Education Technology: Know Your Customer

January 09, 2015
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; – Teddy Roosevelt 

Education Technology Company

Starting a educational gaming business is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have been very fortunate  to launch several businesses in my career.  It has always been a great experience and often filled with ups and downs. In reality, the journey has made the difference to me and the impact it has created in my life, making me who I am today.

As I reflect on these businesses, almost all in the education technology vertical, I often questioned myself. Why was I doing this? Wasn’t there someone doing this already? There had to be someone smarter than me to run this business.

The reality is, if you have had the calling to be an entrepreneur then most likely you are the best one for the job. Nobody will see through the vision and “live” that business like you will. The ultimate goal is to have happy customers and as an entrepreneur, you feel every customer triumph and pain like no other.

“Smart” People Must Know..Right?

In my current startup I discussed my business with everyone I could find. I had references of education technology experts, management experts, CEO’s of large companies, graphical experts, investors, venture capitalists, etc. There was truly a world class group of people advising me on how using gaming in education was correct and education through gaming was the future. Almost one year later and lots of money out of my pocket, I was not feeling like I was going anywhere. How was this possible? I had the best and brightest around me in every area of education technology, but the ball was not moving forward.

If an Education Technology Expert Doesn’t Know – Who Does?

I struggled immensely on this topic until I did one radical thing- I sat with my customer. This struck me in the middle of a plane ride where my customer was sitting in a row ahead of me with his mom (my customer is a student). I got up in the middle of the journey and earnestly extolled ” I am an educational game developer and have been struggling making a game for students for over a year. Would you mind if I sat next to you both and asked your son some questions?” To my surprise the mother was ecstatic and welcomed me over.

Over the next 1 hour we chatted and I realized there are no “smart people” out there who have the answers. It’s the entrepreneur- their idea – their ability to pivot and their customer who have the answers. I had been doing it all wrong. I had not spent enough time with my customer.

That 5th grade boy will forever be etched in my brain as a reminder to always talk to your customer first and often.


Educational  GamingWhat’s The Answer?

One month later I was on a fast track and had my beta product out the door a few months after that. Experts continued to give me opinions and I would immediately ask my “customer” and found the right answer.  My summary from this learning is it’s important to have a smart group around you. I would not be here today without those people, however, when it comes to your product don’t let them guide you. Use your instinct as an entrepreneur and then vociferously talk to your customers to listen, learn, pivot and move forward.  If you do this, I believe, your chances of success go up tremendously from there.

Rahul Mahna is the founder and CEO of Class Compete, a video game platform that helps relieve student’s test anxiety by teaching time, pressure and anxiety management skills in the hope of improving grades. Rahul has over 14 years of experience leading education technology-focused companies and has dedicated his career to helping teachers and students succeed.

Prior to Class Compete, he’s been a partner in three other educational learning startups. He is credited for rapidly scaling and leading each company through a successful exit. Beyond his primary business, he also serves on several boards as a business advisor on education technology services for private companies and school districts.

He holds degrees from Lehigh University, Columbia University and Northwestern University- Kellogg School of Management and is fluent in three languages. An outdoorsman at heart, he enjoys fishing and hiking having recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and base camp Mt Everest. His passion is sharing ideas for technology in the classroom and education teaching strategies using educational games.