Balraj Suneja, Co-founder CTO, Head of Products, Tabtor.
May 2013, Wilmington NC Alex, a 5th grade student, has received poor grades in Math and fears Math to the extent that he won't raise his hand in the class if he doesn't understand something. His mom is understandably extremely concerned and is exploring different options.
A Year Later
It's 4pm on a weekday. Alex just finished his snack after returning from school. With an eager attitude and confidence in his eyes he starts doing his math homework, by his own choice. His recent grades have been excellent. Now, he is the first one to raise his hand in math class. His mom is stunned. She saw it coming but not so soon. How did it happen? Alex has been using Tabtor Math, a math learning program that derives many of its unique benefits from mobile technology. Read on for more details.
Gone are the days when you had to pick up a paper and pencil to practice math (or maths as preferred in some parts of the world). Everyone knows that math has to be learnt by 'doing'. But the 'doing' was boring, repetitive, and at times quite frustrating. Not anymore. What does today's math program looks like and what does it imply for building successful products?
We can view any product as a recipe. You start with your imagination, your ideas. You get the right ingredients, in right quantities, mix it correctly and bake in the oven, and perhaps garnish it before you serve. What are those magic ingredients for a math product or specifically education technology? I think there should be no surprise in my list: mobile technology (native only), gamification, fantastic UX, excellent service / human touch, and of course a great content. Often you also need a special ingredient to distinguish yourself from others. Of course, the quality of the ingredients has to be top-class. A key question to ask "how much to use for each ingredient Well, that's the art but it also depends on the context e.g. what you are trying to achieve. There is also a special role for the oven" your product needs to be baked for a long time in the oven of 'learning from users'.
Let's start with mobile technology. Many companies are going mobilefirst or mobile-only. I believe the single most important reason for Facebook's ascent after its IPO is the shift in its mobile strategy to go native in the fall of 2013. Most recently, Flipkart announced it is going mobile only from Sep 2015. For a company of that size, it is a courageous step. At Tabtor Math, we determined over 3 years ago to go mobile-only by ditching the desktop. When I say mobile, I mean all that derives from mobile and all that you can build on top of that. Mobile helps you replace traditional paper with an intelligent paper that keeps track of every pen-stroke and activity.
I wonder why more companies are not going app-only. My sister, mother of 2 school going kids, has not opened a laptop or desktop in years. I inquired how come. She says, "I can do everything on my iPhone; it is accessible, great user experience and convenient". Gamification Imagine playing a tennis match with no score board. Boring! More importantly, instant feedback has an important contribution to learning.
At a very sub-conscious level, as well as a conscious level, it makes you adjust your game based on the score. Gamification is one of the spices, perhaps the most important one. Here also mobile technology comes into play. Would you play clash of clans on a desktop browser! Would it be half as interesting!
If your product idea can incorporate a meaningful score, by all means incorporate it and make it very visible. The score can come in the form of user engagement or levels of proficiency and may also include a leader-board.
User experience is not just about aesthetics. To sell your product i.e. to get the initial credibility from a new user, aesthetics play an extremely important role. For repeat purchase and for subscriptions, the functional efficiency and a clutter free interface is equally important if not more. Jog your memory back to the introduction of iPhone and how it revolutionized phones with its 'simple' interface, even though the basic components of technology existed for a long while.
Start with a great UX because the first impression counts. But then be prepared to continually re-factor it based on what you observe in the field. Use a combination of direct user observation and app tracking tools like mix panel to find out what is working and what's not.
I often judge companies by their customer service. We use technology from third party services for functions such as payment services. Back in 2013 we made 3 important choices; the decision criteria were the fit and the customer service. All 3 third party services were start-ups past Series A financing. Quite interestingly, 2 of the 3 companies have been acquired at a handsome price and the third is going strong and growing organically. Make sure you provide excellent service on your product.
Content is like flour in a recipe. Without that the product does not exist. The content has to be top-notch. Competitors in our field will have access to the same sources, so the key here is how to make sure our content is the right fit for our product. We need to use the correct amount of baking powder to enhance our flour.
Prognosis on future
Advent of new technology will continue to shape consumer products in all areas. For example, wearable technology which is having a phenomenal run in the fitness products will eventually also gets into the education field. I can imagine a world where my bracelet can record my voice, process it and tell me what my vocabulary level is and if I am improving my spoken vocabulary! There are many other uses of wearable tech in education. The time will come soon. Do you think wearable technology will become important in education?