With Skillshare, everyone can be a teacher

The rising people-to-people economy has turned individuals into bed and breakfast owners, art patrons and car rental providers. And now if Skillshare has its way, it will turn every person into teachers and students.

The New York City-based startup launched its service in April, offering a platform for users to offer real-world classes of any kind to interested students. The service, which rolled out in New York first, is now poised to branch out to San Francisco and Philadelphia starting Aug. 15 and is looking to expand to Boston and Los Angeles later this year. It’s already built a strong community of users, who are leveraging Skillshare in much the same way Airbnb has transformed short term room rentals, Kickstarter has evolved project fundraising and Getaround is changing car sharing.

So far, Skillshare has helped organize about 500 classes in New York with 2,500 students and many more users who have browsed the site. People pay on average of $15 to $25 per class, 15 percent of which goes to Skillshare. Some classes can generate more than a $1,000 at a time. The company doesn’t review the classes but highlights the most interesting ones on its site. They can be about anything from cocktail mixing and documentary film making to start-up fundraising and buying your first home.

Skillshare, which has already raised $550,000 in a seed round from Founder Collective, SV Angel and other angels, is talking to investors about another round. We’ve heard that Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures are close to funding Skillshare’s Series A round with an announcement coming as early as next week. Silicon Alley Insider also reported Friday that Skillshare is finishing up its Series A funding with “some excellent investors at a healthy valuation.”

(Check out a video interview with Skillshare CEO and co-founder Michael Karnjanaprakorn. Apologies for the dark video)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BttzlfY-DE]

Fixing the education system

Michael Karnjanaprakorn, CEO and co-founder of Skillshare, declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans. He said he came by the idea after being inspired by shows like the Wire, which delved into the shortcomings of the educational system, and his stint volunteering at a charter school in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. His own uneven education experience at the University of Virginia (not so beneficial) and Virginia Commonwealth University (much better fit) also helped shape his views on the limits of the education system.

He said it all came together after a successful run through the World Series of Poker last year, when he was besieged by friends hitting him up for a poker lessons. He decided to hold a class and began organizing it on Eventbrite but the thought hit him: why isn’t there an easier way to offer classes to people?

He and friend Malcolm Ong took the idea and some advice from Kickstarter founder Perry Chen and built Skillshare, which Karnjanaprokorn said is centered on the idea that everyone has something valuable to teach.

“Our vision is we want to covert every city into a campus, every address into a classroom and every single inhabitant into a teacher and student,” he said.

Layering community over a marketplace

Karnjanaprakorn, who previously led the product team at Hot Potato before it was bought by Facebook, said people are increasingly open to sharing and transacting directly with each other, something that was popularized by eBay and Craigslist but has been transformed by the layering of community on top of a marketplace. He said that is helping nudge people away from hyper consumption to hyper sharing and in the process, giving rise to companies like Skillshare, Airbnb and Kickstarter.

Building a community has been the focus of Skillshare in the early days. By creating a strong culture early and supporting teachers and students, it can help produce a healthy environment conducive to growth, said Karnjanaprakorn.

Managing trust in a P2p community

A big concern for any P2P economy company is the threat of bad users, something that has been highlighted in the case of Airbnb and its struggles with a couple of rogue renters. Karnjanaprakorn agrees that trust is paramount for companies like Skillshare. He said classes are not allowed to be one-on-one. And Skillshare is in the process of building out more features like teacher reviews, badges and achievements as well as a recommendation engine that will help users find the best classes. So far, no teacher has been banned from the site though some refunds have been made, often because users attend a class that doesn’t fit their skill level.

While offline classes are the start, Karnjanaprakorn says he can see a bigger future for Skillshare. He said if Skillshare continues to gain momentum, he envisions users sharing their Skillshare profiles as part of their resume, something Stack Exchange is doing. And eventually, he said the company could offer online classes or even physical schools if all goes well.

“If we can build a community of teachers and students, the sky is the limit after that,” he said. “This could be really big.”