Startup Challenges: Changing Perspectives & Staying on Your Toes

By Matt Sprague (@sprague13)

TS_logoAs a thriving startup out of Manchester, NH, TestSoup has owned it’s share of ups and downs.  The idea of getting it correct the first time is not realistic but the focus has always been to learn from mistakes and strive to be better each day.  This post is one in a series of our perception of the start up world.  Agree with it or disagree with it.  Either way is OK because we already disclosed that we are not always correct.   All we ask is that you join the discussion.  Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Changing Perspectives & Staying on Your Toes

I am lucky that TestSoup is a portfolio company of Wasabi Ventures.  With that relationship I have had the opportunity to take part in the Analyst / EiR (Entrepreneur in Residence) Training Program.   Each class is focused on a different element of the Startup ecosystem.  Our latest session was titled, “The 5 Red Flags of Startups”.   We were assigned a task to write a quick summation of a take-away from that topic.   This post is one thing that I garnered from the wealth of information and experience that was presented.

While entrenched in the day to day hustle and bustle of startup life, it is easy to miss the signs for a detour.  The result is your startup could end up driving directly off of a cliff.  Unless your are selling bungee cords, that is not beneficial.   Take time periodically to change your perspective.   Think like your customer or an investor to make sure your strategies are still relevant.

I was not a philosophy major in college but I went to a liberal arts school that required that I take a few classes to become a “lover of knowledge”.  It was not my favorite class in the world, however I still remember one of the first concepts that the professor presented.  The concept of perspective:

If a man is on a train (but he does not know it) and he looks out the window, it appears to him that the world outside is moving.   If another man is outside watching the man in the train go by, it appears that the man in the train is moving.

Neither are completely correct.   The physics is not important in this example.  The idea is that life is completely different for every person depending on their perspective.   In order to truly see what is going on, you need to look at things from as many angles as possible.

This lesson holds true in business.   If you put your blinders on and don’t stay aware of what is going on, in all aspects of your business, then the world will be passing you by.

 

How Much Can You Save by Going to Community College? Part 2

By Alex Hollis (@wvedutech)

Part 2: Room & Board?

In last week’s post, we took a look at the cost benefits of going to community college by comparing the cost per credit hour for the same calculus class if you were to take it at a community college or a state school in the same state. You can read it here or (this one is for my fellow redditors – TL;DR – it’s cheaper to take a class at community college).

But credit hours are just one part of the equation. What about the whole housing element? Are there cost benefits in staying on a campus at a private or state school over having your own place and attending community college?

Let’s take a look at the cost of living on a college campus vs. all the costs associated with getting your own place near community college.

We will change it up a bit and go with Bunker Hill Community college (Charlestown, MA) vs Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)

Expenses (per year) (BHCC) Est. costs of living off campus in Charlestown (BC) Living on campus
Housing [($3,000/month/)/3 roomates] x 12 months = $12,000 $10,710
Food $70/week x 52 weeks = $3,640 $4,610
Travel MBTA Student Bus Pass = $400
Utilities $360 $0
Cable/Internet $120 $0
Total $16,520 $15,320

Seems that community college may lose out on this one, but not by much!

Startup Challenges: My New Years Resolution(s)

By Matt Sprague (@sprague13)

TS_logoAs a thriving startup out of Manchester, NH, TestSoup has owned it’s share of ups and downs.  The idea of getting it correct the first time is not realistic but the focus has always been to learn from mistakes and strive to be better each day.  This post is one in a series of our perception of the start up world.  Agree with it or disagree with it.  Either way is OK because we already disclosed that we are not always correct.   All we ask is that you join the discussion.  Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.

My New Years Resolution(s)

Many people will have their own personal resolutions.  Maybe to lose some weight, eat healthier, start working out (again)….  I can check off each of those for me.  However, I am interested in making some resolutions for my professional life.  As an entrepreneur, what are some areas that need some changes or re-fortifications?

