by mikekarnj on August 1, 2011
“Creativity is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” – Thomas Edison
In the corporate world, there’s a standard ladder to climb to get to the top. In the world of entrepreneurship, there is a similar ladder to climb. Entrepreneurs should start with small ideas and learn how to execute those ideas. Learn how to gain traction, learn from your mistakes, and learn how to make something out of nothing. And eventually the ideas you pursue get bigger and bigger.
I’m a firm believer in execution and follow the Thomas Edison quote pretty closely. The secret behind launching your startup idea is to always move the ball forward on your ideas through execution. Every journey for an entrepreneur is completely different but I’d like to share the process that eventually led to the launch of Skillshare.
1. Exploration & Execution. This is a time for the entrepreneur to creatively explore his/her personal interests, ideas (small or big), and consume as much of the world as possible. For me, this involved traveling around the world, reading as many articles/books as possible, meeting as many interesting people I could fit into a day, and executing ideas.
I also knew that I wasn’t ready to be an entrepreneur so I gained startup experience by working at Behance and Hot Potato. On the side, I launched a ton of small ideas including The Feast Conference, By/Association, World Series of Good, TBD, and Lovely Day. By executing all these smaller ideas, the filter for what I wanted to work on got higher and higher.
The idea for Skillshare didn’t happen overnight. It took 5+ years of climbing the ladder of ideas and immersing myself in a lot of different experiences. There is no rush in understanding yourself and your passions. Keep in mind that most entrepreneurs get stuck in this stage because they never execute anything. The more you execute, the more your learn about yourself and your passions. Your goal at this stage is to find a problem you are truly passionate about solving.
2. Brainstorming & Validation. While I was exploring, I wrote down a list of startup ideas, which quickly became a list of over 100+. From there, I narrowed it down to a few ideas and flushed them out extensively. I brainstormed ideas, sketched wireframes, and did everything else I could to understand the opportunity with Malcolm Ong (Skillshare Co-Founder).
We fell in love with one idea around democratizing education and turning cities into huge campuses, which eventually became Skillshare. Rather than spending nights and weekends flushing out the idea even more, we let the idea sit and marinate for a pretty long time. I personally spent a lot of time validating the idea as I didn’t want to fall in love with it too easily. In other words, I did all the research I could to convince myself this was worth my time, which is the true goal at this stage.
3. Feedback & Commitment. Once I convinced myself this was an idea I’d like to pursue, I asked a dozen really smart people I knew what they thought about the idea with a small twist. Rather than asking them if they liked it, I asked them why the idea wouldn’t work, why it would fail, and why I shouldn’t work on it. Malcolm did the same thing and we eventually had a list of 20-30 huge holes in our idea.
We hit the drawing board again and came up with solutions to plug all the holes. We went back out to a dozen different people and asked the same questions. We repeated this until almost every hole was plugged in our startup idea. We eventually had rebuttals for rebuttals and felt very confident that we should commit to working on this for the next 5+ years of our lives.
Your goal at this stage is to “go all in” on your idea and put your stake in the ground. This was the hardest part of the process for me but once you put your chips in the middle, it’s the best feeling in the world. Remember that you’re running a marathon, not a 5K.
4. MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Malcolm and I agreed that we wouldn’t write one line of backend code unless we knew this was something that people wanted. We did this by setting two really simple milestones: a) 1,000+ email addresses for our alpha page and b) selling out all of our initial classes ( 3 per month for 3 months). We didn’t want to spend too much money on the idea so we set an overall budget of $5K.
I bought the URL and hired Ed Nacional to design the brand identity around Skillshare. From there, we put up the “alpha” version of Skillshare, which took less than a day as it was HTML/CSS. We used Campaign Monitor to capture email addresses and Eventbrite to power all of the ticket purchases. I taught the first Skillshare class around poker, which you can still view on Eventbrite. We needed some marketing juice so I wrote a controversial article on “Why College is Overrated” for GOOD Magazine and we put up a Kickstarter project around the same topic.
