Elephant.is an innovative classroom for teachers and students.
Interactive, adaptive lessons help students learn, practice, and
apply essential strategies and skills in English Language Arts.
Our instruction applies best practice experience, research, and
theory in education and technology. Elephant.is blends expert
instruction and advanced technology to dramatically improve
Better instruction. Better technology. Better learning.
Andrew is deeply committed to social change, including education reform.
He started Elephant.is because he knows firsthand how helpful education
technology can be in a differentiated classroom – and how far current
programs seem to fall short. He is fascinated by the opportunity to
disrupt traditional education – and change the world.
Sandra is also a serial entrepreneur: Elephant.is will be her 3rd startup
launch. She is passionate about the impact strong design and advanced
technology has on everyday life. Sandra believes that Elephant.is an
incredible opportunity to create beautiful systems for a beautiful purpose.
Are you interested in joining our team?
Elephant.is an early-stage startup, and you’re in on the ground level. You can say you knew us when! (More importantly, we’ll say we knew you.)
Our first project, elluminate.me, is currently in development, but we hope to have a testable beta for release in early September – ready for your school year. We hope you’re interested, and we’d love your advice and feedback.
For now, thank you for visiting out website! And if you have any comments or questions along the way, we’d love to hear from you.
last february, i traveled to the microsoft campus in northern virginia for startup weekend edu. startup weekend is an intensive 3 day conference that encourages founders to meet and build a business in 54 hours. it’s pretty damn crazy! i mean, i’m not sure it’s easy to do anything in just three days, and it can be super challenging to develop a full and complete business idea in so little time. still, i learned like crazy. it’s the exact opposite of traditional classroom learning – everything you learn, you learn from doing.
what’s validation? go validate. what’s a smoketest? go smoketest. what are early adopters? go find them.
high concept? wait – what’s high concept?
high concept is an analogy that gives a shorthand description of your business. product a meets product b. you might have heard of high concept in films or novels before. i remember seeing an early satire of hollywood where an agent pitched crazy movies to studio executives: it’s like jaws meets cinderella. or superman meets the human centipede.
some people complain that a high concept is a simple marketing gimmick – and they’re probably right. at the same time, high concept is a simple and easy way to help people understand exactly what you do. people can take so long to explain their business that founders lose valuable time while listeners try to figure out what the hell you do. so high concept isn’t a final answer – and it shouldn’t be. but with a clear high concept, you get a head start when you start to explain how very important your product is.
this past weekend, i visited startup weekend nyc as an alumni mentor. startup weekend mentors are generally pretty amazing and experienced entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors. i tried to help the teams from a different angle: i was sitting in exactly the same seat you are right now. i pitched, built, and pitched our idea just like you’re working to do now. again and again, i saw how many things i’ve learned in the meantime. about teamwork. about business models. about market modeling. and about high concept. i talked with almost every single team about high concept.
and they asked me: well, what’s yours? elluminate.me (our first mvp) is iBooks meets Knewton (for people who know). elluminate.me is an advanced ereading platform for teachers and students. interactive and adaptive instruction and assessment helps support student readers exactly when they need it – as they’re reading.
the school week started a few weeks back at my school. new york starts later than many other states – after the labor day holiday. still, my charter school network begins school in the beginning of august.
we welcome new and old students by grades for orientation to our school and school culture. there is reading and writing and planning, and students receive credit for a short general studies course. this doesn’t have much to do with entrepreneurship, it seems. it’s really about school – except what i really believe is that education technology should be more and more about school. about real teachers and real students in real schools across the country.
early last spring, i decided to take a year off from teaching. i was going to go after my idea full stop. then, my friend asked me to consider what is basically my perfect job. i teach a partial schedule and also coach young teachers to improve and advance as teachers. it’s an amazing mix that helps me stay in direct service with students and also helps me make a larger impact on the profession.
many venture capital funds will be disappointed that i have not committed to my project full-time. of course, i disagree – for now. i’ve decided that i am working full time on my company, too. i simply have two full time jobs. i work one during the day and the other during the evening and night.
every teacher-preneur has to make the decision for themselves. many are explicitly required to leave their jobs if they enter an incubator program like imaginek12, tech stars, or dreamit. many are simply ready to leave the classroom.
me? i’ve simply decided that being an active teacher in the perfect job at a wonderfully challenging new school is too much to resist. it offers too much consistent practice. it offers too many connections to exactly who we are and who we need to be. we need to develop technology that everyday teachers and everyday students truly need. we need technology that truly advances and shapes and improves our daily instruction and learning.
we need teachers and students at the front of every single stage of every single choice that we make. today – and tomorrow, too.
