Why education startups are doomed to fail
This article was first published on 10 January 2013.
The title of this piece is somewhat misleading. The author doesn’t, in my view, make a compelling case for why education startups are doomed to fail, in fact he concedes that the end game will ultimately be complete disruption of the education industry.
He does however raise a couple of interesting points that have real impact for both incumbents and challengers alike in any industry beset by disruptive change. In the context of the education industry, he argues that the vested interests in the existing system are likely to overwhelm those who try to disrupt the industry from outside it. He suggests instead that a “trojan horse” approach where one aims to “disrupt the system from within” is much more likely to work.
The more general challenge incumbents, regardless of industry, is whether to:
- Resist the change in the hope that it will go away (probably not the best option)
- Embrace the direction of change but do it yourself (there’s the sub-question as to whether this should be done within the existing organisation or outside it)
- Collaborate with the disruptors for mutual benefit (again, either within the existing organisation or outside it)
- Some hybrid of the above (in my experience this is often where organisations finish up – usually with a relatively heavy weighting on the “resist the change” component and a relatively low weighting on the “embrace the direction of change” component other than for token purposes)
Similarly for entrepreneurs challenging the established order in any industry, the big question is whether to:
- disrupt from the outside in
- disrupt from the inside out (the “Trojan Horse” approach)
These aren’t straightforward questions and the approach taken can have a massive impact on the prospects for survival of both incumbent and challenger alike.