We ended up getting over 5K+ email addresses from folks that signed up to be notified about Skillshare. All of the initial classes sold out (huge validation) and our Kickstarter project got fully funded. If you follow the lean startup methodology, you’ll know that most startups don’t fail because of the technology, they fail because they are solving a problem that no one cares about. Our goal at this stage was to see if anyone on this planet wanted Skillshare to exist. We passed that initial test, kept hitting our next milestones, closed a seed round led by Founder Collective, and launched a full beta site in early April.
This was a very long process for me. It didn’t happen overnight. If Biology 101 is the weed-out classes for doctors in college, launching your startup idea weeds out the majority of new and aspiring entrepreneurs. I failed over and over, but as long as you make the best decisions and take calculated risks, you can successfully launch your idea and make the world a better place!
by mikekarnj on May 23, 2011
I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined Collaborative Fund as a Venture Advisor. Collaborative supports creative entrepreneurs who want to change the world and make it a better place. In other words, they look to invest in for-profit/for-good startups with a focus on Collaborative Consumption. Some of their portfolio companies include Kickstarter, Taskrabbit, BankSimple, and Skillshare.
I’ll still be spending the majority of my time building and growing Skillshare but will be working alongside Jessica Jackley (Kiva/Profounder) as an Advisor with my primary focus on New York City. My time will be split between advising portfolio companies on product and investing in my peers & colleagues that are creating amazing things to make the world a better place.
I’m excited to work with Craig Shapiro (former President of GOOD) who is someone that I admire greatly, and to formally work with Rachel Botsman who has been a personal mentor for years. And even more excited to support and grow other companies creating world-shaking change. I’ve always believed in the power of entrepreneurship & creativity to create real lasting positive change and feel truly blessed to help other remarkable entrepreneurs do the same!
Collaborative is currently also looking for an “apprentice” so please apply if interested.
by mikekarnj on May 15, 2011
You either build something that makes the world a better place or you don’t. There are complete industries built on creating arbitrary value for the world (investment banking). And there are complete industries built around innovation and creating value for the world (technology).
If you’re an entrepreneur where your success is built around the value you create for the world (e.g. Apple) , you have an opportunity to disrupt entire industries. The world doesn’t need another “Groupon for X”; we need more companies disrupting archaic institutions like healthcare, education, insurance, government, and banking. We need more companies like Uber that receive cease & desist letters from their city to shut down. And more companies like ProFounder, Votizen, BankSimple, Art.sy and Massive Health that utilize the power of the web to democratize entire industries.
So, the next time you think about starting or joining a company, think about your individual impact on the world. You have a real opportunity to make it better.
by mikekarnj on March 24, 2011
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford
It is argued that one of the best teams in the history of the NBA were the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. They had a great trio with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman with a stellar supporting bench. They set the record for most wins in the regular season (72-10), ended the season winning 87 of 100 games (including the playoffs), and ended up winning three championships in a row during their reign.
I believe that if age wasn’t an issue, the players on the 95-96 Chicago Bulls team would still be winning championships today. And the players on their bench would be leading other teams to championships. Maybe additional three-peats? But they couldn’t do it without each other.
If you think of the startup world, the same holds true for great entrepreneurs and companies. If you look at the Paypal Mafia, Facebook Mafia, and Google Mafia; they’ve produced a list of great startups from their alumni including Youtube, Linkedin, Kiva, Yelp, Quora, Asana, etc. It’s almost mind-blowing what they’ve accomplished. The best part? Unlike the NBA, getting experience over time is a huge bonus and advantage for success.
“You never think it could happen to you. But seeing Peter and Max and the guys come up with ideas and seeing how to make things work gave me a lot of insight. You may not have a business degree, but you see how to put the process into effect. The experience helped me realize the payoff of being involved in a startup.”
- Chad Hurley, Youtube Co-Founder, Paypal Designer
Chad Hurley came into Paypal as a designer and left co-founding Youtube. So, what is the secret behind all of their success? I believe it comes down to two factors: 1) great teams and 2) great cultures that nurture entrepreneurs.
The world needs more great companies cultivating successful entrepreneurs. Not more startups.
