Editor's note: From the typewriter to the propelling pencil to our favorite, the world wide web, inventors and innovators from the United Kingdom have brought us brilliant advances that have changed the way we work all around the world. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’ll promote entrepreneurship in the UK through a handful of stories from early-stage disrupters and trailblazers who are using Google Apps for Work to overcome the challenges of starting a new company and inspiring others to start businesses. Today, we hear from Ben Pugh, founder of FarmDrop, the UK's first "click-to-harvest" online farmer's market.

Technology has the potential to bring consumers and producers together to make food tastier, more convenient and more sustainable. In 2012, I left my career in finance to test this potential and started talking with farmers, fishermen and consumers about how to improve the food supply chain. The following March, after months of researching and experimenting, we launched the FarmDrop pilot. More than 8,000 customers and 400 independent, local producers across the UK have signed up since and thousands of pounds of local food is being bought and sold through the platform each week.

For us, building a high-growth company has been about getting consumers and food producers excited about our online farmer’s market vision and assembling a team of talented people who believe in it even more. From scratch, Google Apps helped us tackle three of our biggest challenges head-on:

1. Establishing instant credibility without costly business tools
We started FarmDrop with no funding, but using Google Apps for Work right from the start helped shorten the otherwise difficult financial barrier to entry. Inexpensive email and collaboration tools equipped the team for work within a matter of hours, avoiding the complexity of software licenses, pricing structures and IT administration. A seemingly small thing like having an email addresses made our day-old company feel like a real business. Apps helps us present ourselves professionally, which boosted morale and built trust among partners and customers from the outset.

2. Creating transparency throughout the company from day one
Joining a startup is a risk but it’s also great adventure and it’s important that everyone in the company feels like they are part of the adventure. For that to happen, everyone needs to know what’s going on in the business. It sounds simple and easy but with so much going on all the time it isn’t. Google Drive allows us to share business strategy documents, goals and performance metrics, as well as product roadmaps, even as they evolve. We’ve created a detailed timeline in Google Sheets that tracks all of our activities leading up to a major launch, so anyone can check team progress in real time. With granular sharing controls, I can grant view-only access to protect crucial data while still providing team members with access to information.

3. Enabling team members to work flexibly from anywhere
Flexibility is an important benefit of startup culture, but we don’t want it to interrupt work. On any given day, we’ll have a handful of people in the office, another handful working from home, and the rest on a farm, meeting fishermen and bakers or meeting people from new pick-up points. Apps connects us no matter where we are or what device we’re using. The development team uses Google Hangouts for their daily meeting, and can easily share their screens or move the camera to a whiteboard to share information with team members who are working remotely.

With our growth accelerating, we need to retain our sense of mission whilst the team expands. That means working together in total collaboration and being connected as a team which Google Apps enables. Our love of authentic, sustainable food and the people who make it will continue to drive us forwards to a world of better food and a healthier planet.


(Cross-posted on the Google for Education Blog)

Editor's note: Continuing our EdTech leadership series, today’s guest author is Ryan Bretag, Chief Innovation Officer at Glenbrook High School District 225, in Illinois. Since age six Ryan has “thought big” about education, questioning why we do what we do and how we can do better. After spending 15 years in schools, his current role focuses on innovation, whole-child education and technology initiatives. Ryan is also completing his doctoral work on spaces people inhabit for learning. To learn more check out the full interview with Ryan or view these recorded sessions on innovation at work from Atmosphere Live.

It’s probably shocking to hear this, especially now that I’m an educator, but when I was a student I really disliked school. I had a hard time because there was not a lot of freedom — there were so many constraints. But one day something memorable happened. My teacher asked us to write a story about a place of interest in the United States. I drew an underwater school of the future. My teacher gave me a zero and said I had not addressed the assignment, but she also gave me 100 points of extra credit for creativity. It was the first time that I was really rewarded for being creative. That teacher lit a fire in me.

When I became a teacher, I realized that technology was one of the best levers I had to give power to students. During my second year teaching, my director of technology came to me and said, ‘There’s this thing that people talk about where every kid has a computer — what do you think you could do with that?’ I responded, ‘Oh, I hate technology; I couldn’t do that.’ She said, ‘Just think about it.’ I spent a weekend thinking and came back to school Monday with about 50 pages of sketches and diagrams of things that I could do and shared with students to get their ideas. Next thing I knew, my class was one-to-one with a device for every student. I was hooked. Technology fundamentally changed everything about how I taught and more importantly how students learn — it created student choice and empowerment. It opened doors that I had never even seen before.

