This week’s Teacher Entrepreneur Profile is Mitch Weathers of Organized Binder www.organizedbinder.com . I contacted Mitch after finding out about his company online. As we spoke, it soon became obvious that Mitch is passionate about helping students be successful. He developed Organized Binder for use in his own classroom. Once other Teachers saw it, they wanted to use it too. Organized Binder now has a presence in 25 states and a growing International presence.
CS: What is the name of your business and where is it located?
MW: My business is called Organized Binder. We started in San Francisco and just this year moved to Sacramento, CA. The business moved because I moved to Sacramento in order to go part-time in the classroom. I now teach 3 days per week and work on the business 2 days per week.
CS: How long have you been an educator, and what positions have you held?
MW: I have been a Teacher for 15 years. Prior to becoming a Teacher I was the Director of a Non-Profit that worked with struggling and At-Risk Youth.
CS: Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
MW: I didn’t! I created Organized Binder in my classroom to help my students achieve, the business grew out of that effort. As the system first started taking shape I called it Organized Binder and it stuck and that has become the name of the company. Shortly after I began teaching I noticed that many of my students were not well organized and that they were not achieving in the classroom, so I tried to come up with a system that would help solve this problem. The same year I created the system; other teachers noticed a change in the kids that I was working with. The system just simply worked, so other teachers at my school started adopting it. Then I was asked to speak at an education conference and it grew from there. Organized Binder now has a pretty large national presence and we are now starting to build an international presence. It was really cool to see the impact the system had on students at a local level, then on a regional level and now on a national and international level.
CS: Why did you choose your particular industry?
MW: I didn’t so much choose it. I was working in education and the system that I developed to help my students was an educational product. I have chosen to stay in the classroom because it lends some authenticity to my role as a consultant. I have increased credibility with educators because I am one of them. I am a classroom teacher. I love teaching and want to stay in the classroom, but if Organized Binder continues to grow, I may have to leave the classroom at some point.
CS: Tell me a little bit about your business?
MW: Organized Binder creates an active class community in which every student in the room participates. Designed to reduce and/or remove the roadblocks that hinder English Learners and students with special needs, the system reduces friction for all students. With a crystal-clear starting routine the teacher and students engage in a reteach of the previous day’s standards. This Kick-Off serves to give teachers in-the-moment Formative feedback on every student in class while giving students daily practice thinking meta-cognitively.
There are 3 totally developed versions of Organized Binder.
All three Analog versions of Organized Binder are organizational systems that utilize a three-ring binder. Each version includes a series of pages that help teachers be more effective and students more successful.
TEACHER: If you are a teacher in a classroom that uses paper, Organized Binder Classroom is the ideal system for you and your students. Some of the highlights are:
- It provides a clear starting routine that reduces wasted class-time,
- Gives the teacher a chance to re-teach the previous day’s standard to clear up misconceptions
- Allows students to create a tool from which they can study for unit or final exams
In addition, a clear class-ending routine is provided that gives students the chance to think meta-cognitively and articulate to the teacher what they are learning or are confused about. These two features together make authentic bell-to-bell instruction a reality that reduces wasted class-time and off-task behavior. Organized Binder Classroom also has a calendar to teach students time management skills, quarterly academic goal setting, a way to handle all paper in the class while creating standards aligned packets students can use to study from, and much more.
STUDENT: Organized Binder Student is a version of the Organized Binder designed for students in classrooms that may be lacking the structures and routines that help students achieve. This version includes all the features of Organized Binder Classroom and works in conjunction with a “Coach”. Home School networks, mainstreamed Special Education students, and mainstreamed EL students use this version of the system.
HIGHER EDUCATION: Organized Binder Higher Education is a version of Organized Binder designed for students at the college level. This version of the system incorporates and reinforces college readiness skills that help students achieve. Students use this system in any subject area or class size at the university level. Schools that use the Classroom or Student version of Organized Binder often gift their graduates with the Higher Education version to support them as they move on to college.
We are currently working on a digital version for students in a one-to-one environment and a Community College version.
CS: What is the best business advice you have ever been given?
MW: There are two things.
The first piece of advice is that it takes a team. Most teachers are independent and do most things themselves. At great schools there is more collaboration. I have found that I have a propensity to think that I can do it alone. It quickly became clear that such an approach wouldn’t work if I was serious about supporting the educators that adopt and implement Organized Binder. The idea wouldn’t go anywhere significant if I tried to do it all myself. The first step for me was having trainers and trusting them to do the training.
