Founders: Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Malcolm Ong
Year Founded: 2011
Location: New York, NY
Michael Karnjanaprakorn and Malcolm Ong, the founders of Skillshare, have a ridiculously ambitious mission: they’re hoping to democratize education. “We want to allow people to create their own learning paths,” Ong says. “We believe that everyone can teach and should teach.”
You can probably debate that with plenty of examples from your own K-12 experience. But the tens of thousands of students who have taken Skillshare’s classes are convincing evidence that the partners have discovered a solid business model.
Karnjanaprakorn had led the product team at Hot Potato, which was acquired by Facebook, and Ong was the product manager at OMGPOP. They met through a mutual friend and discovered that they had similar ideas about the kind of company they’d like to start. “We felt that the pinnacle of education in our society today is getting into college instead of real learning,” Ong says.
Skillshare is essentially an online marketplace for offline, in-person learning. Anyone can offer classes in just about anything. You can, for example, sign up for a two-hour crash course in branding, PR and social media, learn how to crochet an alpaca rug, how to design a website or write music for the violin.
“We don’t have a lot of professional teachers,” Ong says. “Most are first time teachers. A lot of them tend to be up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the tech space, or maybe there are folks that want to make a name for themselves and want to build a brand, such as an up and coming chef or musician.” Teachers can offer classes for free or charge anywhere from $25 for a short workshop, to several hundred dollars for multi-week classes. Skillshare takes a 15 percent transaction fee. Since the company does partner with venues, it’s up to the teachers to secure space for their classes.
Ong says Skillshare has also begun partnering with large companies. For instance, this summer Ogilvy & Mather will work with Skillshare to offer a series of classes taught by its top talent at the company’s New York offices. The company also partners with General Electric as the platform that powers GE Garages, which allows students to experiment with high-tech to education ols such as laser cutters, welders and 3D printers. And an alliance with Pencils of Promise allows Skillshare teachers to donate their class fees directly to the charity.
With $3.1 million in Series A funding from Union Square Ventures, Ong says the next step is to scale and expand the company geographically. Skillshare, which has a team of 14 people, now offers classes primarily in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Local community development managers will help the company expand to other markets.
“We don’t really see ourselves as a platform,” Ong says. “We see ourselves as a community–an alternate route to learning.”
Photo credit: Skillshare