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October 31, 2016 Issue



Education Publishing Consulting, Marketing and Solutions that take EdTech Businesses beyond Traditional Printing and PDFs



Mitch Weisburgh

Managing Partner


Academic Business Advisors, LLC


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published October 31, 2016


CEOCFO: Mr. Weisburgh, would you tell us the vision when you started Academic Business Advisors back in 2005?

Mr. Weisburgh: In 2002 I was looking at education publishers and for the most part they were print based. It seemed to me that education was going to be moving much more towards technology. I thought that I could guide publishers on the differences between providing content as print and providing content electronically: instructional design in terms of content that could be more engaging than simple PDFs, sales and marketing of electronic products versus print ones, and strategy. I incorporated as Academic Business Advisors in 2005.


CEOCFO: Were you surprised how right you were?

Mr. Weisburgh: My biggest surprise is that it has taken so long. This past academic year is the first year education sales have been more than 50% technology versus print. That took over ten years and I thought it would be a three or four. And this is just the first wave; I think whenever you have a technology that is this transformational it takes three or four waves and iterations to get it right. Over the next five or six years we will refine how we provide and sell education technology until we figure out what engages the students and what gets them to learn well. That makes for an unprecedented opportunity for organizations with transformative products and services in the education sector.


CEOCFO: Would you give us a couple examples of how you work with your clients?

Mr. Weisburgh: Many clients have experience in one area. Perhaps they were teachers or print publishers or perhaps they were in some other business and feel that education is ripe for change. Our network of consultants has experience in all the different aspects of producing, selling, and marketing education products and services to schools. We meet with the management team and figure out their goals and then we relate their product and messaging to how schools make decisions, how they use content and how they pay for content.


CEOCFO: How do you decide on the best advice for your clients?

Mr. Weisburgh: Very often somebody has come up with a new method or technology based on their experience and they say that this really works with kids or they might say this really works well with teachers. They are thinking let’s develop this and then sell it to teachers, kids or schools.


We look at the marketplace, and determine how the product fits and where it has the best chance of success. If you look at the total spend on content and software, the kids do not spend anything. The teachers are spending maybe 3% or 4%. Librarians are another maybe 3%. School administration is 25%; district administration is over 60%.


When companies develop a product, very often they are thinking about how it is going to be used in the classroom but those are not the buyers. Yes you have to get it right so the teachers use it and kids learn but you also have to get it right so it fits in with the way a school administrator or district administrator makes decisions. To take a district administrator for a moment, let us say you developed a great program that can teach kids something in a week. A district administrator cannot afford to spend the time to look at solutions that only last a week, they just can’t be that granular. They are looking for solutions that will affect let’s say an entire middle school over the course of an entire academic year.


We will take a look at the product and say how does this fit in with the way that a district administrator likes to make a decision. If you have this product you cannot just say, district administrators make 60% of the purchases so now we are going to sell to district administrators. They may not be interested in your product at all, maybe you have to combine your product with a few other products, maybe you have to find some other partner who has other pieces and together craft a solution for the administrators, maybe you need a few more features, or maybe you just need to change the way you talk about your product.


The key ingredient we bring is understanding who buys, why they buy, and what funding they have so that we can craft the product and the messaging and the offering to appeal to the buyer.


CEOCFO: Are you an industry where people tend to realize they need help?

Mr. Weisburgh: Enough do. I am not struggling to find business, I am always busy and people seek me out. But I can only work with five or six companies at a time. There are ten thousand companies that are not using Academic Business Advisors, and I do not know what they are doing. But I will say that over 95% of those ten thousand will fail to come close to their potential.


CEOCFO: How do you choose which companies or products to work with?

Mr. Weisburgh: The first thing I look at is can this product make a difference. The second thing from a practical standpoint is does this company have the resources to be able to jump into the next level and if they do not, as much as I like the product, my advice is not going to help them because they will not be able to take advantage of it.


From a heart standpoint, I want to work with product that is going to make a huge difference with kids. Everybody should have the opportunity to live a fulfilling life and our education system does not provide that currently for enough students. You do not go into the education business to get wealthy. You go into the education business because you understand that this next generation deserves a shot. But you still have to make money to be self-sustaining, and you can work in education and live well.


