Another year in Higher Ed is wrapping up, making way for a new year of change and challenges. We snuck in five minutes with Jeff Bischoff, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, to discuss what he currently finds interesting about the higher ed space, strategic opportunities for college stores, and the willingness to break things.
What did you do prior to working at Sidewalk?
I graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in economics before completing an MBA with a certificate in Entrepreneurship from Westminster College. I then went on to work for Goldman Sachs and Pearson Publishing. It was at Pearson Publishing where I realized that the college store had an amazing opportunity to influence and change the world of content in higher education in a very big way.
Describe your current role.
In my current role, I am heavily involved with the market strategy of Sidewalk, which includes identifying problems in the industry, creating solutions, and then bringing those solutions to market. As part of this effort, I oversee the Marketing, Business Development, Customer Success and Sales teams.
Why did you choose this industry?
I believe that education is one of the most important things in the world. But, I also believe that there are so many things wrong with higher education today. The cost of quality content OUTSIDE of higher education is decreasing, while the cost of quality content INSIDE higher education is rapidly increasing. This increase in cost is forcing students to forego important course materials, settle for weakened course performance, and (in some cases) give up on higher education altogether. Content plays a very important role in this industry and we all have an amazing opportunity to fix it -- but time is of the essence.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned while working in this space?
The most interesting thing I have learned is that course materials in higher education are controlled by only a few large publisher corporations (comprised of virtually the same people playing musical chairs between companies). These publishers have big pockets and create a huge barrier to entry for smaller publishers and content creators. College stores have an amazing opportunity to be an objective voice and help the best content get to campus--not just the content with the biggest sales force.
What keeps you up at night?
I firmly believe there is a world where content can be both better AND more affordable. Most solutions right now give up affordability for quality, or give up quality in the name of affordability. I worry that if we don’t democratize content soon, schools and governments will have to step in and we will lose innovation and competition in the higher ed content space forever. We can’t continue to accept and live with the status quo.
If you could make/propose one major industry change in the next six months, what would it be?
That college stores start seeing the important role they play in higher education. College stores should align themselves more with the academic side of the institution, than the auxiliary side (like parking and food services). They can begin to make a big impact in the lives of faculty and students when they do.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for most college stores?
Being willing to take risks and break things. Time and time again, we hear stores express that they aren’t able to take risks or rock the boat on their campus--only to see those same stores get outsourced by companies that claim they CAN do bigger and better things (by rocking the boat) weeks later. Stores can no longer fear new ideas. They need to fear old ones.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity for college stores?
To start focusing on the real customer: faculty. The more you focus on faculty, the more you help students. They are the real decision makers with the ability to increase quality and lower costs, so long as they have the tools and transparency available to do so.
What was your best day at Sidewalk?
I think my best all around day at Sidewalk was Sidewalk Summit 2014. We had a great group of stores in attendance and the energy from the sessions and education was almost palpable. It was also the day that we were able to introduce Sidewalk Hero and the importance it can make for the college store industry.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned/done at Sidewalk?
The most valuable thing I have been able to do is work alongside, and learn from, our founder and CEO Alan Martin. He is one of the most innovative, optimistic, and humble people I have ever met. He is a man on a mission, with unparalleled passion and tenacity for this industry. It’s what continues to draw me to Sidewalk each and every day.
Favorite book or piece of content you’d like to share?
There are two pieces of content that have had a big impact on me:
The first is a favorite quote that I use as a mission statement in my life. I have it posted in my office and try to read it frequently. I think it fits perfectly with our industry at this time: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt
The second piece is Simon Sinek’s excerpt “Start with Why”, from his Ted Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Every company, movement, group and individual needs to know their “why” if they hope to be successful.