Students Connect Outside the Classroom in Piazza’s Online Forums

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take maternity leave. Sankar endorsed Mayer’s decision in a New York Times interview, pointing out that a startup can be as needy as a child and that no mother would stop feeding an older child just because she has a newborn.

“I’m totally outside of the ‘mommy wars’ discussion, so I’ve just tired to give some advice and observations as I’ve seen things,” Sankar says. In fact, she just published a blog post entitled 7 Management Secrets of the Postpartum CEO. Among the secrets: “Free help is the best help” (Sankar and her husband have four grandparents on hand to assist with diaper-changing) and “Focus on the most important thing.” That’s nursing, in Arjun’s case, and keeping the company focused, in Piazza’s.

Eventually, that focus will have to include revenue. Piazza is entirely free at the moment. Sankar thinks that if the bottom-up marketing strategy keeps working, universities will eventually see how many of faculty members and students are using it, and will want to pay Piazza for access to centralized administrative controls and analytics data.

And the more students sign up to use Piazza, the more attractive its community might become for corporate recruiters, who could advertise through the site and perhaps pay for the privilege of contacting most active and talented students.

“We don’t ever expose information that they aren’t willing to expose, but I’m sure there are many users out there who would want to show off all they’ve done,” Sankar says. “We recruit our own teams from Piazza, and there could be many other ways that third parties could benefit from the deep level of engagement we’re witnessing on Piazza.”

Up to now, thinking too hard about revenue would have “derailed us from building a great product,” Sankar says. “I didn’t want to go down any of these routes too soon, before we had created an engaging experience. But now that we have created a compelling product, there might be interesting ways to experiment.”

Just as many others in the education business are doing. Maybe it’s time for edu-tech innovators to stop being less general and comforting, and more specific and revolutionary.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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