Why buy silver, when you can rent gold? At Virgance, Steve Newcomb loves “renting” entrepreneurs. “I can’t tell you how many people I interviewed at Powerset who told me they really didn’t want to join because they wanted to startup their own company. Whenever anyone told me that, I would go in for the kill and not let them leave until they agreed to join. My pitch to them was simple. ”Let me rent you for 6 months. You’ll learn an insane amount about building a startup from me that will help you prepare to start up your first company. You’ll have the pedigree of Powerset standing behind you; and you’ll have some cash in your pocket.”
Most companies raise capital to accelerate their growth and success faster than bootstrapping it. As an entrepreneur, if you think about your personal equity, you’ll reach success much faster by joining great teams and getting a feather in your hat. You’ll learn about entrepreneurship in the process and learn more about being a successful entrepreneur. You’ll also minimize your risk of failing at your next company, which is what it’s all about right?
Carter Cleveland at Art.sy has a founder internship. We call ours a founder apprenticeship. But the idea is the same: we’re nurturing future entrepreneurs, and more startups need to be doing the same.
On the other side of the coin, we need more entrepreneurs working together. $41M pre-launch doesn’t happen without a great team. Look at Lebron, Wade and Bosh. I’m sure they’ll 4-peat in their lifetime which is something that could have never happened without them joining forces like voltron.
So, if you’re an entrepreneur with the itch to start your own company, you should really consider joining a great team, which will allow all of you to achieve greatness. Like Jim Rohn says, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
by mikekarnj on February 24, 2011
“Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” – Albert Einstein
Skillshare is a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone. Our mission is to flip the traditional notion of education on its head and democratize learning. We’re building Skillshare because we believe the world needs a learning revolution. Piquing your curiosity, finding new passions, and learning new things should be a lifelong process.
As our team started to think about what the educational landscape of the future could look like, we got excited by the range of possibilities. What could complement traditional institutions? How could we use the power of the web to spread ideas, skills, and knowledge? Where and when should learning happen?
This exploration led us to think about the difference between learning and schooling. While learning traditionally happens within the four walls of a classroom, why couldn’t learning exist outside of school? We all know that NYU is a great university, but what about New York City? Everyone that lives here has something valuable, interesting, and unique to share with others. We just need a platform to unlock this knowledge, and thus, Skillshare was born.
We believe that the world’s most abundance resources are knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, this isn’t being easily shared between people but if we can build a platform to facilitate and share this excess resource, we can unlock what we believe matters the most in the world: happiness, purpose, and fulfillment.
So, in short, here’s the vision behind why we’re building Skillshare:
1. Learning should be a lifelong process. The community of peers centered around learning is something magical that happens during college, but why does that have to stop? Going to class, interacting with teachers, making new friends – these are all amazing benefits of college. Why can’t we continue this magic after college? The answer is really simple. We shouldn’t. We believe that learning should happen in communities around shared interests. We have the opportunity to turn the city of New York into one of the world’s great universities.
2. New skills are being introduced everyday. While it’s great to learn multi-variable calculus or the economics of china during school, what about the other 99% of skills that will never see the light of day? By the time a college starts teaching “Mastery in Online Community Management”, it will become so outdated and irrelevant. Traditional education will never catch up to the skills needed in the market today. We are creating Skillshare to facilitate peer-to-peer learning when it matters the most – right now. A company like Foursquare can create their own school to teach courses on “LBS development for mobile devices” and recruit directly from the best of the best. Revolutionary.
3. Learning should be fun and interesting. Lastly, learning for the sake of learning should just, well, be fun! I mean, who doesn’t want to learn “how to travel around the world before you’re 65″, “propose to your girlfriend”, or “bake the crackpies from the Momofuku Bakery”? A recent article from the NYT titled, “Consumers Find Ways to Spend Less and Find Happiness” found that “a $20,000 increase in spending on leisure (such as classes) was equivalent to the happiness boost one gets from marriage.” Our goal is to increase the gross happiness index around the world by staying passionate and having fun.
Everyone has something valuable to share and teach. Nothing will ever replace the magic that happens when passionate people get together to learn from each other. We don’t learn from books. We learn from the people that wrote them.
Henry Ford said it best when he said that “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” We hope to change this and deliver a learning revolution to the world.