Skillshare and Getting Global

skillshare-logo.jpg

We led the Skillshare Series B in May 2016, and “doubled down” in the company’s Series C in May 2018. Amasia’s portfolio construction approach involves making highly concentrated bets and we evaluated several online learning companies at the time.

Here are the four elements that put Skillshare at the top of the list for us:

  • A vertical focus on creatives — people looking to develop creative skills, either as a passion or as a profession. This focus was diffuse when we invested, and has sharpened over time. It has allowed Skillshare to build a better product and user experience rather than trying to be all things to all people. And we love the creative vertical — it is big and growing.

  • A completely open marketplace — we concluded this is the best way for rapid responses to the changing needs of creative learners given evolving technologies and fashions.

  • A subscription model with a low price point — the key for us was that Skillshare was built ground up around this business model. It is extremely difficult, akin to changing engines on a jet mid-flight, to switch business models after the fact.

  • An inherently global business — Amasia focuses on businesses where our global experience makes a material difference. We felt that the focus on creatives, the open nature of the marketplace, and the price point all added up to a business that was inherently global in numerous ways.

Things have unfolded more or less as we expected (if only I could say that for all my investments over the years…) thanks to a great team. Here I want to unpack the international side of the business a bit, as that is the Amasia “angle” on companies.

***

Skillshare’s geographic footprint has expanded dramatically during the period of our involvement. The company has grown revenues close to 10x while being highly capital efficient, and now has 8 million users in almost every country in the world. 50% of new users are outside the United States — but what I find even more interesting is that 60% of all teachers are outside the US.

What is bringing these teachers to the Skillshare platform? Several teachers were wonderfully kind and forthcoming in speaking with me and my colleague Alina. Let me thank them first: Maja Ronnback (Sweden), Chris Dodd (Australia), MJ Truong (Hong Kong), Martina Flor (Argentina/Germany), Aga Naplocha (Poland), Trupti Karjinni (India), and Rich Armstrong (Amsterdam).

***

These awesome teachers told me that they love the fact that Skillshare empowers both students and teachers (and many teachers were students on Skillshare first); that the site is really well curated so that you can get to what you want quickly, and that projects and interactivity foster a growing sense of community.

But three more central messages came across loud and clear that I believe make the platform especially interesting for teachers who want to go after a global audience:

  • Unconstrained by borders: I heard from teachers that “the size of my audience is not constrained by geographic boundaries” and that it is “hugely beneficial to bypass geographical borders”. Skillshare’s teachers manage to attract creative enthusiasts from all over the globe. There is no other platform that gives them this access to motivated students.

  • Simplicity of teaching on the platform: Multiple teachers speak very highly of the simplicity of the platform for teachers, the high availability of the Skillshare team to help, and the avoidance of feature creep which makes it easy to do a course. Teachers just want to teach; students just want to learn. Technology’s role should be to facilitate and get out of the way, and that is what Skillshare does.

  • Value of the “membership”: I periodically agonize as to whether Skillshare subscribers view the platform the way the Skillshare team (and I) do — as membership in a unique club, with access not just to courses, but to teachers, other students, resources, and benefits. That is why I loved this comment from one teacher as it is also an insight into his dedication to his students: “Folks will get value even if they hate my course as Skillshare is a membership — they can just move on to the next course for the same fee”. Yes!

***

I hate using the jargon of our business, as VCs and technology teams have a remarkable ability to take simple concepts and make these sound like opaque brain surgery (“network effects”! “flywheels”! “network markets business” (or is that a market networks business?)! etc. etc. etc.). What I learned from our teachers is something very simple — the deep structure of the Skillshare business lends itself to “getting global” for everyone involved.