1) Time Efficiency – This can come in many shapes and sizes.  For me, I need to section off parts of my day for certain tasks to ensure that attention is given to every area of my responsibilities.  It is very easy to be side tracked (Focus, Focus, Focus…Hey Look A Squirrel!!), so setting up a specific schedule or time allotments will help make me a more productive employee.

2) Daily Goals – I was much better at this when I first started.  I set up specific things that needed to get accomplished every single day.  Again, these goals will be different for every person depending on their responsibilities.   My specific areas will include (but not limited to) business development, marketing and content development.  Very specific tasks will be created to make certain that I am consistently making a difference.

3) Continuing Education - There are very few original ideas left in the world and that is alright.   Most ideas are recycled and / or re-purposed.  The original part of this is utilizing ingenuity to make the ideas work for you.   Time each day should be set aside to read an article or watch a video concerning some aspect of my job or industry.

A Startup will only be as successful as the strength of it’s founders’ convictions.   This is a challenge to myself and everyone else out there.  Good Luck and Happy New Year!!

How Much Can You Save by Going to Community College?

By Alex Hollis (@wvedutech)

Part 1: Cost analysis for 2 identical courses

It is common knowledge that students are saving bundles by attending community college and then transferring to a 4-year university. But I have always wondered, how much is this bundle? What are the actual dollar savings of pursuing this route of higher ed?

Over the next few weeks we will be analyzing the cost benefits of attending community college vs a 4-year university. Today, we take our first step by comparing the cost of two identical classes – one from a community college, the other from a 4-year university in the same state. We will then walk through several, additional scenarios in the coming weeks culminating with a final report of what dollar amount one would truly save by going to community college.

Scenario 1: Calculus 1 at the University of New Hampshire vs. Nashua Community College

Details

UNH

Nashua Community College

Course Name Calculus 1 Calculus 1
Credits 4 4
Description Calculus of one variable covering limits, derivatives of algebraic, trigonometric, exponential, and logarithmic functions; applications include curve sketching, max-min problems, related rates, and volume and area problems. Calculus is introduced through studies of functions, limits,differentiation and higher order derivatives. Problems in maximum and minimum and related rates are considered. Integration is introduced by analyzing the definite and indefinite integral, areas, and volumes.
Cost $904 $3,000

Savings:

$3,000 – $904 = $2,096

 

Sparking Discussion In Your Classroom

By Laura Shanteler

High School StudentsLooking for a creative way to spark a discussion in your class?  Let’s face it. Sometimes it can be tough to cover content and work in time for kids to talk about their learning. Here’s one way you can work it in and push your students’ thinking.

These are sample sentence starters/conversation starters that you can adapt to what you are working on in your classroom at the time.

Math:
Here are sample student answers. Are they correct? Why or why not? Explain the mistake the person who got the wrong answer made.

Social Studies:
This is an opinion about (topic) that was posted online. Do you agree or disagree? Why? (Cite specific evidence from text, etc.)

Science:
This process (topic) was observed by someone doing research. Based on what you know about (topic), what do you think happened here? Why do you think that (cite evidence)

Writing:
Here is a rough draft with edits and revisions made by a peer in their class. Look it over. Do you agree with the revisions and the feedback that the peer gave? Did they miss anything? What would be your feedback for both of these writers?

Reading:
Here is a essay about (text) that was written by another student. Based on what you know from the text, do you agree or disagree with their position? Why or why not? Cite evidence  from the text.

These can be used as end of class discussions that are not lengthy, or they can be infused into an entire class period where students work together in pairs or groups to develop their thoughts and then turn to a whole group discussion for the rest of the class.

Keep us posted with your own ideas for getting kids talking in all class subjects!

Startup Challenges: Focus, Focus, Focus…..Hey Look! A Squirrel!

