35 UNDER 35

Skillshare: Redesigning Education for the Masses

This startup built an alternative education system that's poised to have a major impact on the learning landscape.
After growing up in a household that placed a premium on education, Michael Karnjanaprakorn is still taking that idea to heart--just not in the way you'd think.

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If Skillshare's mission is to turn the global education system on its head, it might seem strange that the company's CEO and co-founder, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, has both an undergraduate and graduate degree. But that's not the way he sees it.

Karnjanaprakorn, 31, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in economics and a master's degree from VCU Brandcenter, Virginia Commonwealth University’s branding and advertising-focused graduate program. Though he ultimately found both degrees helpful, he also noted the flaws.

Spanning his time at the two schools, Karnjanaprakorn saw a variety of teaching styles and experienced the difference--as he puts it--between education and learning. He favored the collaborative, project-based, and creative environment at VCU to his undergraduate classes at UVA.

That realization stuck with him, and, in 2011, it inspired Karnjanaprakorn to launch Skillshare with co-founder Malcolm Ong. (He has since left the company.) Their idea? Create an envirnoment in which anyone can teach and anyone can learn. Education should be both affordable and accessible to everyone, and it should be based on the premise that doers make great teachers, says Karnjanaprakorn.  

"It is about unlocking human potential so that anyone can find their next path in life, their passion, their next career," Karnjanaprakorn says.

Today, with just shy of $11 million in funding, Skillshare offers hundreds of classes from heavy-hitting experts--including social-media savant Gary Vaynerchuk and marketing guru Seth Godin--in a variety of fields, from website design to pie baking. In March, the 30-person Skillshare team launched a subscription-based model--similar to that of Spotify and Netflix--that allows students to take any classes on the platform for $9.95 per month. Formerly, Skillshare class prices ranged from $19 to $35, and the amount of money pocketed by teachers varied depending on class content and caliber.  

Much like the courses Karnjanaprakorn took at VCU, Skillshare classes are based on real-world experiences and collaboration. Additionally, the online platform allows flexibility for both teachers and students--a selling point Skillshare teacher Meg Lewis drives home.

"I think that it is really important that someone [who] is teaching you on a subject is actually working in that field and really utilizing their skills in that subject," says Lewis, a Brooklyn-based professional graphic designer, who teaches design and Photoshop classes through Skillshare. "I went through a traditional schooling system like most people, and I didn't really get that much out of it that is applicable to today. The Skillshare curriculum will always be changing, so frequently that students will have the most up-to-date information."

So far, more than 180,000 students have taken online classes at Skillshare in 188 countries. The most popular Skillshare classes have more than 10,000 students each. The site's revenue has grown more than 150 percent year over year and is expected to double this year. 

With its goals continuing to focus on innovation, the platform hopes to reach hundreds of thousands of new students and add more high-profile teachers to its repertoire. 

As far as Karnjanaprakorn is concerned, Skillshare's trajectory is solid. "The way we approach everything is: If you had to redesign education from the ground up--what would that look like?" he says. "Our greatest challenge will be a challenge that we had Day One and will have in Year 100--constant innovation."

Get to Know Skillshare

IMAGE: Jeff Minton
Last updated: Jun 24, 2014

ABIGAIL TRACY

Abigail Tracy is a staff reporter for Inc. magazine. Previously, she worked for Seattle Metropolitan magazine and Chicago magazine.




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