When we teach students to write a new project, we always show examples of great writing in the genre. Every genre is different: there are different audiences, different grammars, and different expectations. Writers have things to say – but we craft and develop them in different ways for different genres. Writers learn how to best communicate their ideas with a specific audience – how do I say what I want to say to whom I want to say it?
So many things about developing a new startup have been exactly like genre study. When I began, I didn’t know business very well at all – so much of my time has been speaking and watching and reading resources that can help. What’s the good news? There are tons of resources in the space that can help. Here are a few things that we’ve looked into and researched to learn more about the field. (Just remember: don’t accept everything everything that comes down the pike. Use what you know and what you believe – then learn to adapt what you know best to fit what they know, too.)
Of course, we don’t always know what we don’t know! Anyway, here are some basic things to think about:
1) Business Model – for profit or non profit?
2) Incorporation – LLC or S Corporation?
3) Stealth startup or Public beta?
4) Accelerators and incubators, oh my!
5) Traction or revenue?
6) Content, tool, or network?
7) Open source or proprietary?
8) Competiton – similarities and differences
9) Fundraising: Grants, Seeds, and VC’s
10) One pagers, Business plans, and Pitch Decks
11) Market validation
12) Events: Conferences, meetups, and online groups
13) Branding: Logo, website, social presence
When I first started to tell my idea to close friends and family, almost everyone’s first reaction was: Well, don’t tell so and so! Or: You better make sure they sign a non-disclosure agreement! Or: Hey, do you think you can patent this?
And it makes some sense. People are always trying to get one up on somebody else – it seems we’re often in some sort of competition with each other. So when we’ve got a genuinely good idea, we want to make especially sure it’s protected. That nobody else can take it away!
And when I first started, I asked a few people to sign an agreement before I realized something important: I’m the only person in the world that wants to dedicate my life to every single one of my ideas.
In fact, talking and sharing our ideas with people is one of the most powerful ways to find out what’s good (and what’s not) about what you’re thinking. There may be someone lurking somewhere, I guess. But I think the chances are much greater that you’re going to find someone who will connect with you or partner with you than you are to find someone who wants to screw you.
I could be wrong, but, so far, I try to Tell Everything to Anyone Who Wants to Listen. For real. People in the space are more helpful than you think. Even when I’ve had conversations with people who may be competitors – they seem interested and open to just building the space. The more companies there are working to build out education technology, the more likely that we’ll succeed. The more restaurants you have on a block – the more likely that block becomes a destination.
And don’t forget: ideas are the easy part. All the craziness comes later.
It reminds me a bit of Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix. Everything we do is a strange mixture of everything we have seen and heard before. So, yes, it’s entirely possible that your ideas will influence other people’s ideas. But that’s a good thing, by the way. What you never really know (and what they certainly never told you) is that their ideas will remix your ideas for the better, too.
So, I hold with those that favor fire. Talk and talk and talk about your ideas. Really. To anybody at all who will be kind enough to listen. (Of course, don’t forget to listen to them, too.)
Early in February, I called my friend Raanan to ask him for help with my business. I try to be very open about what I know and what I truly don’t know. I know instruction; I didn’t know business. At all. So I sent him an early version of our business plan, and he schooled me on bunches of things. And the biggest thing he said? Lean. Startup.
My friend Gabe works in Seatlle. When I started looking for coders, I messaged him on Facebook to ask for help. He mentioned different websites to check out and said that he’d definitely send out an email at work. The last thing he said? “Have you read the book Lean Startup?”
I imagine there are thousands of ways to start a new business. For example, Apple keeps ideas super top secret and only announces them in a brilliant public launch. They generate crazy buzz and then ship. So. . . lean startup is a little bit different.
