EdTech is more than just technology in the classroom. In practice it is a partnership of two different cultures, tech and education. This partnership is not always perfect, most teachers have felt blamed by the administration or companies for not implementing the tech in “the right way, and many EdTech companies have felt like the easy target in the room when asked why the tech doesn’t work as promised. Like with so many problems in our society, some of this could be fixed by getting everyone to speak the same language.
Silicon Valley speaks the language of growth. “Move fast and break things” or “hire fast, fire faster” in order to achieve growth at all costs. That can have some unforeseen effects on institutions.
Education speaks the language of morality. The philosophy is about doing the right things right, and for the right reasons. This tends to make it a little more difficult to disrupt, but also quite resilient. In many ways schools were unchanged since the 1920’s, at least until the pandemic, and in some ways that has left them outmoded.
In the middle of these two worldviews, there is Eli Maloley.
Maloley runs a company named Vivacity Tech which is a Chromebook reseller and quite a bit more.
In the beginning, Maloley had no plans to sell computers. He moved to California in 2007 to go to Ministry School, but shifted gears when his wife became pregnant and needed a steady income. He started knocking on doors and found a hot tech startup called NComputing who had a low cost computer solution and an opening in their sales department.
Then in 2011, after gaining some experience, he co-founded his first company, Firefly Computing. They were a chromebook reseller who focused on the education market. In 2014 many school districts began to push for each student to have a computing device, something often called 1 to 1. Maloley thinks of 1 to 1 as an “epic shift in K-12”.
Maloley was at Firefly for six years, but a growing sense of unease caused him to leave in 2017. He wanted to give more back to the community and to recenter his priorities on doing things right. When asked if he felt he had failed with Firefly he said, “Honestly, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about failure in some capacity. I hold myself to a very high standard, so I am rethinking what I could have done better or different? “
After a year of planning and deliberation he founded Vivacity Tech. He made it a Public Benefit Corporation, he gave his staff paid volunteer time, and he worked to make sure he was doing the right thing.
Vivacity Tech is a Chromebook reseller focused on education, like his previous company, but it has stretched out into areas beyond that. It expands both because Vivacity is a tech company, and deeply concerned with growth, and because it gives the company more areas where it can be of service. It provides software, warranties, service contracts, locking and charging carts, and asset management software. And two more extremely interesting things.
First an online portal where you can buy parts for a huge number of different Chromebooks allowing districts or individuals the ability to purchase parts and receive manufacturer instructions on how to repair their own chromebooks and not have to replace them with newer models, something that is especially interesting given the “Right to Repair” laws which have been rolling out in some areas.
Second, a Student Repair Academy, an online course that teaches students the skills to repair Chromebooks and keep them under warranty. This is Vivacity’s first foray into course creation, curriculum, and education.
Because of the variety of things that Vivacity does, there isn’t an apples to apples competitor and most of the other computer resellers are much larger.
“We design everything and outsource the manufacturing. We can control the cost and more importantly we can control the quality, but the big guys can’t really do that.” Their bigger competitors also don’t get as involved with their customers. “If they provide much service it is very expensive.”
But in spite of that, Maloley is still aware that there could be a competitor who grows into their space and dominates it.
“I get concerned about our longevity and if you’re not aggressively trying to grow in tech, then you’re probably dying. ”
He is also very concerned about hiring the right people for the right reasons. “Implicit biases is such a tough topic but it is something that we are trying to address, we are hiring people and bringing in DEI consultants too. We just opened a hiring position for a DEI specialist full time, I’m hoping that speaks to our goals“.
Maloley wants to grow. Though he was never a classroom teacher, he has the sense of right and wrong that is often found in them. Education calls people to be of service and to have goals beyond money, especially because, in general there isn’t that much of it. Maloley walked away from financial success and aligned his new business with his values. And whether it is in spite of, or because of, this value centeredness, Vivacity Tech has boomed.
Boomed so much that 100% of its growth since it was initially founded has been organic.
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