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Interview with Kirk Greiner
This month K-12 Newsletter talks with Kirk Greiner, president and head of U.S. operations, GenevaLogic.
"Where we are today with technology in schools is that it’s not so much about the “box” but how we use it. Technology will never replace teachers – it is there as a tool for them. I hope that’s the way all of us who create technology for schools look at it..."
K-12: You were in document management in the legal field and then vice president of marketing for SmartStuff Software. How did that transition take place?
Greiner: I’ve been in technology for about 20 years. I was intrigued by document management software enough to start my own business as a reseller and eventually we created our own software. Over time I became interested in finding something more rewarding in terms of software that could help society. SmartStuff Software was seeking a product manager for its Foolproof desktop security software for schools. It seemed like a good fit and I was hired, later becoming their vice president of marketing.
K-12: What made you join GenevaLogic in 2002?
Greiner: It was the Vision classroom management software. We had great success selling it at SmartStuff. The developers in Switzerland wanted to come to the U.S. and have a local presence vs. selling through a partner. When Riverdeep closed the SmartStuff offices, I saw an opportunity. I had access to a built-in employee base that knew the education market and the Vision product. I felt that if the GenevaLogic investors could fund us, I could organize the team and we could start a U.S. office. As it turned out, they agreed.
K-12: GenevaLogic says its goal is “to manage, control and optimize the use of technology to support teaching and learning.” What does that mean, practically speaking?
Greiner: We offer Vision, our flagship product, as classroom management software which is used typically in a computer lab or media center. It’s not really designed for a classroom with two or three computers in the back. The program is installed on all student computers as well as the teacher’s computer and enables the teacher to share his or her work with the students, ensuring that they can see clearly what is being demonstrated. Other functions built into the application allow the teacher to manage and control the way students use computers during the class sessions.
K-12: GenevaLogic cites usage in 50,000 classrooms worldwide. How many are U.S.?
Greiner: About half. The product was initially sold in Europe, but today, about 75 percent of our sales are in the U.S.
K-12: What percentage of sales are from K-12?
Greiner: Approximately 75 percent. About half of that is sales to high schools. In the U.S., we focus almost exclusively on education, but we do sell to business markets.
K-12: Is Vision sold to individual teachers or is the sale made at the district level?
Greiner: Sometimes it will start out with the teacher, who tends to become our advocate. Teachers can, in fact, purchase Vision just for an individual classroom or lab. They will often have the budget for a class of 30 computers and will buy a license ($35 per student computer, with the teacher computer a no-charge item.) If they want it in more classrooms, a site license makes more sense, particularly for three or more classrooms (around $3,000). Most of our sales are to high schools and junior high schools. We also sell to elementary schools, but not as much.
K-12: What’s the strategic importance of your new launch, Print-Limit?
Greiner: We’re trying to expand our product base with tools to manage technology—either during the teaching process or to ensure that the school environment is consistent and viable. Print-Limit aims to help schools control the costs associated with printing. It enables them to monitor and report on printer usage by students and faculty. They can also assign quotas related to printer usage.
K-12: Do you get blank looks when you talk about the cost of printing to educators? Are they even aware of that right now?
Greiner: They are aware of it and understand the significant cost of printing. Our difficulty is in trying to find out who the owner of that cost is. Sometimes it’s the principal, the technology coordinator, the information technology administrator, the person who heads up the media center. It’s really all over the board.
K-12: Is this the kind of application that was more for business and is being repurposed for the school market?
Greiner: It’s the opposite. It was designed from the beginning for the school market. The idea goes back to our SmartStuff days. We have been talking about doing a print-management product for five or six years now.
K-12: After Vision, what’s next in terms of sales activity?
Greiner: Our next most popular product is called Protect-On, a disk protection product that allows students or teachers to make changes to a computer and then restore it back to its original state with a simple reboot. We expect to release our second version of Protect-On this summer which will add new features and allow it to work more closely with Vision in the classroom. We also have a number of plug-ins for Vision, such as Surf-Lock and App-Control that we track separately.
K-12: In terms of competition, do you contend with the whiteboard players with Pointer?
Greiner: We don’t. Pointer was created to complement Vision. In fact we previously embedded it in Vision, although it is a standalone product. It’s a great product that we simply need to build more awareness around. With Vision6, we sell it as an add-on and have had more success getting positive feedback from users. We don’t compete with the whiteboard manufacturers; we sell Pointer as a superior annotation tool.
K-12: Where does GenevaLogic go from here?
Greiner: A lot of the products we’ve just talked about were released within the last year or two and we have a couple more coming out by this summer. We’re not trying to add many more new products. Our focus is going to be on improving our existing products. We want to bring Vision to the point where it is intuitive and easy enough to use to appeal to a broad slice of the teacher population. Classroom management in general, whether it is our product or our competitors’, is used by less than 10 percent of all teachers. My big focus in the next year or two is to make Vision simpler and more intuitive and then develop professional development materials for the product so we can educate teachers on how to integrate it into instruction.
K-12: Do you provide training when you introduce Vision and its modules?
Greiner: We do provide training in a couple of ways. There is a starter guide that goes out with the product and most of our users find that to be enough for them. We offer web-based training where a school can have its teachers attend an hour session over the web. For districts, we offer on-site training as an option. Ultimately I’d like to develop online professional development materials that teachers could use on our site for independent computer-based training 24/7.
K-12: What’s the breakdown of sales through distributors vs. direct sales to schools?
Greiner: In Switzerland and North America, we have both a direct sales team and a network of resellers. Currently, about 75 percent of our business is direct and 25 percent is through resellers. We have implemented a big initiative to increase the business through resellers. Altogether, we have more than 100 resellers.
K-12: What is the competitive picture? Are you the biggest player or are there many?
Greiner: I would love to say we’re the market leader, but we’re not quite there yet. In the classroom management market, there are three other major competitors, and we are probably all at about the same level. No one has really emerged as the leader because nobody has quite figured out how to develop an easy-to-use and intuitive product to manage computer use in the classroom. That is our goal. Our focus is almost exclusively on education and classroom management. That’s not the case with our competitors. Our goal is to emerge as that leader in the next 12 to 24 months.
K-12: How big can this enterprise get beyond the 25,000 classrooms you already have?
Greiner: We’re waiting for the schools to catch up by making some kind of computing device available to every student. When that happens, this type of software will be in every classroom.
K-12: When will this happen?
Greiner: I don’t think in the next five to 10 years. The price of the acquisition and management of computers has to come down, and there needs to be a lot more content available on computers. Most of the core curriculum in schools is not necessarily taught on computers. Teachers also need to feel a lot more comfortable about teaching with technology. Nearly all teachers use technology in schools but for administrative and not necessarily instructional purposes. If computers are a part of teaching 10 percent of the curriculum, the school is doing well.
K-12: What factors will determine what will happen in the near future for your market?
Greiner: For us, it comes down to the proliferation of computers in schools. As more computers go into the classrooms, there will be more of a need for our type of management software. Also, the technology must become simpler to use and more reliable.
K-12: From a business standpoint, are you receptive to the entry of the many newer and younger teachers joining the teacher core?
Greiner: Certainly. The newer teachers coming in are going to be much more comfortable using computers. The key will be using computers to teach the core curriculum, not just for administrative purposes.
K-12: Is there anything you want to add?
Greiner: Where we are today with technology in schools is that it’s not so much about the “box” but how we use it. Technology will never replace teachers – it is there as a tool for them. I hope that’s the way all of us who create technology for schools look at it.