Now as the Chief Innovation Officer at Glenbrook I am trying to help the whole district improve learning for students by supporting learners, teachers and students alike, with technology and innovation. In my role I focus constantly on creating two things in our district: more ownership and agility. We want teachers and students to have more ownership to bring their own creativity and passion to their work. And we want them all to have more agility — to be able to move quickly with new ideas.

One thing we did to create more ownership and agility for our teachers was to audit of all our common practices. We asked ourselves, ‘do these practices create more ownership and agility or less?’ We then scaled practices that did and adjusted those that did not. This was one of the reasons we switched to Google Apps for Education. We saw that our old email and writing system didn’t provide enough ownership to students and teachers, but Google Apps did.

After a few years, I am happy to report that we’re seeing teachers take ownership of the IT tools. For example, when Classroom was introduced to Google Apps for Education, I simply sent an email announcing this to 500 faculty members. I included a few links to get started — that was it. A few weeks later, we had more than 200 people already using it. Five years ago, if I had sent that email people would have asked for training first, or been more apprehensive of a new tool.

We’ve also put curriculum in place to support autonomy and agility for students. One of the things that we’ve borrowed from Google is the notion of 20% time. It fascinated me that employees could spend 20% of their time learning whatever they wanted. We now do this across our schools. We run a program called Spartans Connect. It’s a one-day conference during which students run workshops about their passions. For example 250 kids attended one student’s workshop on Harry Potter — they dressed up and played Quidditch while also exploring the thematic components from mythology and religion. The student leader had hundreds of kids in the room, and she had them sitting on the edge of their seats.
At Spartans Connect, students got hands-on experience with the human body
My advice to other educators trying to create more ownership among teachers and students is to question what you are doing, the “why”, and encourage people to experiment with new ways to solve problems. When your teachers are empowered, they empower their students too. I think successful schools “embrace the crazy.” Be OK with some ideas being a little bit out there and be comfortable with some failure along the way.


Editor's note: From the typewriter to the propelling pencil to our favorite, the world wide web, inventors and innovators from the United Kingdom have brought us brilliant advances that have changed the way we work all around the world. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’ll promote entrepreneurship in the UK through a handful of stories from early-stage disrupters and trailblazers who are using Google Apps for Work to overcome the challenges of starting a new company and inspiring others to start businesses. Today, we hear from Lisa Rodwell, CEO of Wool and the Gang, a handcrafted knitwear brand bringing fashion from factories into the home.

The rise of “maker culture” has revived craftsmanship in the last few years, but our co-founders Aurelie and Jade were ahead of the trend. They started Wool and the Gang back in 2008 to modernize knitting, and began selling DIY “knit kits” through retailers. In 2013, Aurelie and Jade raised funding and hired a team of seven to embark on a new journey: building an online fashion brand powered by the maker movement.

I joined in February of that year, when we moved into our first offices and began selling handmade products knit by our ‘Gangstas,’ the name we've endearingly given our employees. Three months later, we started using Google Apps to work better as a team and communicate with our network of 2,000 makers around the world. As a small and fast-growing company, we had the opportunity to move quickly by testing lots of ideas and focusing on the winners. Thanks to the momentum of the maker movement and the accessibility of powerful, easy-to-use technology, we’ve been able build a successful business in spite of three daunting obstacles:

1. Managing a global network of makers through real-time collaboration
More than 2,000 knitters have applied to be part of our gang, ranging from novices to experts, everywhere from London to Lima. We work with 200 of these “Gang Makers” at any given time, and thanks to Google Apps, communicating and collaborating with them is a breeze. Our Gang Maker manager uses shared Google Sheets to track the progress of all 200 knitters in real time; each one is updated constantly and instantly by knitters, providing greater transparency into our supply chain and enabling us to respond better and faster to market demand. It’s more cost-efficient and far less laborious than building a custom backend solution or emailing version after version of Excel spreadsheets as attachments.

2. Coordinating complex development of a physical product
We launch new products every week and ship them around the world, which poses a significant challenge as a company of 25 people. We coordinate product development more effectively by using Google Drive as a project collaboration platform. Our knit developers, who create the patterns for our knit kits, use Drive as a repository for all pattern-related files. They create pattern templates in Google Docs and share them with tech editors for approval. Then, the knit devs adapt the patterns to InDesign files, which they can upload to Drive and share with designers to finalize. Warehouse staff print the pattern files directly from Drive, then assemble them in a knit kit. Sharing our content easily allows us to reduce the complexity of product development and get our products out the door.

