The Start-Up Rundown
DAILY EXECUTIVE DEAL. “On the heels of its fifth acquisition in the past five months, BuyWithMe today announced that it has hired Charlie Gray as Chief People Officer. Gray will work with the BuyWithMe team to help manage the company’s fast-paced and aggressive growth plans, and to hire, train and retain the best talent in both existing markets and new areas of expansion.” Buy with me, Charlie Gray. That has a nice ring to it.
CASH AND MONEY. “Lot18, the site that provides insider access to the best in wine and artisanal selections, announced an investment from ecommerce pioneers Marc Lore and Vinit Bharara, founders of Quidsi (best known for Diapers.com and Soap.com) – recently acquired by Amazon for $545 million. With more than 400k users and over $1 million in monthly sales, funds help Lot18 continue its momentous growth. Please find full details in the press release below.”
OH HAI. Jux.com, which lets users create full-frame pages, sort of like a Tumblr-meets-About.me-meets-PowerPoint, “like blogging in HD,” just officially launched.
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.
In the same way that Kickstarter connects users with backers for their projects, SkillShare connects experts with students for their classes. The start-up just raised a $3.1 million in a Series A round of venture financing, led by Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital, to extend its offerings. Previously the company raised a $550,000 round of seed funding from Founder Collective and SV Angel, among others.
Betabeat has been reporting on this funding for some time, but was too gun shy to publish without confirmation from the founders. Lesson learned.
On his Tumblr today, former Vimeo co-founder Zach Klein took a break from his summer project building what looks like an off-the-grid cabin in the woods to announce a scholarship opportunity Peter Thiel would be proud of. To promote the value of peer-to-peer education, as opposed to that no good very bad institutionalized kind of book learning, Mr. Klein is offering $1,000 (total, not per person, sorry). Until the funds run out–or August 19th, whichever comes first–anyone who signs up for a class at Skillshare, where Mr. Klein notes he led the seed investment round through Founder’s Collective, can be reimbursed up to $20 worth of the ticket price. All you have to do is email your receipt to email@example.com.
LAME. The evil music labels are considering a lawsuit against Turntable.fm, according to a high-level source on the West Coast, but haven’t decided how to proceed. Meanwhile, Turntable lookalike Rolling.fm is knee deep in lawyers trying to figure out how to keep the service up outside the U.S.
MIXED MESSAGES. A couple weeks ago, Betabeat noticed that Skillshare founder Mike Karnjanaprakorn was out in San Francisco for the launch of Skillshare in that city. Had he picked up some cash while he was out there, we wondered? Skillshare raised $550,000 in January, which was made public in May, so the company certainly could have sustained its five employees on that–especially with MK’s militant lean start-up mindset and the bit of cash it’s getting from the website. So when Mr. Karnj said he hadn’t raised a new round, we said ‘Oh okay.’ But then we kept hearing, over the transom, that Skillshare has raised a fresh round. And they’re trying to fill up their sweet Soho office with a backend developer, community team and founder apprentice. Any insights? Drop us a tip.
The stench of burning gasoline hung in the air at the first-ever Pivot Party inside party promoter Todd P’s Old Firehouse on Lafeyette. It was 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night, and the engine room had been converted—or pivoted—into a event space. A lone couple danced on the floor to a Jackson 5 song. One half of the duo was Bartek Ringwelski, founder of SkillSlate, who wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with his company logo and was throwing this party.
SkillSlate, which raised $1.1 million in seed funding back in October 2010, had burned through more than half its capital before deciding its original idea—to be a user-generated review system, like Yelp, but for freelancers—wasn’t going to work. “It was a really tough discussion to have with our backers, but we just knew it was time to pivot,” said Mr. Ringwelski.
Continuing education start-up Skillshare, founded by former Hot Potato head of product Mike Karnjanaprakorn and veteran CTO Malcolm Ong, has been growing slowly since it first started offering classes in New York City in the spring after raising $550,000 from Founder Collective, SV Angel, Collaborative Fund and angel investors including Meetup’s Scott Heiferman and TechStars’s David Tisch. “When we first launched, we got a lot of feedback like ‘why is this closed, why isn’t this open everywhere?’ But for us it was like we really abide by the lean start-up philosophy,” Mr. Karnjanaprakorn told Betabeat last week.
