W03.1: Analyst Bootcamp

The Art and Science of Listening to Crazy Ideas

In this section and the next we’re running mini-bootcamps for analysts (the people who evaluate the viability of ventures in anticipation of possibly funding their growth) and entrepreneurs (we’ll break out this term soon, but basically these are the people who conceive, promote and lead ventures).   These two groups are typically two sides of the same coin – they share a common knowledge framework, but require fundamentally different competencies.  In the venture world it isn’t uncommon for one to try to become the other, but it doesn’t always work.
We’re starting with analysts because their world is likely closer to your experience: we’ve all had to deal with passionate individuals trying to convince us of the merits of their crazy idea! Entrepreneurs aren’t crazy, of course, but its very difficult to evaluate your own venture objectively. Passion is an essential ingredient for success. It’s too easy to become obsessed – even addled – by your own good ideas.

While venture analysis isn’t a science there’s ample discipline to it.  Therefore, for this section and the rest of ETEC522, we want you to assume the role of “Educational Venture Analyst” (“EVA” for short).  An EVA is typically the person near the top of any enterprise or market who is meant to understand all the relevant factors of mission, capability, economy, competition, etc., and is responsible to undertake the dispassionate due diligence with respect to the potential viability of any proposed learning technology enterprise or initiative.

EVAs take responsibility for committing the resources to fund and foster an enterprise on its way to success. In a large government department or a major corporation – say, in the top 2000-3000 in the world – that person might be known as a Chief Learning Officer, a Chief Knowledge Officer or (sometimes) a Chief Information Officer. In a school system it might be a principal, superintendent, or regional official. In a college or university it might be a department head, dean or vice-president. In an education business it might be a business unit manager, vice president or CEO. In an open educational marketplace it might be a bank manager, “angel” investor, or venture capitalist.  Or it might be you!  Imagine that you had millions of dollars in your bank account and you were really interested in learning technologies ventures – if you didn’t want to lose all of your money quickly you would undertake the same EVA due diligence for yourself as all of these professionals would.

In this course, throughout all the activities, discussions and assignments you encounter, we expect you to play these EVA roles attentively.  Even right now, you might want to pick a role from the list above that seems to fit, and try to start thinking their way.  For example, in weblogs and papers please provide contexts for your contributions such as, “As a venture capitalist, I believe…” Your student colleagues and instructors will do the same, providing a community environment for the critical analysis of venture decisions. The goal of this role playing is that, if you can understand the motivations, methods and perspectives of these risk-takers, you will be better prepared to earn their support, or become one of them, as your own professional goals dictate.

The trademark of a good EVA is skepticism.   It is too easy to be seduced by the conceptual potential of new technologies (how many gadgets have you bought?), or a confident presenter.  In my experience there are exceptionally few fraudsters in the educational technologies industry; what you mostly find are entrepreneurs who are so passionately motivated by the magical potential of their technology and/or completely mistaken about how people learn or institutions work, that they can be utterly and compellingly sincere in their pitch. A complete value proposition has many moving parts – some may be wonderful, but if any don’t work the whole thing falls apart.