Back in my pre-startup life running corporate development for a large educational publisher I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of education technology companies passionately focused on solving a single problem for instructors, students or administrators. While the focus should have simplified everything they were doing very few of them emerged from the morass to become compelling, scalable businesses with sustainable economics. Why is that?
In speaking with educators – across K-12 and higher education – they were literally drowning in the number of small point solutions available, none of which talked to each other. So the educators most willing to experiment might try a polling tool, linking some videos from YouTube or an online simulation in addition to their core curriculum but struggled to put it all together into a cohesive and coherent experience for students. In speaking with hundreds of students, they were similarly overwhelmed by the number of things to click on, download, manage in new windows, tabs or on different devices.
From the consumer side, one significant lesson learned since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 is the entirety of the user experience matters and that the bits of friction that all of us dealt with for the first 20 years of PC’s can be carefully, and thoughtfully, removed allowing users to focus on — wait for it — the experience that they are seeking. Nothing more, nothing less.
Chris Dixon at A16Z, the current Valhalla of Silicon Valley VC, has a great post about the entirety of the experience being what matters. His short-hand is the Full Stack Startup, if you haven’t yet read his post I’d highly recommend it. Uber, Nest and Tesla are some of the examples he cites – all end-to-end user experiences where the complexity of what they do is largely, if not completely, invisible.
Back to education, when we started on the path two years ago to what has become Junction we unfortunately didn’t have the benefit of Chris’ insights, but we knew it was critical to deliver a complete experience in a simple, easy-to-use wrapper because focus and time on task matter. So we shrugged off the advice of more than a few friends and industry pundits to build an integration layer for college course materials. Fast forward to what happened next. Instructors and students find Junction to be MORE engaging, MORE effective and MORE affordable than anything else out there. Remove the distractions and you’ve created an environment where learning can happen.
And it scales. And we’re already generating millions of rich data points informing how to improve the study and learning process for students. And we’re using data to drive recommendations on how to improve the course design and development process for instructors and instructional designers. And… we’re still just getting started.
With over $1 trillion a year in education spending in the U.S. annually (2.6% of GDP just on post-secondary) and sub-par degree attainment and completion rates it’s just a question of time until the investment community finds its way into education in bigger numbers where the impact – social and economic – will be more profound than a ride-sharing app or two. We’re long the full-stack / whole product approach as being a prerequisite to outsized success in education, come join us on the journey.