Ever since I was 12, I wanted to help kids globally and make them smile. As I grew up, the “How” started to take various different forms. Over the last two years at HBS, I have started to gain a more refined view. I’ve headed down this path of applying gamification to education. Why can’t learning be the most engaging and fun-filled experience in this day and age?
After looking at the children’s online education and entertainment (edutainment) space for over four years, I still can’t tell you the direct answer. Even nine intelligent people with education passions struggled at a Harvard Ideabomb this week with the same problem. As a result, I decided to look at the challenges and barriers for edutainment through a Launching Tech Ventures lense.
- Product Market Fit for who? The definition of PMF is “demonstrating demand from early adopters with solid profit potential”. In the world of edutainment does it mean creating something parents will pay for their kids, something schools will pay for or something kids will want their parents to pay for? The profit side of things often become acutely focused on parents or schools as a source of funds. The challenge here is that the children are the real consumers although they have zero purchasing power.
- Demonstrating PMF. In the world of children, the demonstration part becomes an even larger barrier. Existing COPA regulations limit the amount of information, data collecting and tracking permitted on kids (anyone under the age of 13).1 Therefore collecting reliable, defensible and statistical data on child engagement or education becomes very difficult on a large scale. For edutainment efforts, this increases the time and cost investment for MVP. Even conducting surveys on children is very difficult, since parents often can’t accurately depict their child’s actions. Furthermore, in-person surveys require parental approval and ideally have children in separate spaces so their responses aren’t affected by their parent’s expectations. Given how difficult it is to accurately conduct consumer testing with children, it makes false negatives a lot more likely with this demographic. Overall the ability to demonstrate demand and fit for children is drastically harder.
- Scaling versus safety. What many people often forget with children’s products is: the consistent level of quality and trust the product has to reach and maintain. In developing a new product, this often means longer development timelines to accommodate the testing and infrastructure required to ensure safety. If you don’t want to “know” anything about your customers (the children) and choose to turn a blind eye, then you can plead ignorance if and when things go wrong. (For example facebook is technically meant for adults even though children are a significant proportion).
But if you really want to address and engage children, then turning your back on them won’t build a better product. For kids-focused companies, a lot of investment and time is spent on determining safe COPA compliant standards for security, potential moderation facilities, etc. Scaling quickly often requires either a lot of resources to ensure safety or greater exposure to risk. With children, it just takes one incident to ruin the brand and trust of an entire company.
- Where is the Teach in the Ying and the Yang? In most startups we’ve see there are already competing tensions between engineering and product, as explained by Fred Wilson in his blog post. However in edutainment industries you have a third dimension – the educators who want to ensure the learning effectiveness. All three have very different priorities that have their own priorities but must be able to communicate and work productively together and resist a standstill.
Are these just some of the reasons why developing children’s edutainment products are that much harder?