CQ: The Cultural Quotient and Getting Global
In May 2016, Amasia led the Series B in Skillshare, an online learning platform with a unique model: it was (and is) a truly open marketplace, allowing anyone to teach and anyone to learn. We doubled down in the Series C earlier in 2018. It is our privilege to be in business with Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, who led both the Series A and the Series C.
Today, just 2.5 years after our Series B investment, 46% of Skillshare’s subscribers are outside the US, compared with 21% a year ago. Every non-US country or region but one is growing at triple digit rates year over year, with India growing the fastest.
Amasia’s angle as an investor is pithily expressed: “we help our companies get global”. But often our “getting global” assistance is intangible. It involves being a voice at the table that highlights the global opportunity; and it often involves making connections that may not lead immediately to revenue, but increase the cultural quotient of the company.
I view increasing the CQ of a company as the most crucial element of getting global. We can (and do) always make revenue-generating introductions, as we have a broad network, but that is nowhere near as effective or sustainable as having a management team that truly “gets it”.
Every company has its own rhythm and DNA, and the time to really go after a global opportunity may not be immediate. We are happy to wait for facts to emerge, for teams to expand, and for customers to show up.
It was clear to us at the time of our investment that the global opportunity for Skillshare, given its price point and the business model, was just immense. But the company wasn’t ready. The game changer occurred when the company’s founder, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, recruited a senior executive, Matt Cooper, who, because of his prior experiences and personality, truly “got it”.
Michael and Matt, both high CQ people, worked closely together to expand the executive team, bringing in a number of executive leaders as heads of marketing, operations and product. This senior team brings very high CQ in its own right, and has embraced the idea that Skillshare is a truly global company that happens to be headquartered in New York City. The results are there to see (and in my view this is just the beginning).
Succeeding on the global stage is a complicated endeavor — in terms of technology, people, marketing and much else. Skillshare has made huge strides along all these dimensions — but the most important one is the increase in CQ, which is foundational yet impossible to boil down to slides or KPIs. As with much else in life and business, it is about having the right people in the right positions.
P.S.: A minor Amasia blurb, more of a clarification: while we’re waiting for the global opportunity, we do all the other things you’d expect a good VC to do. If you were to speak with our CEOs, you’d hear that our focus on getting global is just one element of how we add value. It is the headline element, and it differentiates us — but the real differentiation is in the fact that as VCs we bring capabilities both locally and globally. But “we help you get global” is an easier handle than, for example, “we help you get global, yes, but we also do A, B and C; and we also help do this other thing over here, oh and…”.