3. Prioritising the most important activities
As a small company, we have seemingly infinite challenges to tackle with limited resources. Google Apps help us make the most of our time and our technology investment. We can test something new, like an at-home knitting party, using tools we already have, like Drive for sharing and Gmail for communications. And because Apps for Work is easy to use, we don’t have to spend time on extra training. We can spend our energy on improving our products.

Wool and the Gang is all about creating, teaching, sharing experiences, and having fun while doing it. Our technology gets out of the way so we don't have to think about the barriers of growing our business. We can focus on pushing our knitting movement forward.


(Cross-posted on the Google for Education Blog)

Editor's note: Continuing our EdTech leadership series, today’s guest author is Adam Seldow, Executive Director of Technology for Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia. In June we shared that Chesterfield purchased 32,000 Chromebooks for distribution to middle and high school students over the course of two years. Today, Adam explains how Chromebooks have impacted Chesterfield, and gives advice to other schools planning technology roll-outs of any size..

In the last few weeks, we’ve distributed approximately 14,000 Chromebooks to our middle school students in record time. This has been a welcome change — in the past with other tools the IT department had many hurdles. With Chromebooks, deployment has been easy. The simplicity of the devices combined with a lot of planning helped us enjoy a smooth (and painless) deployment. Below are our top six tips for districts preparing for their own Chromebook roll-outs:

1. Be transparent and communicate often 

Communicate often—more than you think you should. We communicate via our Anytime, Anywhere Learning website, which includes a section where people can submit questions. We post the answer to many of the questions we get on the site. Having a public website has two benefits. One, it informs the community when they have questions, and two, it unifies our message and provides the school administrators with a clear way to communicate about technology.

2. Check off prerequisites to make sure you’re ready to start

Before you get close to deploying devices, make sure the technology prerequisites are in place. For example, we tested and reconfigured our wireless network a number of times. We tested the Chromebook configuration and our settings in the Google Admin console a number of times. We gave Chromebooks out to a few kids to take home last year to test the home content filtering. We tested and tested and tested again. We had huge support in this preparation from our vendor, Dell, and their sub-contractor TIG (Technology Information Group), who had logistics like this down to a science.

3. Empower the schools in the planning 

In order to be successful when deploying Chromebooks, we involved the district's schools in planning. We met individually with each Principal and discussed everything from which room we’d use for Chromebook distributions to how they could enhance existing curriculum to benefit from the new technology. These meetings helped the schools realize that we weren’t going to take a one-size-fits-all approach for each school. The Tech Department alone should not run device distribution.

4. Make professional development fun and engaging 

We did three things that made our teacher training event a success:

(1) we made it fun; (2) we put the teachers in the students’ shoes; and (3) we made the full training optional. We asked for volunteers from the middle schools to join us for a two day training over the summer called “Camp Chromebook.” We didn’t know what to expect for sign-ups, because we weren’t offering to pay teachers to attend. On the day registration opened, all 300 spots filled up within a few minutes. At “Camp”, the teachers became the students: they went through a dry run of our onboarding process and visited different classes to learn different topics. Camp also helped us load-test our wireless network since we had 30-40 Chromebooks in each room. It was an unbelievable success, not to mention a really fun way to help faculty get to learn hands-on about the devices. When these teachers returned to school, they shared their knowledge with others who didn’t attend.

CIO by day, channeling "Camp Chromebook Director" Adam Seldow for training

"Campers" (teachers and administrators) at Camp Chromebook hard at work during training
5. Streamline the distribution of devices 

We aimed to get each school’s Chromebooks distributed in two days. To do this we:
  • Worked with schools over the summer and the early weeks of schools to send and collect all the necessary paperwork (e.g. parent permission forms, acceptable use policies, fees). 
  • Created a card with a scannable barcode for each student to show they had paperwork completed. 
  • Distributed devices to students during their English classes (since that is the only subject that every student has every year) and gave them cards with barcodes and their student ID number.
  • Brought students to the gym or media center by class. We’d scan the card and then have the student walk to stations to pick up their Chromebook, their charger, and their device case. We already had everything unboxed and ready to go. 
  •  Returned students to their English class immediately for an onboarding session

6. Have students and teachers learn about Chromebooks together 

After receiving their devices, students returned to their English classrooms for a 15 minute onboarding session led by one of our designated technology coaches. We had a technician on hand for any immediate support (e.g. spot changes for passwords). The session walked them through set-up: from logging in to taking selfies (what is it with people and selfies!?) and navigating the home screen. We also had each student activate the content filter, a critical step to keep them secure on the web.