The other criterion is that for a company to use me, they have to have resources that they can put into sales and marketing. No matter how good the product is, you are not going to penetrate the schools unless you are willing to devote appropriate marketing money. The amount of money is dependent on what stage you are at. If you are at the stage where you are trying to attract your first fifty customers, then appropriate marketing money might be $100 or $150 thousand. If you already have fifty or seventy-five customers and you are looking to get revenues to $1.5 to $2.5 million, then you really have to have $300 or $400 thousand to be able to devote sales and marketing. If you are already in the $3 to $5 million range and you want to get to the $10 to $15 million range you need a $1 million to jump that chasm.


CEOCFO: How do you help your clients deal with the frustration around the length and nuances of the process?

Mr. Weisburgh: From the very beginning, we talk to the clients that the decision-making process for schools is once a year. It is not like a consumer product where you can do a test marketing and then a month later you can adjust it. Your periods are once a year so the first thing is to get them to understand it generally takes two to three years to get into and penetrate a substantial number of districts, and that they need to try three or more approaches to sales and lead generation from the beginning. If they cannot accept this, unfortunately they are just not a client for us. It’s making sure that their expectations and our expectations mesh and if they do not, we are better off and they are better off not working together as much as I might like their product or working with them.


CEOCFO: Would you tell us about one or two products that have made the most change or have been the most unusual?

Mr. Weisburgh: Symbaloo is a product which organizes and curates resources. If you are a state, for example, and you have a whole bunch of education resources that you want to make available to all the districts in your state, you can use Symbaloo to organize and distribute them. Symbaloo originally approached us because they noticed that a large number of their users were teachers. They decided since so many of their users were teachers that maybe they should focus on education. For them, what really made sense was going after the states and very large districts. Symbaloo is friendly for teachers but to achieve scale, Symbaloo needed to target bigger decision-makers. They now have millions of education users.


Another one is a professional development company, School Improvement Network. We started working with them just as they were starting to move from DVDs and VHS tapes to an online form of PD. Understanding that the sales and marketing was going to be different, that it is not a catalog sale, but creating a long term relationship and license arrangement. To grow a business beyond a certain point, you still have to get new customers, but the long-term... value of a customer becomes increasingly important because you have to keep the customer and you have to find other needs that they have that you can meet. It was incredibly exciting working with School Improvement Network during their transition from physical media to online.


CEOCFO: What is next for Academic Business Advisors?

Mr. Weisburgh: It is not so much that we are looking for customers because most of our customers come in from word of mouth. Any product that has potential of transforming student learning is interesting to us.


Another new thing is our platform that allows educators to share best practices, called We are offering a more effective way for educators to share what they are doing with other educators, through interactive live video. It is free so it is not a money-making, but it is very exciting because we are seeing so many teachers take to it. We are doing six to eight sessions a month and seeing increasing number of people coming back and participating in our sessions. To me, those are the two things that are next.


CEOCFO: Why is Academic Business Advisors an important company?

Mr. Weisburgh: We look at our current education system and we see that between 20% and 30% of kids do not even graduate high school and we are failing them. Then you take a look at the students that do graduate and half them are earning a high school degree that does not prepare them for the rest of their lives. They are not ready to work, they are not ready to go to college, they are not ready to participate in society, and they do not have financial literacy. We are failing those people also. They are still far behind the eight ball and it is going to be a struggle for all of them and most of them will never get caught-up.


Then you take that last 20% or 30% of the kids. These are the kids who could soar, they may have the potential in third grade to do seventh grade math or in fourth grade to read ninth grade novels. We are holding those kids back every year. They finish their reading early and instead of giving them something more interesting to work on we assign them another worksheet; we give them make-do work because we cannot afford for them to get too far ahead of the other students.


If you really look at it we are failing basically every kid that is going through our education system, so as a society, we have to do a better job. First of all because it is the right thing to do, and second because this next generation are the ones that are going to be working when we want to retire. If you have something that can really make a difference, then you need to give it your best shot and we can help you give it the best shot. Remember, over 95% of education products fail. Academic Business Advisors can help you get your education product in the hands of more teachers and more students so you can make a difference.



“You do not go into the education business to get wealthy. You go into the education business because you understand that this next generation deserves a shot. But you still have to make money to be self-sustaining, and you can work in education and live well… over 95% of education products fail. Academic Business Advisors can help you get your education product in the hands of more teachers and more students so you can make a difference.”- Mitch Weisburgh


Academic Business Advisors, LLC



Mitch Weisburgh







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