Unfortunately, though, we didn’t find anyone who met our needs. Frustrated by my inability to find a great candidate, despite everything I had done, a thought popped into my head: ‘Man, if only I could see the teacher teach, before I decided to invest the time, energy and resources into bringing them in for live demo lessons.’ All I need is a preview of what they can do in a real teaching setting. After sharing my pain point with my friend, Brian Martinez, we ended up brainstorming, and came up with a solution that would soon evolve into a full-fledged company.
What challenges did you experience building the product?
As with most startups, we too have experienced countless challenges building our company. One of the first and most notable challenges we had to overcome was acquiring technical talent without having any funding, revenue, or additional personal income to pay that talent for their services. From day one, we really had to hustle and get creative in order to recruit talent who would invest their time, energy and skills into building a technology for equity only.
You are an educator not a computer scientist. How did you get Tioki built?
Brian and I were at a disadvantage in that neither of us possessed the technical expertise to build a website, but what we did have was a clear vision, relentless work ethic, great leadership skills and the important ability to intertwine other people’s goals with our own, so that they too would become invested in growing this company.
Our first developer was actually a mobile developer who had agreed to build our website in exchange for equity and room and board with us in Los Angeles. Once he built our website, we were able to start building up our user base and, as we grew, we were able to recruit other members for marketing and sales. We had a team of six working without pay for several months before we got funding. We were able to get funding once we secured revenue, which was three months after we launched our open beta.
Describe the problems in our educational system that you believe Tioki can solve.
Currently, the education system in America can be described as a collection of disparate islands. You have your early childhood centers, K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, alternative schools, school boards, politicians, researchers…the list goes on and on. Each island has its own unique mission, members, policies, and goals, and more often than not, these islands are in their own little bubbles, out-of-touch and blocked off to what knowledge, resources and technology are being used on other islands that they could potentially benefit from.
Tioki reflects our desire to provide the education community with the best platform out there to discover who they need, make meaningful connections and start the powerful process of learning from and sharing with others in the industry, with the hope that all of this will result in the improvement of the education system on a grander scale.
Describe how a teacher would use Tioki in an average school day, month or year.
Making a connection on Tioki means that educators have the unique opportunity to see what others in the field do, use and know. Through the use of specialized skills’ tags, education-specific profile features and linked resources, we make it easier than ever for educators to gain access to the advice, tools, and opportunities that address their most pressing needs. In addition to that, we provide educators with innovative tools to build their own digital portfolio, so that they can establish their professional presence online and start developing their personal brand. Lastly, with every connection an educator makes on Tioki, their professional network automatically expands, increasing their access to more information and opportunities.
What advice do you have for educators who want to implement some form of educational technology in the classroom?
I think that any great educator maintains a delicate balance of staying true to traditional teaching practices that have been proven effective and beneficial for both the academic and personal development of a child, and at the same time understanding that the world we live in is constantly in flux and it’s important to stay open-minded and receptive to new approaches on educating children. With that said, I’d advise educators to be open to learning about technology that can increase student engagement, enhance learning, and expedite the completion of educators’ daily tasks (e.g. grading, lesson planning).
As for principals and school leaders, I would advise them not to always follow the traditional “top-down” approach when it comes to integrating technology into their schools. Your teachers are going to be the implementers and facilitators of this technology, and it’s important that you show them you value them enough to ask them their opinion and factor it into your final decision. If you’re interested in getting teacher buy-in, then it’s very important that you make sure you involve your teachers in the decision-making process, and not just leave them on the receiving end of mandates.
What is unique about Tioki compared to other EduTech products?
The main factor that differentiates Tioki from other EduTech products is that the people, not the technology, is the star of our show. We have a clear understanding that behind every new technology, popular resource, celebrated school and latest educational trend, there is a person or a group of people who are responsible for creating it, and giving educators access to these people has the potential to spark a more engaged and collaborative education community.
How have you optimized Tioki?
Over the past two years, we have optimized the site so that it’s conducive for users to easily embed video files. In addition to being able to upload files from one’s computer, we now accept links from YouTube and Vimeo, and allow users to upload as many videos as they’d like to their profile, further enhancing their ability to showcase themselves on camera or house their favorite educational videos in their video library.