After receiving their Chromebook, students returned to class for a 15 minute training session
Chromebooks have met their promise of easy set-up and management. I am happy to report that we exceeded our goal of getting all devices to each school in two days per school. When we roll out devices to other grades next year, I think we can get it down to one day per school. But we’ll keep “Camp” as two days — that was too much fun and too useful to shorten.


Starting a business requires passion, dedication, and a clear vision—and powerful tools that help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. In September, we shared the results of a new Deloitte report that showed that companies using an above-average number of cloud services grow 26% faster and drive 21% more profit than those that use no cloud tools.

Now we’ve teamed up with international research agency GfK to study cloud adoption among new SMBs—those established up to three years ago—in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Like their peers on the other side of the globe, these businesses are using the cloud as a tool for growth. Here are a few of the key insights we uncovered:

Most new SMBs are cloud users. 77% of companies that participated in the study have adopted cloud services. Cloud technology tends to be easy to set up and manage, so new business owners can let their IT run itself and instead focus their time on the work that matters .

New SMBs that take advantage of the cloud envision a brighter future. 70% of companies that use cloud services expect revenue to increase over the next 12 months, compared to 48% of businesses that don’t. Like the Deloitte study, these results point to a correlation between cloud adoption and fast growth.

Cloud services can help new SMBs build their brand. 72% of companies that adopted a custom email, like, saw an increase in engagement and 74% saw an uplift in sales. Small businesses rely on the use of cloud services to get up and running quickly, and professional email addresses for domains are a common first step.

Getting a new business off the ground is always challenging, and building momentum in the early years can be even harder. Our latest research suggests that cloud services can help young companies build further engagement with customers, drive sales and set the business up for growth.


(Cross-posted on the Google for Education blog.)

Editor's note: The New York City Department of Education Division of Instructional and Informational Technology recently approved Google Apps for Education as a supported tool for their schools. For the first post in our EdTech leadership series we interviewed the Chief Information Officer, Hal Friedlander. We’re inspired by his approach to understand schools’ needs, so asked him to share more about his team’s work and their decision to authorize Google Apps for Education & Chromebooks..

Part of what makes New York City unique is its diversity. Each of the five boroughs has a rich mix of people and cultures, which is reflected across the more than 1 million students at over 1,800 schools. While some see this variety and scale as a challenge in offering technology for schools, I see it as a benefit. In NYC, we have more schools innovating, more schools piloting technology and more schools leading the charge in finding the right tools for teachers and students.

At their core, schools are learning organizations. Teachers learn something new then help their kids learn it; they’re professional learners. And they know what they need much better than I do as an administrator. The Division of Instructional and Informational Technology (DIIT) team at the Department of Education listens to what educators want, understands what drives these asks, and then translates their needs into technology requirements and an IT strategy that helps students learn.

We take the same approach here in NYC as I did in my years working in the private sector — we use the customer engagement model. We treat schools as customers and engage them as advocates of the technology. The educators who live in the community and teach students every day have the best ideas about what they need in technology, not a guy like me who works at the 30,000-foot view. The job of my team is to support technology choices that will help the schools.

Over the last year, we saw more and more schools using Google Apps for Education. After evaluating it centrally we decided to add Google Apps to our list of approved and supported tools for NYC schools this year. A number of factors drove this decision. First, a number of schools were already using Google Apps for Education. Second, since Google Apps doesn’t require special technical skills, schools were able to customize the tools to meet their specific needs. This included everything from fostering parent engagement, to managing classrooms, to creating and sharing online curricula. Administrators told us they liked Google Apps because they could be as open or restrictive as they wanted in terms of how much communication they allowed beyond the school domain.

From a central office perspective, we authorized Google Apps because it integrates easily with our existing systems and we find it very easy to manage. This means tasks like setting up student sign-on for identity management are straightforward, and we don’t have to spend a lot of resources to manage domains. The tools are intuitive, so we haven’t had to offer much training. We created a NYC DoE Google Apps for Education Resource Center to help people get off and running.

We take the same approach to evaluating devices as we do to evaluating other tools. We saw that many schools wanted to use Chromebooks, and in our assessments, found them to be an affordable, manageable option for learning. So we worked with the OEMs to ensure Chromebooks met all our specifications, and added them to our list of approved school devices. We want the schools to have choices — whether it is a laptop or a tablet or both — across price range and functionality.