He and Mr. Ong decided to limit Skillshare, which lets users offer small, paid classes in anything from computer programming to making chocolate, viewing New York as a sandbox for the company to work out any bugs and, you know, see if anyone would want to use it.
Turns out they did. “We have teachers that make a lot of money on the platform, thousands of dollars,” he said, citing one teacher who does a class in Ruby on Rails.
PIVOTS AND PYRES. Pivots are in vogue, and recently-pivoted SkillSlate is taking full advantage of the hype with a self-branded Pivot Party. The start-up began as a directory-like site for local businesses and entrepreneurs to build a personalized profile that could put them in front of new customers; it was also meant to capture people like personal chefs who would post specific offers for customers to browse. Oops, no one used it because small businesses don’t check their email, and SkillSlate had burned through half its cash. Pivot time!
SkillSlate is now more like a Zaarly-esque, real-time classifieds where customers posts requests and service providers respond. Which is how the start-up nabbed a fire dancer for tonight’s fete. Founder Bartek Ringwelski posted an ad on the site: “I’m throwing a party for 100+ people for our startup on Tuesday, June 26th, and I really want to invite someone different for entertainment. I’m looking for someone who is an expert sword swallower, juggler, magician or has some other amazing talent. In total, I’m looking for 10-15 minutes of you doing your talent. Please provide some background on yourself and, if possible, a video of you doing your thing,” he wrote. He passed on the ventriloquist ($120), the ribbon dancer ($250), and the magician who can swallow razor blades and needles but no sword ($200).
But within 48 hours, he had a fire performer: Matthew Pagliaro, who we see is being paid $75 to do two five-minute performances with fire poi, which are flammable balls on chains. Good thing the pivot party is at the DCTV Firehouse, LOL LOL. 7:30 p.m.
TECH NEWS IS BORING. Adrian Chen’s meta-post about tech blogging and how boring it is and how sleepy it makes him to read infamous Apple fanboy MG Siegler’s thoughts about Facebook’s iPad app–“Make it stop! This is the most boring shit ever”–and what it will look like and when it will come out is a hit! Almost 8,000 views in two hours and a pick-up from Techmeme, Dave Winer and Slate’s Farhad Manjoo.
Mr. Siegler responded on Tumblr with a post titled, “Rhymes With Douchebag.”
Funds and Fundability
Craig Shapiro, former president of GOOD magazine and current CEO of the socially-conscious Collaborative Fund, has a place to leave his shoes in New York now. Collaborative is invested in multiple start-ups in the city, including Kickstarter, BankSimple, and SkillShare, and its New York connection is getting stronger–SkillShare founder Mike Karnjanaprakorn recently announced he’d been brought on as a venture adviser. Collaborative is on the verge of hiring its second New York employee, a junior scout sort of position, which Mr. Shapiro says he’ll announce in about two weeks.
There’s some history there, too–Mr. Shapiro learned much of what he knows about start-up investing from Josh Kushner of Thrive Capital. He also invested in New York-based Give Real (alongside early Facebook investor Eduardo Saverin) which attempted peer-to-peer ecommerce on social platforms; it flopped, much to Mr. Shapiro’s dismay.
“I really loved that idea,” he said wistfully over tea at an open-air cafe on Prince St., where Betabeat met with him yesterday morning, where he riffed, at our request, on design, investing and changing the world.
Idealistic New York entrepreneurs take notice: Collaborative Fund, the socially-minded seed stage fund started late last year by Craig Shapiro, former president at GOOD Worldwide, is ramping up its New York presence. Michael Karnjanaprakorn, co-founder of Collaborative Fund-funded Skillshare, just announced he’s officially advising and scouting for the fund in a role similar to what Chris Poole does for Lerer Ventures and Zach Klein does for Founder Collective.