Skillshare is a startup hawking an interesting product — education. Its marketplace allows curious customers to learn just about any skill from experts in their community.
After competing in the World Series of Poker in 2010, Michael Karnjanaprakorn kept fielding requests from friends to teach them how to play poker. A professional player, Karnjanaprakorn posted a poker class on Eventbrite — and the idea for the startup Skillshare was born.
Launched in April, New York City-based Skillshare is a community marketplace that allows anyone to learn just about anything from local experts.
“We think that the problem with education today is that it’s very restrictive and constraining,” said CEO and co-founder Karnjanaprakorn, citing access and the skyrocketing costs of higher education. “Our vision for Skillshare is to turn every single city into a huge campus. We want to create a community around learning and education that’s very accessible.”
Education is a hot commodity
Education is a hot sector, with companies like the Khan Academy, Udemy and Altius Education working to disrupt the industry and democratize learning. To that end, Skillshare works like a true marketplace. Anyone can teach a class on any subject. It’s as simple as creating a class description, setting the cost and date, and marketing to the community.
Classes range in subjects that include chocolate making, how to raise money for your startup, delivering a TED-worthy speech, branding for entrepreneurs, and the basics of sake. The average cost for a class is $20 and Skillshare charges the instructor 15 percent for every spot sold.
“What meetup.com has proven in the market is that people want to meet around shared interests,” said Karnjanaprakorn, who previously worked for Behance and Hot Potato. They’re also looking for more interaction. “I would argue that TEDTalks are probably the most engaging things you can watch on the Internet, and I can’t get past two minutes,” due to numerous digital distractions.
Everyone can teach
Skillshare is working to empower people and convince them that they can become teachers. Some Skillshare teachers are earning $1,000 to $2,000 a month.
“We all have passions that we can lend to others,” said Amber Rae, who taught the class “Things to Do Before You Die: Putting Your Passions First.” “Skillshare is a platform that allows me to easily reach and help those who need it.”
Rae charged $12 for the course and 15 students attended. In the process, she secured a client for a four-week “life boot camp” program she offers. Similarly, some business owners are finding that as an added benefit, Skillshare is a great marketing tool. One bar owner held a bartending class at his business during off hours, bringing new faces and exposure to the establishment.
But above all, “Our business is here to cultivate teachers and make sure they become great teachers,” Karnjanaprakorn said. “We’re going to do all we can to ensure you trust the teacher and that he or she delivers what they say they are.”
To ensure students get a positive experience, Skillshare supports teachers with free workshops, resources, tips and articles. Taking the lead from e-commerce retailers like Etsy, Skillshare has implemented trust and reputation mechanisms into its online community.
A Skillshare revolution?
Karnjanaprakorn is equally interested in cultivating a robust community of engaged students.
“The cost of the class is so minimal compared to the value,” said Jason Wisdom, who works for a digital ad agency and has taken three classes. “It’s everything you miss from college without all the things you never want to revisit.”
Soon Skillshare, which recently raised $550,000 in funding, will offer classes in San Francisco and New Orleans.
With the greater access to education that Skillshare promises to bring, Karnjanaprakorn hopes to see more entrepreneurs tackle solutions for what he calls the “archaic industries” of government, health care and education.
“When an 18-year-old kid doesn’t think about starting the next Instagram and starts thinking about how he can help change health care and utilize all the tools that he knows how to use,” Karnjanaprakorn said, “I think that’s when it gets really exciting.”