By Matt Sprague (@sprague13)

TS_logoAs a thriving startup out of Manchester, NH, TestSoup has owned it’s share of ups and downs.  The idea of getting it correct the first time is not realistic but the focus has always been to learn from mistakes and strive to be better each day.  This post is one in a series of our perception of the start up world.  Agree with it or disagree with it.  Either way is OK because we already disclosed that we are not always correct.   All we ask is that you join the discussion.  Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Focus, Focus, Focus

There are so many things to consider while creating and executing on your startup concept.   Therefore, there are just as many, if not more, places for you to get distracted or misled.   So, how does one keep their eyes on the horizon?   I do not believe that there is one set way.  We, at TestSoup, have used a variety of practices that have definitely kept us on the straight and narrow for the majority of the time.  Here are a few:

Weekly / Bi-Weekly State of the Startup Meetings - A great habit we have gotten into is having a meeting, at least, every Monday morning.  This allows us to catch up with what had been accomplished over the weekend and what we expect to get accomplished throughout the coming week.  The main purpose is to see if what we are doing is working and if not to answer why and pivot accordingly.   Without these meetings we could get into a groove and waste a lot of time on an effort that does not bare any fruit.  As a startup, you cannot afford to just spin your wheels.

Flow Charts & Visualization From All Angles - Especially at the beginning, we utilized all sorts of diagrams, flow charts or any other visual aid to help us completely understand the nature of our business, the landscape, our competitors, our strategy and any possible contingencies we may  need to tangent off into.   We needed to be experts on everything pertaining to our company.  This exercise helped us hone our strategy and keep us focused for the foreseeable future.  Until, of course, in one of our weekly meetings, we decide to change what we are doing and the process starts all over again.  HAHA!

Don’t Forget the Strategery!!  - The largest amount of time and energy is spent on strategy.  Business Development Strategy, Marketing Strategy, Content Development Strategy…….dare I say Exit Strategy?  These are critical in your quest to not be distracted by “the squirrel”.   They are road maps and often times guard rails in your path to startup success.   Revisit them regularly to see where you need to pivot and then get back to work.

Now Set Reminders and Execute  - Many co-founders are very busy.  Some have other jobs.  Others have any number of other responsibilities that are going on during the run-up period.   Myself, I have two children and a wife that is working full time (a major factor that allows me to do what I am doing, thank you honey!!).   To say the least, I have responsibilities at home that I need to balance. I could lose my way very easily.  My days can change at the drop of a hat.  I am the king of reminders.  I utilize my calendar and reminders to make sure I am meeting every milestone and that every day is productive.

This is by no means the definitive list of things to do in order to be successful.   These are some thoughts and experiences that I have had during my time with TestSoup.   I would love to hear your experiences and be able to add to this list.

 

How to Transfer from Community College to a Private University – 5 Steps

By Alex Hollis (@wvedutech)

With the cost of university tuition on the rise once again for 2013-2014, more and more students are opting to attend community college to earn their associate degree before transferring to a 4-year private university. Although this is a smart and increasingly popular strategy to save (a lot of) money, you do want to make sure you plan ahead to avoid some potentially costly, stressful, and time-consuming pitfalls. Here are the 5 steps to making sure you set your transfer plan up right:

1) Backwards Plan: Simply put, establish your end goal – what universities do you want to apply to / transfer to? What major are you thinking of pursuing? You will need to know these details in order to make your transfer seamless and stress-free.

2) Ace your placement test: Acing your placement test might sound silly (and, admittedly, like a shameless plug to purchase our ACCUPLACER and COMPASS prep products) but it is extremely important and will determine what classes you place out of early on, which determines how fast you can get your associate degree and transfer out.

3) Figure out what credits transfer: Avoid this mistake that plagues many transfer students. Know what your target university will accept and not accept for credits and plan your schedule accordingly.

4) Connect with admissions advisors at your target school: Make sure you cross your t’s and dot your i’s by connecting with an admissions advisor at the school you are looking to transfer to. Ask what they look for in a transfer student, let them know you are applying, double check the dates that your applications are due. At the very least, you show the initiative by calling them up and it may help you stand out among the other applicants.

