By: Alefiya Master, Founder & CEO, MAD-learn

This year, we celebrate five years of MAD-learn. Five years since we started talking to our very first pilot customers, since we created our very first logo, since we launched the very first version of MAD-learn to an eager group of teachers and students. Five years since we started on the path of wanting to expose students to skills and careers of the future, in ways that were natural and embedded into their regular school day.

In the last five years, we have had our fair share of mini and massive wins. We have also had some pretty substantial mini and massive fails. I love celebrating the #miniwins because they are the things that keep us going day to day, the things that inspire us to keep fighting the good fight, and the things that merge together to create the illusion of, if not an actual, massive win. In the process of introspecting on what our journey has taught us thus far, I have uncovered 5 pivotal moments that helped us become the successful team and EdTech company that we are today. 5 pillars, if you will, that have become our foundation, what we rely on and need to remember as we grow into the next 5 years.

I will be sharing these pillars in a series of five upcoming blog posts. Read on if you would like to learn from some of our mistakes. Or just to become a little better at analyzing your own life and work to ensure you don’t miss the key lessons that exist at every moment. Either way, thank you for reading, for celebrating our journey with us, and for being a part of our MAD-family.

Pillar 1: Who we are and who we are not.

We started off 2014 with a BANG. New product launch. Pilot customers. All the hype we could generate. Exciting times to have students work on our app building tool for the first time ever. A year into the whirlwind, we realized our customers were not happy, and they didn’t want to continue to place their trust in us. When we had almost 100% of our early customers come back to us and say they did not want to continue using MAD-learn, we knew we were doing several things wrong. Here is what we learned during this time:

  1. We had not done the work of figuring out what our product can actually do for students and specifically why it was valuable to them. We thought we knew. But we were wrong. The reality is – you can’t be all things to all people. We needed to focus and narrow the universe down to the kind of schools and grade levels where we could have the biggest and most profound impact.
  2. We thought we were able to help students do A (learn how to code), when in reality we were helping students do B (learn the design-thinking process focussed around technology creation, and develop the 4 Cs needed to do so successfully in any setting). Our messaging and marketing had to align perfectly with our impact.
  3. Our team didn’t have enough exposure to our students, to what and how they were interacting with our program, and to what they needed to be engaged. As a result, we weren’t inventing what needed to be invented. We were creating what we thought would be best for them in a vacuum.

All of this helped us realize our First Pillar: Always know and remember who we are and who we are not. We needed to know and be proud of what we were helping students accomplish, and toot that horn louder than we thought possible. Realizing some of these harsh lessons helped us focus, find harmony, and build trust with the customers with whom we now work. It is most fulfilling for us as a team to now work in places where we know we can make a difference, where we can offer something that is truly valued by the leadership and teachers, and where we can interact with and hear directly from students to help us plan the future of our program.

Stay tuned for Pillar 2…