Skill Marketplaces Make Anyone a Teacher

You’ve got the skills, but are you using them to your best possible advantage? That’s what the recent crop of skill marketplace startups are hoping people are asking themselves, and there’s a resounding sense that people are indeed looking to mine their own expertise to generate extra income, especially as troubling economic clouds continue to gather.

Basically, anyone with a skill can sell their services online either doing that thing or instructing others in how best to do it. General-purpose startups like TaskRabbit, Exec and Zaarly allow people to sign up to basically answer any requirement, but others are taking more targeted approaches, by focusing on specific niches or approaching things strictly from a teacher-student class-based angle.

Take Skillshare. Launched in April 2011, Skillshare provides a marketplace for buying and selling lessons, from anyone to anyone about anything. Skillshare teachers can offer up classes in cooking, guitar, public speaking, or any other subject, and have students sign up to attend in-person classes. Skillshare Community Manager Danya Cheskis-Gold told BetaKit in an interview that the site’s approach has helped its teachers reach over 6,000 students so far.

Cheskis-Gold said that Skillshare holds appeal because there’s a growing desire for lifelong learners to acquire skills not necessarily available through other avenues. “The people who use Skillshare are those who are passionate and curious about learning and simply don’t want to stop adding to their skillsets or banks of knowledge,” she told us. “Skillshare only features classes that are creative, not normally accessible (either because they don’t exist in the traditional education world or they’re just normally wildly expensive, i.e., cooking classes), and relevant to today’s needs.”

Skillshare takes a 15 percent cut of the revenue teachers take in for their classes in exchange for the company’s hand in matchmaking students with teachers, and it just recently introduced a “schools” product to allow brands to market their own specialists as teachers for specific industry-related expertise. It’s an approach that could not only help Skillshare explore additional revenue opportunities, but might also make it a destination for learners looking to acquire skills it sees as sepcifically valued by employers.

Still other companies take the concept of expert advice further, including ExpertInsight, Coachy and recently-launched startup LiveNinja. These provide the ability for individuals to connect via video chat, bypassing the in-person requirement that comes with Skillshare’s model. LiveNinja founder Will Weintraub said that his team created their product because of clear demand made apparent by the way people were already trying to connect.

“We noticed now more then ever people are providing services via video chat,” Weintraub told us. “It’s quick, easy, cost effective and helps you reach people regardless of geographical location. The main problem with the current market was that it was completely fragmented.” LiveNinja is designed to act as a hub to enhance discovery of individuals selling any kind of expertise, and provide those people with an end-to-end solution for conducting their teaching sessions.

Weintraub thinks LiveNinja has an edge over competitors like ExpertInsight because it “democratizes the model by allowing anyone with any skill, talent, or passion to monetize that knowledge.” Of course, there’s also the chance that allowing anyone to join could lead to an overabundance of services on offer that no one’s interested in buying; striking that balance is an ongoing challenge of any marketplace, however, from eBay to the local grocery shop, so it’s no surprise that online skill sales sites would face it, too.

Weintraub said that the increasing popularity of skill marketplaces is probably due largely to issues of access facilitated by recent advancements in tech. “Skill marketplaces are a huge trend because expertise is accessible like never before,” he said. “The internet has evolved to the point where its starting to vaporize a lot of the barriers that existed in the real world in regards to how we educate, how we generate income, and how we connect.”

He also noted that they can be a way to “stimulate job creation,” which points to a recurring trend we’ve heard in talking to people like Justin Kan, creator of Exec. The rise of all these marketplaces seems to be a byproduct not only of tech, but of a faltering economy, which is driving people to try and monetize their talents however they can, and generate additional income from non-traditional sources as well as from the pursuit of regular jobs.

“On the supply side, especially in a tough economy, people want to make money on the side, and I think in all of the marketplaces you could probably name, for the people providing that service it’s not their full-time job,” personal athletics coaching stealth startup CoachUp founder Jordan Fliegel told us. And on the demand side, he said he believes the advent of tech that allows for the creation of skill marketplaces will have a similar effect on sourcing jobs and talent that globalization had on the economy as a whole, by allowing businesses to go directly to skilled individuals instead of dealing with often expensive smaller companies currently designed around meeting those needs.

Others like Airbnb and Uber are also striving to help democratize the delivery of services while still providing shoppers with a one-stop central location for getting what they need, so it makes sense that startups like those listed above would attempt to do the same in other areas that involve more direct peer-to-peer interaction. It will be interesting to watch this trend grow, and see if larger enterprises begin strategically sourcing from the same or similar services. Eventually, people could all operate as micro-consultancies working a pastiche of odd jobs instead of putting in the majority of time at just one gig.

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