Just a few weeks after being named as one of two grand prize winners at Innovate 2014, Tina Faulkner was in the midst of her market. An exhibitor at the ULearn14 conference for teaching and learning professionals, Faulkner had the opportunity to showcase her Epic Writer concept to more than 1650 educators.
“It was wonderful,” says Faulkner. “Originally I thought parents would be the subscribers. But at ULearn I learned that schools are also prepared to pay for the product, too.”
She’s now re-working the business model to accommodate packages for schools. She’ll provide a limited free version of Epic Writer for teachers and their students; locked features can be accessed by a subscription upgrade.
“We felt really popular at ULearn. We had a lot of people visit our booth,” she says. “I really wanted the product to be ready for the conference, but it wasn’t. As it turns out, that didn’t make too much of a difference – the teachers were really enthusiastic about it.”
In her Innovate pitch, she wrote that she wanted 50 schools in her database. Thanks to ULearn, she has more than 200.
“Going to ULearn was a real highlight for me. I knew the teachers would be brutally honest and tell me if they didn’t like the product.”
She needn’t have worried. Epic Writer, a website designed to help inspire children’s writing, is visual and interactive and includes features designed to creatively inspire writers in the 6–16 age group. It fills a gap – others have noticed what Faulkner found: there are no resources to help kids learn to write.
Identifying a need and filling that with a product are two boxes that successful entrepreneurs need to tick. But there’s a lot to focus on at this early stage of a business. How’s this for Faulkner’s current triad: she’s working with BCC’s James Bell-Booth on her business plan and getting ready to go looking for investment; she’s putting together her board (entrepreneur and Innovate judge Sharon Bryant has already signed on and will be joined by a literacy advisor and a software advisor); and she’s continuing to develop the product.
Putting together a board is an important but time-consuming process. “Picking a board is harder than you’d think,” says Faulkner. “You need people who relate to the product and its users and are able to suggest ways to improve the product as well.”
Faulkner is justifiably hesitant when asked about a launch date for Epic Writer. Every time she gives one, the target moves. “I like what we have developed; it’s great. But software [development] is so difficult. It has taken a lot longer than I expected.”
There have been hiccups – like finding out that the software didn’t behave on all types of devices when it was tested, which meant a refinement in the design. Never mind, she says, they are “nearly there” (but don’t ask for a specific date. Yet.).
Once the website is ready, it’ll be tested at three Palmerston North primary schools: St Peter’s, Russell Street and West End. Faulkner expects the testing to last two to three weeks and based on feedback from it, she’ll make adjustments and go out for another round. Nearly there.
Faulkner says working with BCC has allowed her to progress quicker and faster. She’s a sponge for learning and at the moment is working with Bell-Booth to polish her business plan and get Epic Writer to a point of being investment ready.
“Tina is really motivated,” says Bell-Booth. “She is quick to engage in the processes and advice she has been given. It is a big learning curve to go from being a teacher to an entrepreneur, especially a software entrepreneur. We have connected Tina with a network of people with global experience and that is definitely making a difference to the development of her business..”
The Epic Writer website is under development and while we’d love to give you the address and launch date, we can’t do that just yet. We can, however, suggest you follow Epic Writer on Facebook, where there’s a teaser video (www.facebook.com/pages/Epic-Writer/752727621407097) and its blog (www.blog.epic-writer.com).