Relentless persistence and how a pair of Nikes helped me as an edtech leader

The value of relentless curiosity and persistence as an edtech leader

Always exploring

I’m not naturally great at anything, but I do have two talents that have served me well as an edtech leader. I have an eye for spotting educational pizzazz that scales. And, I learned quickly the value of relentless curiosity and persistence.

Just to clarify, by persistence, I don’t mean burying your head in the sand. Or believing “you’re right” and the rest of your team (or your market) is wrong. Or being obstinate and fixed in your views. I mean forging a vision. Committing to it. Being constantly curious to understand your customers’ “why”. Learning and adjusting. And leading by doing—relentlessly. Because, you learn a ton along the way and can lead your team or organization to achieve outsized results.

There’s lots of good advice out there about whether you should start a new venture, and how to keep going if you do. Here’s a personal story to illustrate the value of relentless persistence as an edtech leader—I hope it inspires you.

A personal example of a challenging edtech launch

When I led the development and launch of a not-be-named ambitious new edtech solution for STEM, executives in the company I worked for were highly skeptical of the need (“I haven’t heard customers describe this”, “What’s so special about STEM?”) and reluctant to take the risk (“We’ve already invested in our courseware platform, get with the program”). The challenges were significant and unending—convincing those executives, navigating politics, bootstrapping the business case, flying under the radar, negotiating critical enabling deals, building and organizing the product, technology, and content teams, and pulling it off for an on-time launch (after just 6 months). 

Once launched, the challenges didn’t slow down—they ratcheted up in intensity and criticality. Some early adopters complained about performance. So, we refactored the platform and posted a public dashboard of response times. Sales reps said the pitch was too difficult and competition too entrenched. So, I took to the road and gave nearly 50 adoption committee presentations in 3 months. Some executives concluded the product was niche and half the company backed out. So, I spent weekends prototyping solutions for other STEM disciplines and testing with instructors to build evidence of the depth of their unarticulated needs.

My trick for relentless persistence

What kept me going every day? Well, shortly before, Nike had launched NikeID—one of the first services to allow consumers to personalize their gear. So, I ordered a pair of running shoes and had branded on the heels two words—“Never” (left) “Quit” (right). That way, every morning I read my own motto before heading out on a run to plan for my team’s daily battle ahead. It propelled me and my team through those challenging few years and beyond (to take the product to #1 in STEM and help more than 25m students).

I continued the tradition for another fifteen years, branding running shoes with changing mottos (including “Never, Ever Quit” for one particularly ambitious initiative!) as I built and launched successful edtech projects for higher-education, English-Language Teaching, K12, and consumers. Though along the way I had to listen to an Achilles injury and adjust my running to running + hiking (so don’t laugh at my average pace!).

So, what’s the moral of the story? It’s the value of relentless curiosity and persistence as an edtech leader. Edtech entrepreneurs—I’m with you. I feel your challenges. Forge a bold vision and hold onto it (here are some do’s and don’ts). Validate it early and often. Tease out your customers’ “why” (not their “what”). Understand your competitors and how to beat them. And lead by doing—with relentless curiosity and persistence. You and your teams will achieve remarkable things.

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