Balefire Labs, LLC

Class: 2013 Winter Accelerator

Company Description

Are you a parent or educator who has been frustrated by the process of finding high quality, effective, educational apps for your children or students to use on the iPad or tablet device? We are. The app stores have user reviews, but they are so subjective and not very helpful. But what if there was a service that provided app reviews that were standardized, with objective review criteria....where you could easily compare and contrast apps by subject or grade level? A site that is run by learning scientists, educational researchers and teachers who know about principles of great instructional design and usability design? And what if you could go there and in less than five minutes find the best available apps for teaching your kids? That's the vision of Balefire Labs. We want to help parents, educators and, ultimately, kids to find and use the best educational apps on the market. With more than 115,000 ed apps in the iTunes and Google Play stores, figuring out what's good and what's not is nearly impossible. And as the number of iPads, Android tablets, Kindle devices and iPod Touches that kids use increases, the time's not far off when just about every parent and teacher will have the same problem. Let us help. We'll point you to the best apps, saving you time and helping you feel good about the time your kids spend using devices.


Holy Cow, what a week it's been.  I haven't been firing on this many cylinders since I was working on my dissertation.  Yikes.

This week kicked off on Tuesday with a great meeting with our lead mentor, Trish Fleming.  We're preparing for the mid-session pitch, which will be on Thursday, January 17, so I met with Trish, went though an outline of our pitch and strategized.  She had a ton of great feedback (particularly about the most important points to hit in a 3-minute pitch!) and this weekend I'll be working on the pitch script.  Thanks, Trish!

Wednesday I attended my first Mass Innovation Night. It's always a little strange going to an event like this by yourself when you don't know anyone there. But the anonymity was kind of nice. I got several new ideas, met a couple of new people, and now have a goal to present at Mass Inno Night at some point.  It's good to have goals and I'll definitely be attending next month's event where the theme will be food!

Thursday was back to the Accelerator for an evening focused on Social Impact, with Nathan Rothstein from Project Repat. It was fun hearing Nathan's story and one of my main takeaways is that one idea when you launch is to do a Groupon (or similar) immediately. It gives an idea of the interest in your product and it gives an early infusion of cash. We're thinking about it!

A super exciting piece of news for us today is that it looks like we are about to form a strategic collaboration with a major university and a large (>60,000 students) school district.  The school district and some graduate students will validate and test our app review offering, giving us lots of good user feedback about how to improve or change it, and the a faculty member from the University and his students will conduct some experiments trying to nail down some of the features that are the best predictors of student success with apps.  This is huge for us, bringing us a whole new level of credibility with customers and allowing us to get great input from teachers.  The fact that a major American University and a large school district agree that what we are doing is very important and want to be involved is a fantastic confirmation for us that we are on the right track with our service!

So now it's on to the weekend....what does this weekend have in store?  Finishing cost & revenue projections (thank goodness for our mentor, Henry Noel, for giving me an awesome template to use!), finishing our pitch script, videotaping some moms and kids for promo videos, reviewing some apps, and meeting with a potential new reviewer.  Who said the weekend's not for working?? 

P.S. Had a note from Kevin Willett, host of the Friends of Kevin Radio Show, and my radio interview has now been listened to 213 times on his site!!  Woo Hoo!!

Today I had the pleasure of appearing on the Friends of Kevin Radio Show on WSMN in Nashua, New Hampshire, to discuss what we're working on at Balefire Labs and here in the Accelerator as well.  Kevin Willett, the host of the show, has a networking group that brings together the business, non-profit and artistic communities. Kevin himself is an entrepreneur and philanthropist in the southern New Hampshire area.

Being on the show today was a total blast!  The interview was about 15 minutes long and it was my first opportunity to talk about Balefire to the media.  More, please!

If you'd like to take a listen to my interview, follow this link....and hope you enjoy it!


A few more quick updates for today:

We now have an online landing page for folks to sign up to be notified when our service launches:

We also are now on Facebook: We'd love for you to like us there!

And finally, please follow us as we are now on twitter: 

Of course, now we have to maintain these....EEK!

One of the most important questions for any product is "Who is the customer?"  We think that our product offering will be appealing to a wide swath of parents, educators and developers.  But we need to decided on which segment we think is the best to focus on as we get started, not only to select our product features, but also for marketing purposes.  

We've been doing a bunch of market research and here's some of what we've learned from the most recently available data:

  • Tablet sales in 2011 were up 252% from 2010 
  • 270M educational apps were downloaded in 2011, a more than tenfold increase from 2009
  • Estimates are that over 1.2B apps were downloaded in the week of Dec 25-31, 2012, alone, globally; the US accounts for about half of those downloads
  • The overall non-hardware education technology market for 2012 in the US was valued at $7.76B, an increase from 2011's valuation of $7.5B
  • There are now more than 150,000 educational apps between the iTunes and Google Play stores
  • The mobile education industry could be worth $70B by 2020; North America is expected to maintain its position as the largest market;  almost 90% of the opportunity will be in software, content and platform


So we know that the mobile education industry is exploding at a heretofore unseen rate.  What about the customers?

