Today I would like to write about a topic and a company of extreme interest. The topic is how to improve educational quality and performance around the world using technology and innovation and the company I would like to profile is called BrightBytes. It is a San Francisco based tech start-up (like so many others) and its core business is to build tech enabled research-based decision support platforms to help education institutions improve their spending decisions to focus on practices that actually improve student learning outcomes. It is a EdTech company that is much more than just posting grades online. The company is building a buzz and raising money. Having been featured in Fast Company, and raising 750K from Learn Capital in early 2013 and another $15M in Series B capital from Bessemer Venture Partners in 2014. Recently it was also named one of the 20 most innovative EdTech companies globally.
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS ABOUT?
BrightBytes is an online software as a service platform for school administrators and leaders. It helps them decide how and where they should be spending precious dollars allocated to education technology. Through its flagship SaaS-based platform for K-12 institutions, called Clarity, BrightBytes gathers ideas from the best education experts in the world and creates evidence-based frameworks that are combined with localized data from schools or school districts to provide tools which help understand different technology options impact on learning outcomes. What makes it unique is that it combines hardcore research with localized school specific analysis which provides much more customized solutions than other similar platforms. The so-called “secret sauce” behind the company is the BrightByte Labs. An education R&D center where leading researchers and statisticians from Stanford, MIT, Columbia and Berkeley are doing cutting edge research which feeds directly into the system. This team of researchers analyzes research papers, publications, reports, case studies and best practices from schools all over the world to identify what’s working and what isn’t. It then combines these insights with data from the school in question to build customized performance dashboard, analytic tools and recommendations of experts to consult and practices to adopt.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT?
BrightBytes’ mission is to improve the way the world learns through the use of data. But the real value proposition is the savings it creates for education administrators trying to decide how to spend their education technology budgets on tools that really work instead of just on new laptops, iPads, etc. So far the platform has more than 10K schools signed up which is a very promising sign that it is working compared to many other EdTech companies which continue to struggle with adoption.
HOW DID IT START?
The venture was started in 2012 by a dynamics education and technology duo. One of the founders decided to found the company after finishing his MBA at MIT Sloan and having spent 15 year in the education industry (both private and public sector roles). The other turned down a continued lucrative career as an executive at Zynga the extremely successful game developer in the Bay Area (most known as the makers of FarmVille). Together they put together an all-star team of academics and advisers and built a beautiful platform (or minimal viable product) while adding there first clients in early 2013. From their they received their first round of VC funding from Learn Capital and things have flown since then as the wave of EdTech is booming.
WHAT IS THE SOCIAL NEED IT ADDRESSES?
The fundamental social need being addressed is improved educational quality at lowest cost possible, it does this in two ways: First it helps school administrators better identify the best and lowest cost technology tools which best help students improve their performance in the classroom. The second through an iterative and customized approach it actually improve educational quality by helping students focus on learning methods which actually work.
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS MODEL?
- Value Proposition – Evaluate the real impact of technology integration in schools on student achievement.
- Customers/Channels – The customers are; governments, service agencies, districts and schools and public agencies which access the service via the web/cloud
- Revenue Streams – It is a simple subscriptions model, where users pay for access to the service on a annual basis
- Cost Structure – Unlike other software as a service platform, BrightByte has a heavy R&D component. So in addition to developing the basic software platform (software engineers) and selling it (sales force) the company to be successful most have sophisticated research team that can not be cheap. Thus I would consider costs to be manageable but higher than most such platforms.
- Key Partners/Resources/Activities – Again the key resources here are the researchers and the insights gleaned from cutting edge knowledge development via the R&D Lab.
WHAT ARE SOME CONCERNS I SEE WITH THE MODEL?
- Social Impact #1 – It is not clear to me even with top in-house academics whether these new tools are actually having an impact on student outcomes and achievement. We need to see better proof that this technology choosing platform is actually worth the resources which are being spent on it in terms of student outcomes. The website makes a lot of claims in this regard with little actual evidence presented. Perhaps it is too early to judge.
- Social impact #2 – I am also concerned with the transparency issue. If insights are being made about what works in the classroom I wonder why BrightByte should profit off of this instead of sharing the knowledge to expand its potential impact on society by scaling up the learning. Perhaps the only way to get the learnings is by
- Customer acquisition – Education providers are notoriously fickle customers due to tight educational budgets and slow procurement cycles. BrightByte seems to be one of the companies which has managed to grow despite this challenge and continue to sign up school districts. Yet I wonder when money gets squeezed if this would not be one of the first resources cut from school leader budgets. It seems more like a luxury than a necessity.
- User engagement – I am also concerned about how the platform encourages adoption by users within the schools and keeps them engaged. It seems to me often these platforms look great but then have a difficult time keeping users engaged. This will be a big challenge for further adoption of the platform