5) Earn your associate degree: Study hard, get good grades for classes that count, and apply to your dream school!

 

Bringing “Accountable Talk” into your classroom (and your home!)

By Laura Shanteler

school1One of the growing trends I have seen over the last couple of years in classrooms is an increase in student conversation. This is taking place across all subject areas, as students are asked to explain their answers, share their ideas, and work together to solve challenging problems. Students expressing themselves and their thought process is often a critical part of their continued understanding of a skill or topic, so Common Core is including Speaking and Listening standards that provides an easy to follow “road map” of sorts to help us help students develop these important skills.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to have a lively discussion that accomplishes what you are hoping (as both teacher and parent). A member of my 6th grade team last year taught us the basics of “Accountable Talk”, which is basically a set of guidelines that allow us to hold each other accountable for respecting one another during conversations and the appropriate ways to participate in a conversation. It helped us set guidelines and the tone for class discussions, partner conversations, or anything else that required students to share their ideas with another person. It takes a little bit to teach, but if you make it a point to follow the guidelines at every opportunity (I posted them on the wall so that we could all see them and remind each other to stick to them!)

Looking for ways to get the conversation going? Our resources are packed with questions that can spark a discussion, as well as sample student answers to help you keep your discussion going in the right direction!click here

Accountable talk is also great to use at home when talking to your kids. It helps them develop their own independent ideas and voice when talking about issues that allow them to form their own opinions. Challenge them to support their ideas, share yours (even if you don’t agree!), and enjoy watching your kids develop into strong thinkers. As we often forget, there isn’t always one set answer to a question and in life, we want our kids to be confident, well informed, well spoken advocates for their own ideas. This helps them learn how while they are still young.

Here’s the quick run down on “Accountable Talk”
You may also want to connect each sentence start with a gesture – I included the ones we used in bold in case you needed ideas!

These can be used at any point during a conversation – for this example, we’ll just say that a student shared an opinion about a character’s motivations for something they did in a story that the class is reading…

“I agree with _____________ because….”  Student will give a thumbs up.
“I would like to add on what _________ said with…..” Student will hold up pointer finger.
“I disagree with ____________ because…” Student will hold up a fist.
“I have a question about what _________ said…” Student will raise hand with open palm.
“I think what _________ is trying to say is….” Student will raise two fingers crossed (this was used to promote teamwork if a student was struggling to express an idea)
“Why do you think that… / What evidence do you have…”  Student will raise pinky finger.

These stems can be adapted in many different ways, based on the class you teach and what you are trying to accomplish.

Do you use something similar in your own classroom? If so, share it with us here so we can share your ideas as well! If you have any questions or suggestions about implementing Accountable Talk in your classroom or at home, let us know! You can email me directly at laura@testsoup.com if you would prefer and we can talk more about how to make this happen for your students too!

Happy chatting! :)

 

Startup Challenges: Analytics Overload

By Matt Sprague (@sprague13)

TS_logoAs a thriving start up company out of Manchester, NH, TestSoup has owned it’s share of ups and downs.  The idea of getting it correct the first time is not realistic but the focus has always been to learn from mistakes and strive to be better each day.  This post is one in a series of our perception of the start up world.  Agree with it or disagree with it.  Either way is OK because we already disclosed that we are not always correct.   All we ask is that you join the discussion.  Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Analytics Overload

I do not declare myself to be an expert when it comes to the world of analytics.   After being involved with it for a while now, I would raise an eyebrow to anyone that does.   There is an overwhelming amount of information and capabilities out there to track anything and everything you can imagine.     In addition, the landscape keeps changing.  So what the heck am I supposed to do in a start up environment?

My recommendation is to treat your analytics like an iceberg.    The 10% above water should be the metrics that are vital to your current needs.  Leave the remainder under water until you get huge and are making millions, don’t let it slow you down.    Where to begin?

