Startups to Watch: Skillshare
Forget citizen journalism. Peer-to-peer learning startup Skillshare, which recently earned a $550,000 angel round, is leading the charge towards another paradigm shift: citizen education.
New York City-based company Skillshare seeks to push college off its pedestal: as CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn, formerly of Facebook-acquired Hot Potato, said in a recent interview, "By the time a college starts teaching ‘Mastery in Online Community Management', it will become so outdated and irrelevant. Traditional education will never catch up to the skills needed in the market today."
Enter topic-led education. On Skillshare.com, teachers sign up to host a class on a particular subject (with the option of charging a fee), and those who are interested sign up. The teacher and class then meet at a specified time and place. Initially, Skillshare is focusing on classes covering tech startups, food and drink, and arts and crafts, and is taking deliberate steps to ensure high-quality content. An upcoming class, for example, is going to be taught by Spencer Fry of successful startup Carbonmade on "Tips for Early Stage Companies Looking to Break-Through."
He also notes how rising student debts and higher education's focus on profit have precipitated the need for a new kind of learning system. "Our goal," he claims, "is turn every community, neighborhood, and city in the world into a university by using the power of the web."
This kind of thinking echoes the buzz that surrounded citizen journalism in its infancy: the ability to connect relevant, localized information with an audience seeking more than what the current model provided. This idea arguably comprises the foundation of most significant tech trends seen today: the consumer wants information/goods/services that cater to him/her as an individual, in the quickest and most convenient way possible. Geolocation, bar code scanning, social networking, etc., are all answering this call from the public. Skillshare represents the logical tossing of education's hat in the ring.
Ideology aside, Karnjanaprakorn emphasizes that Skillshare is also solid on the business front: "We take 15% off each ticket purchase. We made revenue on the first day that we launched." He also isn't resting on his angel round laurels, "What you see on the site right now is 1% of what we plan on releasing for the future."
Skillshare's mission to make education relevant to what people actually want and need to know, and to center that mission in the "real" world of person-to-person interaction, dovetails nicely with current trends in internet-based business and mobile technological development. Skillshare's share in that momentum, along with its solid business model and initial funding, make this company a startup to watch.
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