In honor of back to school we’re talking to creatives, VCs, and, in this case, entrepreneurs about what it takes to succeed. Walter Duncan is a really nice guy and dedicated “teacherpreneur” who has created a test-taking app. His start-up has taken in hundreds of thousands in funding and the accolades from teachers are never-ending. We asked him what it took to be a beginning entrepreneur.
TC: Tell me about yourself. What would you call yourself?
Duncan: My name is Walter Duncan, and I am a Teacherpreneur. I have spent 15 years of my life in the classroom, many of those years spent in severely under-resourced schools. My passion is helping to close the achievement gap.
Though as a society we have come a long way with technology, in many ways it is increasing the gap between rich schools and poor schools. For instance, many schools that are fully resourced and fully funded are able to give each of their students a device or a computer. This ensures that student progress can be easily tracked, and teachers can intervene when necessary to improve student outcomes. In contrast, resource poor schools like the ones I taught in, simply don’t have the budget or infrastructure.
My Co-Founder Isaac Van Wesep and I invented Quick Key Mobile out of this context. I needed a way to get data on how my students were performing each day, and use it to ensure that they were mastering each day’s critical concepts. Doing it by hand was a recipe for teacher burnout, so we created an app to solve this problem. Our app, Quick Key Mobile, turns a mobile device into a scanner that allows teachers to grade assessments in paper based classrooms with or without an internet connection. It then gives teachers the student performance data right away. This tool allows a dedicated teacher to improve student performance, irrespective of their school’s infrastructure and budget. I needed this tool, I could not find it in the market, so we created it.
TC: What can a student do to become an entrepreneur today?
WD: There are many great programs that are supporting students in developing entrepreneurial skills. One such program, The Junior Achievement program, has been doing this for quite some time to great effect.
But ultimately it comes down to students working to motivate themselves to realize their out of the box ideas. Teachers help best by creating the space and offering encouragement, but the burden of the tasks must be carried by the students. When I speak with young people in classrooms around the country about this very question, I encourage them to start small. I encourage them to make T-shirts and sell them at their church, or make a lemonade stand. The principles of business are all present in those small ventures, and it is a great way for students to get started and acquire experience.
TC: What’s the hardest thing about building stuff?
WD: Leading multiple teams toward a common goal on a tight deadline is challenging! And then there is the testing, no matter how much you test, you always miss something.
TC: What’s your advice to young people starting out in the industry?
WD: You must be willing to work harder than you ever imagined. Be heartened, you are capable, your capacities expand, the work transforms you. Also, be kind at every opportunity, no one likes a jerk.
TC: What can students do to teach themselves? What tools do they need?
WD: Trial and error are the best teachers. Students must have a growth mindset, be willing to fail and try again. Each new attempt drives them relentlessly towards mastery. In terms of tools, all you need is an iPhone, the world’s knowledge is actually at your fingertips.