For the past five years, my company Listenwise has been focused on one market for our listening-skills-building platform. We have focused on middle and high school classrooms, selecting our podcasts and writing our teaching resources to support English/language arts, social studies and science topics.
But from the beginning, we’ve been asked many times by elementary school teachers why we don’t have resources for them. My answer is complicated.
It can be hard to explain that as a small startup, one of the most important things you can do to be successful is focus. Focus on one product. Focus on one market.
But there’s a push and pull factor with startups. You are told to focus while also growing and expanding your reach. And if your primary product is on a slow growth path, these two things can’t happen all at once. At times, I’ve felt like a yo-yo.
Over the past two years we have heard the demand grow from the elementary market. We’ve continuously heard from teachers of English language learners that they want more lower-level content for their lower-level speakers. And we have watched the growth of podcasts for kids, showing young students are interested in audio storytelling.
Earlier this year I decided that while we will stay focused on the middle and high school market, it was time to add elementary podcasts and lessons. We are expanding our market.
While expanding your market may sound less involved than entering a new market, it isn’t. There is a lot to think about and shift within our content and our product.
We have had to find new podcast producers to source audio stories. It’s been a challenge to find the right high-quality audio from many different producers. NPR doesn’t have stories that are appropriate for classroom use in grades 2-5. We’ve relied on my 20 years of experience as a radio reporter and producer to find new sources of audio and even produce our own podcasts for elementary.
We’ve also had to rethink our product from the perspective of an elementary school teacher and student. Teachers in lower grades have more routines, use printouts more often and are more focused on literacy. Students need fewer words on the page, simpler vocabulary in their instructions and stories that are clear and short.
From a marketing perspective we need to change dozens of pieces of collateral, including our pull up for conferences, our flyers and postcards. On the website, everything from our Premium Tour video to our pricing page needs to be updated. Even my email signature needs to change.
It’s a lot of work to expand your market.
What’s exciting about entering elementary is the early feedback we’ve received. Teachers and administrators are so excited about how using non-fiction podcasts can help students become better readers they are signing up for pilots of our BETA collection.
There’s a clear fit with audio in the classroom in the younger grades as students are learning to read. Listening is a foundational part of reading, so teachers intuitively understand the value of adding non-fiction stories to teach vocabulary, inferencing, and the main point.
For the thousands of English language learner students who use Listenwise, these lower-level stories will help them access language and learn content, as low as WIDA level 2.
Young kids just love listening to good stories! That’s why I’m feeling confident this new market is a natural progression from our primary market and will not distract us from our mission – to inspire individuals to fulfill their potential through the power of listening.