TalkingPoints: Technology Connecting Teachers and Families

By Gloria Chie Lee, Debra Schifrin
2019 | Case No. SM323 | Length 23 pgs.
Talking Points is a U.S. not-for-profit 501c3 organization that provides a multilingual platform to help teachers communicate with families. The idea was first created in 2014 at a Startup Weekend as a translation-embedded SMS tool, inspired by the evidence of a strong connection between parental engagement and student outcomes. By 2019 the organization was reaching 500,000 families, exclusively via word of mouth. They had plenty of internally-collected data and anecdotes about their positive effects on students, families and teachers. MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab was assisting them to conduct a randomized control trial (RCT, the “gold standard” in measuring efficacy) in the 20-21 school year. The product, which uses a combination of AI and human translation, had grown to include versions for schools and districts. The company was earning subscription revenue and strong customer retention. They also faced competition from several venture-backed for-profit start-ups. At the time of the case, the organization has just received a sizable grant from, which would enable it to transition from a small start-up to a more established entity.

Learning Objective

This case is suitable for courses on social entrepreneurship and is designed to help students think about the challenges of and opportunities for maximizing efficacy, financial health and scale in social impact organizations. Specifically, by discussing this case, students will:
  • evaluate common trade-offs and tensions between financial sustainability, efficacy and scale; and
  • consider the conditions and strategic choices that can support organizations maximize financial sustainability, efficacy and scale.
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