Understand the nature of your business – this will be imperative in deciding what you want to track.  If you are concerned with inbound marketing you might want to look at pageviews, behavior and visit duration.  If you are concerned with eCommerce then you may be interested in the previous metrics but also conversion rates.

Know who you are marketing to - your messages / content needs to be speaking to your customers / viewers.   Be specific and do your best in segmenting your approach.

If you have a handle on those two areas, you are well on your way.   The massive question out their is, how do you use / setup the analytics services?   Google Analytics is the most widely used.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc… have their own analytics / insights and so don’t the email marketing services.   Some can be integrated into Google Analytics.   Here are some good resources to help you navigate through the mess:

A 10 – Point Checklist
Web Analytics Demystified
Google Setup Guide

I revisit our analytics setup about once per month.  I make sure we are tracking what needs to be tracked and make adjustments where it is needed.   After setting it up, you need to focus on how you can take the info it provides and make your company more profitable.  Don’t get bogged down in trying to get more and more data.  At some point you need to act on the things that will help you achieve your goals.   Good luck and have fun!! – check out previous posts in this series by clicking here.

TestSoup provides online and mobile study guides in the form of flash cards, ebooks, practice tests and online tutoring for a variety of standardized tests in an array of subject / professional areas.

 

Startup Challenges: Target Market Acquisition On A Budget

By Matt Sprague (@sprague13)

TS_logoAs a thriving start up company out of Manchester, NH, TestSoup has owned it’s share of ups and downs.  The idea of getting it correct the first time is not realistic but the focus has always been to learn from mistakes and strive to be better each day.  This post is one in a series of our perception of the start up world.  Agree with it or disagree with it.  Either way is OK because we already disclosed that we are not always correct.   All we ask is that you join the discussion.  Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Target Market Acquisition on a Budget

Stretching every penny is important not only for a Startup but for any business looking to maximize profits or increase efficiency.   Generating quarterly profits of $10 million, may sound incredible.  Right?  However, if there is a large amount of waste / inefficiency, you may be able to be making $20 million per quarter.  That example is a bit drastic but it drives home my point.  Don’t be satisfied with a car that looks shiny, make sure to look under the hood.

Marketing can be a major expense for a Startup and often, the available capital still needs to be focused on product development.   Make it GREAT so that your marketing efforts are a lot easier.  Check out my previous post on “Building Brand Loyalty“.   So, do you just ignore marketing whilst working out all of the kinks?   Obviously not, but, let’s be smart about what we do.    There are three major areas that most will target:

1) Social MediaFacebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Blogs, etc…  There are so many to choose from.  Come up with a strategy and stick to it.  Be consistent and utilize social media to develop credibility in your industry.  Don’t just sell your product but contribute to the knowledge base.   Social Media is, most often, not a quick fix to drive customers to buy.  It is a labor of love and will take time to nurture.   Considering Start Ups are all about fast growth this may not seem like a wise investment in time but that it is it, time.  It is free.  It should not consume your time but thought should be given towards making it as effective as you can.

2) Partnerships – These are the sweet spots.  Developing the appropriate relationships with customer facing organizations can be the quickest and easiest way of increasing revenue or, at least, increasing traffic.    You still need to be responsible for conversion but getting customers to your site is huge.   We have developed several partnerships with schools to get our links in front of students, simply as an additional resource.  These links come at no cost to the partner organization and have demonstrated a continuous spike in site traffic, every time.  Also, these external links help with SEO.

3) Paid Advertising / Media – This is an option for those that are a bit more advanced in their efficiencies and revenue generation.  It is extremely important that you not pay for customers until your conversion rate is optimized with your current organically generated customers.   It does not make sense to pay for traffic if you cannot prove that you can convert them.  However, if you have developed your site and are ready to get over the next hump, this is a great way to drive more traffic to your site.  Be sure to have done as much through SEO first.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all things to do on a budget.  It is a few things that we consider at TestSoup.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, as I am sure other would, as well.  Till next time.