If we target parents as our first customer segment, here are some supporting data:

  • As of October, 2011, 52 percent of all children 8 and younger had access to mobile devices at home like a smartphone, video iPod, iPad or other tablet
  • Fourteen percent of lower-income parents have downloaded apps for their children to use, compared to 47 percent of higher income parents.
  • On 2012 holiday wish lists, approximately half the children (aged 6-12) surveyed expressed interest in the full-sized iPad (up from 44% last year), and 36 percent in the new iPad Mini. The iPod Touch and iPhone are also coveted devices among these young consumers (36% and 33%, respectively).  Among consumers aged 13 and older, tablets and full-sized computers were the top electronics choices, with roughly one in five indicating they want to acquire the iPad (vs. 24% last year), any other tablet, or a computer.  Reinforcing the notion that the tablet market is one to watch, non-Apple devices—led by Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Samsung Galaxy offerings—proved nearly as desirable as the iPad among teens and adults, while e-readers showed a slight decline in interest from 2011.
  • The rate of iOS and Android device adoption has surpassed that of any consumer technology in history.  Compared to recent technologies, smart device adoption is being adopted 10X faster than that of the 80s PC revolution, 2X faster than that of 90s Internet Boom and 3X faster than that of recent social network adoption.
  • NPD’s latest report estimates that there are 31.8 M tablet devices in US homes (Jan 3, 2013)
  • One in three children in households making more than $75K annually owns a mobile device; one in 10 children in households making less than $30K annually owns a mobile device.
  • Two percent of low- income children have an iPad or tablet in the home, versus 17 percent of higher income children.


If we target educators as our first customer segment, here are some supporting data:

  • Research firm IDC says global shipments of tablets will reach 177 million in 2012, and 11 million of them were purchased by businesses or government agencies rather than consumers. Of those, IDC analyst Tom Mainelli says, the “vast majority” were sold to schools.  Mainelli thinks that within a few years all U.S. students will have some access to a tablet at school. With 55 million students in the country’s elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, that’s a lot of potential sales.
  • In Apple’s quarterly report released in July (2012), the company said it sold 17 million iPads, a million of them to schools.
  • The top two initiatives reported by district technology leaders are mobility (1:1 and BYOD) and wireless/network infrastructure (2011-12 CDE Digital School Districts Survey)


Overall, we believe that the educator segment will be very big, but is not yet at the tipping point.  The parent segment, however, appears to be ripe, as ownership and use of mobile devices for education purposes grows.  So our first decision is that we will focus on the parent market, targeting higher income parents (households making >$75K annually).

Our next decision is around what age students we will focus on and whether or not we will segment according to app topics.  Stay tuned....

Some of you may have noticed that we have had a name change.  We're pretty excited about it and wanted to share with you all why we made the change.

Our original name, Disrupt Learning, was a name that I came up with over a year ago to name my blog (  At that time, "disrupt" was one of the big buzzwords in technology and everyone was disrupting something.  I called my blog Disrupt Learning because I wanted to upset the current status quo in our approach to learning.  And if you read my blog, you'll see that's what it's all to improve upon our approaches to instruction so that we can improve student learning outcomes.

When we started the Accelerator program we knew we were going to change the company name...we just didn't yet know what the new name would be.  We'd had mixed reactions to Disrupt Learning.  Some people loved that we included "disrupt," but these tended to be people more hooked in to the tech sector.  Other people were just confused by the name....why would we want to disrupt learning??  It was clear that people brought their own histories and experiences to the table with that name.

In coming up with our new name we talked a lot about our brand identity.  We knew that we wanted to convey credibility, reliability and expertise.  We also thought of ourselves as somewhat of a beacon or signal, lighting the way for educators and parents to find their way to the best educational apps on the market.  And on top of that, we wanted a name that was simple, memorable and wasn't likely be familiar to our customers.  In other words, a name that allowed us to define for them what it meant.

This idea of being a beacon really resonated with us.  So we worked our way through the thesaurus, looking for something that struck the right tone.  And we found Balefire.  None of us knew what a balefire was.  We figure most of our customers won't, either.  But we liked it.  And we added "Labs" to it to convey our scientific approach to what we're doing.  So here is a short (draft version) of the story of the balefire.  We think we can do a lot with this, especially in branding.  We want to share light throughout the education community.  Hope you like it!