The Lean edtech startup’s service design guide

You know you’ve had a good meetup when you come away with a changed perspective. Not only some new thinking, a fresh perspective, but a realisation that some old thinking was wrong.

So it was at an Edtech Finland meetup led by edtech entrepreneur Christoph Rabl.

I had always tried to be strategic in every action, every initiative, even when acting tactically, keeping on a strategic path. It seemed uncontroversial that we should build new features in our edtech service to be in every way

  • scalable
  • comprehensive, as complete as possible
  • built to last
  • anticipating future needs


My perspective changed at that meetup. As we built robust, scalable features, with one eye on the long-term vision, we were likely over-engineering and doing potentially unnecessary work. It was entirely the wrong premise.

Christoph Rabl offered this nice quote from Steve Blank

A startup is a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model

What is a Startup? First principles

What if the edtech startup was also a temporary machine for searching for impactful learning experiences?

The edtech startup founder’s idea might be no more than an instinct for what kind of thing the ideal learning experience could be. The goal would not be to prove the vision. The goal would be to uncover the ideal learning experience, with proof.

Success includes being proved wrong

Success would be driven by the startup’s commitment to discovering the solution. Success would not necessarily spring from the founder’s original idea.

Success includes the possibility of being proved wrong. At least you’ve proved something!

An edtech startup’s business is to apply a science of learning.

Lean edtech startup

So using Lean startup thinking in product development in my edtech work would mean:

  • rapid prototyping
  • limited beta releases
  • intense listening to feedback
  • focus on learning analytics
  • readiness to adjust, pivot, switch, take tactical decisions
  • humility in the face of hard evidence

An edtech MVP: built to learn, not built to last

Applying the Eric Ries model of product development to the edtech space, we should not look at early-stage designs as minimum viable product, potentially scalable to an ideal course/curriculum/lesson/exercise. Instead our MVPs should be experiments in learning. The result should not (necessarily) be a simple product. The result should be a new piece of knowledge we can use when we go forward into our full product-design phase.

Applying the Lean startup method to edtech

My perspective changed at that meetup. In our early-stage product development, we shouldn’t be targeting making version 0.1 of a new feature. We should be making a machine which generates data and feedback which tells us what version 1.0 might be.

If this were easy for edtech startups, everyone would be doing it

For edtech startups, this is a hard task. This means measuring the end-user’s learning with every new feature, from the very start. Every new edtech service should be a machine to learn about learning in the the context of the founding vision of the startup.

Photo credit: Alina Titova