key performance indicators. They developed a product road map, a new sales and marketing strategy and met with investors to share the new plans.
Activity in EdTech investing has encouraged them, despite that most startups in the field have yet to have proved themselves (a recent PEHub article points out). Thomson Reuters reported two weeks ago that funding to edtech startups should surpass $1 billion by year’s end, up from $842 million in 2013. And Techstars graduates, on average, raise $1.9 million in follow-on funding (that’s besides the $118K offered as part of the program). It has funded 350 companies since 2007—12 percent have been acquired and 10 percent have failed.
Month three turned to the pitch. A great deal of time was spent on the content and delivery, Rectanus says, and he’s promised to share his pitch tips with ExitEvent readers once Techstars releases videos from Demo Day in coming weeks.
Demo Day was a highlight for Rectanus. “A real treat,” he says, was having Summer Clayton, head of Raleigh’s Exploris Charter School, introduce his pitch. Exploris has been a key partner during the development of Lea(R)n—feedback from staff there have had a big influence in building a tool helpful to educators.
“I believe Lea(R)n will change the way schools research, buy and use education technology,” Clayton said. Rectanus admits to feeling emotional hearing her bold statements about the size and scope of the problem and the promise of Lea(R)n.
So when he took the stage, he felt excited and nervous but focused.
“You get a few moments to bring people on a quick journey into both the current reality and the long-term vision,” he says. “I think we made the most of it.”