You develop an MVP, or minimum viable product, which is a quick and dirty functional version of your product. You test early version out in the market and measure feedback from customers. Every step, you want to validate and revise your product to fit your market. Again and again and again.
All the while, you’re bootstrapping everything together, right? You and your friends and partners are working for sweat equity – errr, nothing. you’re just working really hard.
So, it made me think: my family is a lean startup. Raising children (without very much money) is lean startup . You have ideas, right? You believe children should behave this or that way, and you teach and discipline your children in ways that you think will help them get there. You’re building.
Then, you watch to see how it plays out. You’re constantly measuring how your philosophy works in the real world. what does the market say? How do your children react? How do other children react? What do other parents think? What does your partner say?
And at the end of the day, you learn. Do this the same. Do that differently. Let’s start from scratch. Ultimately, you want to gain traction. Traction is a hug or a kiss out of the blue. An apology or a thank you without prompting. Good independent play or raucous laughter with friends. For your family, traction is love. And you build, measure, learn to get it.
Parenting children (without very much money) is lean startup. We’rebootstrapping every single day.
I’m a teacher.
I mean, there are a lot more things than that, right? I’m also a husband and father and brother and camp counselor and former social worker. But what’s really important here is that I’m a teacher.
I teach 9th and 10th grade English Language Arts at a charter school in the Bronx, New York, and I’ve been using tech in my classrooms for the last 5 years or so. I use it to organize my lessons, update class homework, post grades for students and families, publish writing portfolios, and track reading progress.
There have been bunches of ups and downs with applications and websites as I’ve tried to use them in my classrooms. I’ve tried to spread technology to other teachers, and we’ve had some teachers jump on board, other teachers ask for help, and other teachers get cranky and surly. But I definitely believe that really good technology can help teachers do more (and better) almost all of the things we do.
But I decided to start my own project because I feel like there are gaps in so many products out there. At first, I wrote emails requesting features and waited for late or absent replies. I’ve had accounts mismanaged (and even deleted once), and I’ve been so frustrated by going to so many different sites to find so many different things that one day I decided I’d try to fix at least one problem in the space.
Do you wanna know the truth? This cartoon (err. . . talk) started it all. “Finding a common gripe that everyone can relate to . . . Find something that is not being articulated and go for it!”
We’ve been working at this for a little while, now. I got my first idea (GrammarSchool.me) just about one year ago – October 2011. Two days ago, I started researching another concept, and as I was working through everything, I realized just how much I’ve learned during the last few months. I realized how much I’ve searched (and continue to search) for advice and feedback, and I thought about how crazy it’s been to try and do things from scratch. So I thought it might be cool to write a collection of things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about how all this startup stuff works.
Stuff I never knew at the beginning of all this.
A lot of companies use their blog to publish more and more information about their business, and I imagine there will be a point where we do that, too. But, for now, I want to try and document the process from the inside. What’s it really like to try and start your own business? And what’s it really like startup in the Ed/Tech space?
I imagine some of the things I write will seem simple to many of you reading, and I bet some of the stuff I write will seem silly to me later on, too – after we’ve made it (hope hope) and I look back at how I used to think about things. Still, I hope that some of the things I think about and write about will help other educators learn about how to start a new project in Ed/Tech.
It’s a little bit crazy to try this out. If you’re a teacher, though, you already know about crazy. Crazy is 35 12 year olds in a classroom. So this is nothing. Well, not nothing, but you can do this! Like anything, there are things to learn and articles to read and experts to talk to – but it’s just learning.
You know how sometimes you have a concept you want to teach in class, but you can’t really get your head around it. You know that you’ve got to get a better understanding before you develop the lesson, so you start searching the interwebs and talking to people in the field. It’s like that – only it keeps going.
So, that’s the first thing I wanted to tell you, I guess. That you can do it. There are bunches of people who will make you feel like you can’t, right? And pay attention to them because they’re right, of course. You don’t know very much about business, yet. But pay even more attention to the people who want to help you learn. And in Ed/Tech – there are bunches.
Because you believe in yourself. And you can do it!