Jennifer Larson

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Jennifer Larson and I am the co-founder and CEO of Hive Digital Minds. Hive Digital Minds was created to help school leaders with their communication and parent engagement strategies. Our core product, SchoolBzz, is a cloud-based platform which simplifies how information is shared with families – eliminating teacher websites, reducing email and replacing messaging apps. SchoolBzz integrates with learning management systems like Schoology and Google Classroom, enabling educators to easily communicate with parents using their existing systems.

What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?

Obsess about the problem, not the solution. It’s the difference between being a customer-focused company and a product-focused company. If you obsess about the problem – you are forced to stay connected with your customers and deliver a solution that best meets their needs.

What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.

Where to begin (there have been so many!)… we under-estimated time and money to get to a solid MVP. The K12 space is unique – you can’t constantly roll out new product updates in the middle of the school year which affect an educators daily workflow. We learned that the hard way. Our iteration cycles were much slower in order for us to get quality feedback because we had to wait until summer for any major product updates.

Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?

In ten years, our goal is to no longer be educating schools on the importance of parent and community engagement, and instead to be focusing on creating partnerships which best support students for the future of work and opportunities within their local communities. In ten years, the disparity in broadband/wireless access and translation services will be moot as all families regardless of geography or cultural background will have access to the tools and information necessary to be actively involved in their child’s education.

What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Why don’t you have XYZ feature like ABC company?”
“Why don’t you make your product free for teachers like all the other edtech companies?”

Don’t do what everyone else does whether that is related to product features, pricing models, marketing strategies or other. Stay connected to your customer and find a way to serve your customer better than anyone else.

In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?

We’ve gotten more focused on our product strategy which has allowed us to say “no” to product features and marketing strategies that don’t meet the needs of our target customer.

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

I read a lot. Most recently I have loved Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship and I use it as a workbook to map out some of our business strategies. I discovered this book at a critical time in our startup as we were transitioning from product development to business development and his simple process for analyzing different strategies was extremely helpful.

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

Figure out what you’re passionate about. You may not know coming out of college, so find a job, volunteer, explore. Over time you will start to rule out the things you don’t like and you’ll start to see a pattern in the things you do like. It takes time – don’t pressure yourself to figure it all out when you’re young. I didn’t figure this out until I was in my 40’s – although I had a lot of fun along the way!

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

I cringe when I see articles about work/life balance. Balance implies a 50/50 split which only leads to frustration if that is what you are trying to achieve. Life has its ebbs and flows – you have to be flexible. Here’s a quote from a book I read in grad school –

“The Total Leadership method is about having a richer life, but it is not about ‘work/life balance.’ An image of two scales in balance is the wrong metaphor. A better metaphor for our quest comes from the jazz quartet: becoming a total leader is analogous to playing richly textured music with the sounds of life’s various instruments. It is not about muting the trumpet so the saxophone can be heard.”
– Stewart Friedman, Total Leadership


Twitter @startupjen