People say that things can’t move quickly in the public sector, but I don’t believe that. If you’re committed to listening to the schools, finding out what they need and setting goals against getting it done, you’ll make things happen.


Editor's note: From the typewriter to the propelling pencil to our favorite, the world wide web, inventors and innovators from the United Kingdom have brought us brilliant advances that have changed the way we work all around the world. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’ll promote entrepreneurship in the UK through a handful of stories from early-stage disrupters and trailblazers who are using Google Apps for Work to overcome the challenges of starting a new company and inspiring others to start businesses. Today we hear from Alex Klein, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Kano, a London-based startup building DIY computer kits that are inspiring a new generation of coders.

At Kano, we're creating a new type of computer that anyone, anywhere, can build and code themselves — we've designed it for all ages, all over the world. It's part of our vision to democratize computing, to give the majority world a way to take control, make, and play with technology -- instead of just consuming it. We started off in November 2012, when my little cousin Micah challenged us to create a computer he could make himself, "as simple and fun as Lego." Just under a year later, our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign exceeded its goal of £59,000 in 18 hours and went on to raise £900,000. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak pledged for a kit.

To tackle the major challenges we knew we would face on our journey to a new, physical, worldwide product — shipping to 87 countries — we needed to deploy tools that would allow us to work in the best possible way. We also needed technology to help us overcome barriers we would face in getting Kano to market. Here are a few ways Google Apps for Work helped us overcome our challenges.

1. Developing an idea into a company, from anywhere in the world
The idea for Kano started in a Google Doc, quite literally, right at the very beginning of our journey. I was in the UK and my other co-founder, Yonatan, was in Israel so we wrote the story of our business in Docs, commenting back and forth frequently. Then, we would get on Hangouts to discuss the ideas. This went on all night, and by the next day we had a beautiful launch plan. Google Apps helped us overcome geographic barriers from the outset, enabling us to work from anywhere and reach early collaborators and advisors from the UK, US and Israel. All our collective ideas melded together in one living, breathing document, taking Kano from concept to company.

2. Selecting a collaboration platform to supercharge our product development
We’re fast, agile workers who thrive on getting creative ideas suggested, digested and tested as fast as possible. In order to keep up with the fast pace of product development, we needed a collaboration platform that could store all our thinking, content and planning. When we looked at Google Drive for our storage needs and weighed it against other options, like Dropbox and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, we concluded the latter environments were too static. We needed the fluidity that Google offers with an interconnected family of Apps. Google Drive plays a key role in storing, sharing and syncing our ideas and planning. Given the pace at which we work, we can’t be held back by working in silos. Drive enables us to work in a new way by enabling our spontaneity, giving us freedom to improvise against many brainwaves at once.

3. Connecting with customers simply and effectively
We weren’t initially sure how much mass appeal Kano would have. Today we’ve delivered our first 20,000 units to over 80 countries. Suddenly, we have thousands of customers with valuable insights that can help us grow. I found a great way of getting insights from them on how to improve Kano was through Google Forms, which we used to assemble our first customer insights survey. We reached 13,000 customers and got over 1000 responses in 12 hours. The form only took 45 minutes to assemble. We learnt that if we compiled a resource of ten easy projects and put them front and center in our online community, we’d have Kano kids engaging for longer. At our next board meeting, we impressed investors with the customer love Kano received, as well as the granularity of the feedback we were soliciting. It’s key to our culture that we have the freedom to reach our customers instantly. Their feedback allows us to iterate Kano faster, and keep our ears to the product pulse.

4. Bringing the tools we use as consumers to work
We’re a small team of 20-somethings with eclectic backgrounds. Google Apps speak to our generation’s business needs. We expect the same technology at work as we do in our personal lives. I’m 24 years old and, like my co-workers, wouldn’t expect anything other than Google at work. The regular stream of Google Apps product updates make us confident we can continue stay nimble and work better together. What really matters is the way all these services integrate harmoniously, with simple setup, and allow us, the entrepreneurs, to focus on our main mission — delighting our customers. With busy travel schedules we stay connected with Hangouts and the Gmail app on our mobile devices. We collaborate and store all of our business files in Drive and ensure we stay in sync with deadlines by using shared Calendars.

We like to think of computers as open boxes, filled with possibility — once you dive in and learn how to change the rules, you unlock new powers, and new ways to play. Our goal is to help you find a way into this exciting world. What we’ve done with Kano is a starting point. We’re extraordinarily excited to see it reshaped and re-imagined in the hands of thousands around the world.