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Skillshare finds its groove by helping freelancers learn

Skillshare finds its groove by helping freelancers learn
[Photo: courtesy of Skillshare]

There is no shortage of online video content available today for free. Yet Skillshare, the New York-based learning platform, has convinced a growing number of freelancers to pay $15 per month, or $99 per year, for access to its library of 20,000 courses.

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Matt Cooper [Photo: courtesy of Skillshare]
“In a freelance world you don’t have the same set of resources and structure around you,” says CEO Matt Cooper. “You can’t walk down the hall and ask the subject matter expert how to do something. That’s a gap that we can fill.”

Targeting one of the fastest-growing segments of the job market has served Skillshare well. Today, the company announced that it has raised $28 million in Series C funding—$20 million in equity, including checks from existing backers Union Square Ventures and Spero Ventures, and $8 million in debt. The funding will support product development, as well as further expansion overseas.

Skillshare didn’t always focus on freelancers. Founded in 2010, when MOOCs and other online learning platforms were on the rise, the startup got initial traction by recruiting prominent members of the startup community, such as Eric Ries and Chris Dixon, to serve as teachers. But while other platforms soon found their niche—edX and Coursera partnering with universities, 2U offering master’s degrees, Pluralsight aiming for corporate audiences—Skillshare began to lose momentum. Its founders talked of “education revolution,” but didn’t appear to have a concrete vision for who should be learning what on the open marketplace that they had built.

[Photo: courtesy of Skillshare]
Then, starting in 2016, Skillshare began zeroing in on independent workers, one of the fastest-growing employment categories. “We think of our core users skewing towards millennials in creative tech and forward-thinking business roles,” Cooper says. “As we’ve dialed that in and understood who our existing user base is and where the world is heading, we’ve built a learning ecosystem around that core user.”

Lifestyle courses, on topics like crafting, now play second-fiddle to courses on UI/UX design, leadership, and marketing.

When Cooper was promoted from COO to CEO last November, Skillshare had 3 million users. Now it has 5 million. Those users value the startup’s quality standards and curation, he says. “There’s good content on YouTube, but it’s incredibly hard to find. The signal-to-noise [ratio] is not what users want.”

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