Skillshare Founder, Champion of Lean Start-Up Mantra, On Why He Needed That $3 Million

Skillshare CEO Mike Karnjanaprakorn with Skillshare friend, investor and office mate Zach Klein.

New York-based peer-to-peer education start-up Skillshare, whose co-founder and CEO Mike Karnjanaprakorn recently typed up an article on how to launch a start-up for just $5,000, raised just enough money for its product team and a little wiggle room back in January. But this week the start-up announced two major feature releases and a $3.1 million funding raise from Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. “We’re at the point where we’re not asking, ‘will this work,'” Mr. Karnjanaprakorn said. “But, ‘how can we grow this.'”

When the Skillshare team realized they had a winning formula–a platform where anyone with a skill to share can propose to teach a class which then becomes available when a minimum number of students sign up–and when they noticed competitors starting to move in, they decided it was time to staff up and start grabbing land. Zach Klein, a longtime adviser and current officemate, “basically led our round” the first time, Mr. Karnjanaprakorn said, but the CEO stuck with investors he knew: Union Square Ventures’s Albert Wenger and Spark Capital’s Mo Koyfman, which is how Skillshare was able to close its round fairly quickly.

“We didn’t choose investors in a couple days,” Mr. Karnjanaprakorn said. “This is a relationship we’ve developed over years. We knew all of them and when Mo gave us a call and wanted Spark to get involved, he mentioned on the phone that he’s been waiting to make this call for years. For us it was a very easy decision.”

Skillshare decides which cities to move into according to popular vote; Boston is “on deck” next, he said. Skillshare plans to use the new funds to hire developers and community ambassadors so it can launch in more cities and for marketing to get the word out. Mr. Karnjanaprakorn isn’t sure what kind of marketing he wants to do, but Mr. Klein’s open offer of $1,000 in $20 Skillshare scholarships was a huge hit and although it wasn’t an official Skillshare promotion, he’d like to do more like it, he said.

Skillshare is also considering partnerships that could bring more students in, maybe powering classes at places like General Assembly, for example. “No partnerships yet but it’s definitely in the pipeline,” he said. “It’s on my to-do list. I’ve been thinking a lot about accreditations … but I don’t think you’ll see it this year.”

The main thing is focusing on building the product and building the community, he said. To that end, Skillshare launched two features to make the site more social: a review system for teachers and a social graph so users can follow each other and see what classes their friends are in, which will also power Skillshare’s yet-to-be-released recommendation engine. “We want people to start creating their own learning circles,” he said. “The idea is you get to start going to classes with your friends.”

Partnerships, video classes, accreditation, even setting up physical schools–these are all on Skillshare’s roadmap, which is maybe a five-year plan, Mr. Karnjanaprakorn said. “I’m also a firm believer in keeping our team really focused,” he said. “I’ve seen people fall into the trap of getting excited by new shiny ideas. The idea we have right now is a very good one and it’s really exciting … I just want to keep our team really focused on building that. This is going to take a few years to get right.

“Like the guys at Foursquare said in the early days, we’re building the business that builds our business,” he said. “Is the best way to phrase it.”

Skillshare Founder, Champion of Lean Start-Up Mantra, On Why He Needed That $3 Million