The second piece of advice is more practical. A lawyer told me to avoid setting up a partnership agreement and to retain the ownership of my company. Managing the company would be much simpler if I could retain ownership myself. I have been able to do that so far. You need a team to grow and support the customers but you need to try to keep the legal stuff simple and clean.
CS: What is the greatest challenge of being a Teacher Entrepreneur?
MW: Lack of time. The days that I am not teaching I often get up at 3:30 to start working. The definition I would give to that term is that you are a Teacher first and then you become an Entrepreneur. If you have money or your company is well capitalized and are able to hire others, time may not be as big an issue. If you are a small company and trying to do it while keeping your teaching job, you may end up being in the classroom longer. I think it depends on the person and the kind of company. The first thing for us was to bring on trainers and then profit sharing partners to run the tech and design side of the company.
Another thing that can be challenging for us is that we sell our product to individual teachers, parents, principals, schools and districts. There is a weird dance. How do you put a price on something that adds value to people and makes students more successful? It can be somewhat of a challenge; not all teachers are salespeople. For many years I gave the system away free and then it hit me that I was spending a lot of time and not making any money to grow the company. Once I started charging a small fee, it gave the product more authenticity to some people but what was most important was that charging for the system made individual implementation much better in classrooms. That authenticity made the marketing even better.
CS: What advice would you give to other Teacher Entrepreneurs?
MW: First and foremost, vet your product. If you are a Teacher Entrepreneur and you are selling your product to teachers in the classroom, make sure it works, pilot it, get feedback and data. Make sure it can fit into many different settings. Really consider the idea of it taking a team to get the idea out to the masses. Be open to a larger vision. How can more people improve implementation and/or uptake of your idea or product? I have heard it said that entrepreneurs are sometimes optimistically delusional. You have to stay that way, to stay positive and keep moving forward, even if it seems like your business is never going to expand.
CS: What books or resources would you recommend to other Teacher Entrepreneurs?
MW: Freshbooks Cloud Accounting has been huge for us. I recommend spending the money on a product that can help streamline and support your accounting and invoicing practices.
Depending on what your product is – The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries.
The idea of iteration – get as much feedback as you can from people, continue innovating and revising the product and then repeat the cycle.
CS: What is your vision for your business?
MW: I want to be in every school district in the country. Organized Binder has been a business for about 5 years. I really hit the ground hard with the company in the last 3 years, but keep in mind I have been doing this with a fulltime teaching job. We currently have a presence in at least 25 states. Some of those may be one school and one district or even just one teacher. It ebbs and flows. Things can change so quickly in schools based on budgets, changing leadership and a number of other factors. Organized Binder is a very easy tool to share and we benefit a lot from that. We do a lot of training via webinars to make it quick and easy for teachers and to save travel dollars.
CS: How will you know when you have achieved your vision?
MW: Once we are in every district in the country. Figuring out how to do that so it happens naturally in the growth and progression of the business is the challenge. We want to do it in a way that doesn’t burn anyone out. How do you get there? That is the question. Does it mean massive human-power (aka many employees), lots of technology infrastructure, more trainers? How do we scale in a way that every individual teacher who adopts the system and implements feels just as supported as our first users? Those are some of the questions that we are currently wrestling with.
CS: What would you do differently if you were to start another business?
MW: I wouldn’t have a full time job when I did it. If I did something completely different (a different industry) I could use some of the business knowledge I have gained to grow that business.
CS: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your business?
MW: I am always 100% available to talk. Don’t let the name fool you. What some teachers think when they see Organized Binder is that they use a binder system already or that they are organized. There is so much more to Organized Binder. We address more than paper organization in a classroom. Our product helps teachers and students use classtime more effective and efficiently, it reduces classroom management infractions, models goal setting and the skill of using a calendar (aka time management), and a whole lot more. Reach out to us, we would love to introduce you to the system.
I would also say that I am willing to speak with other Teacher Entrepreneurs about their businesses. If they need someone to bounce ideas off of, they are welcome to contact me
I want to thank Mitch for taking the time to speak with me. He is a very busy guy, balancing his teaching duties, managing a growing company and personal commitments. Please check out his website at www.organizedbinder.com