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Why I Traded Textbooks and Chalk For The Silicon Valley Hustle

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QUIM SABRIA
EdPuzzle, Inc.

Photo: Quim Sabria presents EDpuzzle to an audience of investors and ed tech stakeholders at Imagine K12's Educator's Day

In five months, my life shifted drastically. I exchanged my beloved students, the chalk and the noisy halls of a public school in Barcelona for elevator pitches with business angels in Palo Alto. With three of my best friends, I launched EDpuzzle, an educational technology designed to empower teachers (like me) to use videos more effectively in the classroom. I wasn't sure that we had something to teach in the heart of Silicon Valley, but I was certain that we had enough energy and enthusiasm to learn from this unique ecosystem.

In our first week in the Bay Area, we barely slept. It wasn't the jet lag--we had to finish our MVP (Minimum Viable Product), the core features of our product, in just seven days. I don't know from experience how a mother feels when she gives birth to a baby, but I'm pretty sure it was a comparable moment: painful, exhausting, beautiful.

Those parental feelings didn't fade. When EDpuzzle was ready for testing, it was hard to receive feedback from our first users. Eventually, we learned that if we wanted to enhance our product, we had to expose it to the criticism of others, filter the feedback we received, and build a better solution. After a month of constant iteration, we felt we had developed a decent product that would allow any teacher to take a public video from the internet, edit it, record a custom narration, and even embed questions to assess student learning. Our solution would also enable teachers to track their student's viewing history and quiz results.

Just a month after our arrival, we discovered what makes the Bay Area a special place: innovation is in its culture. We were given the opportunity to pitch our product in front of 300 tech-savvy teachers at the Educator's Day of Imagine K12. Despite what some people believe, many teachers dedicate their free time to events like this one --a heterogeneous mixture of startups and teachers brainstorming new ideas -- where they can learn about new trends in the edtech space that will enhance their teaching. In just four minutes, we presented EDpuzzle and reached hundreds of early adopters. It was an intense and rewarding experience because we connected with educators who wanted to innovate and were ready to test our product in their classrooms.

After two months spent visiting schools, learning from teachers, and adding over three million lines of code to our initial MVP, EDpuzzle achieved more than 4,000 users and contained 1,500 video-lessons (half the size of Khan Academy!).

At this point, educators were finding EDpuzzle so useful and engaging that statistically, a new video was assigned every minute at a school around the World. We decided it was the perfect time to talk to our first investors. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to present our project in front of the best venture capital firms and business angels in the Bay Area, which meant that for five minutes, hundreds of the wealthiest people on earth would be listening to my words. Surprisingly, it was easier than teaching a class of 30 high school students on a Friday afternoon.

Despite EDpuzzle's relative success with users, we learned that investors are harder to convince. They hear thousands of brilliant ideas every day and their worst nightmare is to miss the one that will be the next Facebook. It was up to us to convince them that EDPuzzle really was that opportunity. In meeting after meeting, we learned more about our product and the market than we had in the previous four months. It was a great exercise in learning how to polish our business plan and align our product with our vision. After hustling investors for weeks, we raised our first capital. At that point, I looked back and realized how far we had come.

Five months after I closed the door of my classroom, I literally found myself on the other side of the world launching a company. As a teacher in Barcelona, I strived to instill in my students the mindset that setbacks can actually move you forward, inspiring you to come up with new, innovative solutions to a problem. I realized that in many ways I was still practicing what I preached ("modeling," educators call it), thousands of miles away in California. My co-founders and I had reached more than 30,000 users and raised $180,000, not because our first instincts were immediately successful, but because rather than fearing uncertainty, we learned to leverage it as an opportunity to adapt our thinking. Just as it does for my students, the future still holds uncertainty for EDpuzzle, my partners, and me -- which means plenty of new opportunities to hustle, adapt, and grow.