Embed the Happiness of Educators Into Your Startup DNA

Founder, CEO & Chief Data Wizard at Schoolrunner

It was a Monday morning in the Spring of 2014 and my first non-engineer employee, Bonnie Savage, was starting. I wanted to get her first day right so, naturally, this being my first startup, I Googled “What are you supposed to do on someone’s first day of work?” and found a checklist.

I printed it out and looked through some of the items: “Show them where the kitchen is.” “Introduce them to everyone else on their team.” That was easy enough: there were only two of us.

I thought I was prepared, but when Bonnie arrived I looked back at the paper and realized there was a big line at the top that said, “Title:____”. Uh-oh.

I hired Bonnie, a former para-professional and school counselor with a master’s degree in education, because I needed someone to interact with our teachers. She represented someone with a high level of empathy for how hard teachers’ jobs are and could help determine what their pain points might be.

Startups Should Listen to Their Customers

From the earliest days of starting Schoolrunner, I spent a lot of time talking to our customers, usually about an hour a week for each school in addition to email and text. The reason, which I was surprised to learn later is not considered best practice in the startup community, was that they gave me so much good feedback.

Sometimes it was as simple as “Hey, we want to print our report cards double-sided–can you insert blank pages as necessary so we can save paper without printing Sara’s report card on the back of Sam’s?” Of course!

Sometimes it was more conceptual as they helped me understand the difference between how they used assessments like STEP and MAP, or how they implemented Marzano’s ideas on standards-based grading. But mostly I just made sure they were happy with what they were getting from Schoolrunner.

Keep Schools and Teachers Happy

So I looked back at Bonnie and stammered out something like, “Your job is to…keep the schools happy. You’ll be a School Happiness Coordinator!” What I loved about that title then and still love about it now, is it clarifies what I actually want from the people in that role.

I don’t want you to manage the account or ensure customer success, I want you to make sure that our schools are happy–whatever we have to do to make that happen. I tell this story mostly because I think it’s a great example of what I strive to do at Schoolrunner: find the things that our schools appreciate about us and figure out how to embed those into our DNA. I want to make sure that it’s no longer a function of one particular person’s approach.

A title is only part of that, but naming things is powerful and shouldn’t be discounted.


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