"People are looking for things outside of work besides heading to the gym, watching Netflix, and going to happy-hour. Providing that space to learn something new, to meet new people, and to share unique skills - it meets a lot of needs..."
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and studied Mechanical Engineering at NC State University. After college, I worked for Newell Rubbermaid doing product development and then shifted to project management for a startup company.
In September 2015, I founded SkillPop, a company making in-person learning accessible through community - based, pop up classes. We offer everything from photography to marketing, all within small group settings in Charlotte and in Raleigh.
What does your typical day look like? What kind of tasks and responsibilities do you have?
Today, I am headed to my co-working space, and I will be working on streamlining the process for how we bring in new teachers. Our company is community-based, and we have a huge network of teachers and partners to make things happen. Later today I am meeting with one of our partners. If I'm honest, some days I feel like I am trying to just get through emails all day. While other days, I’m running all over town to meet people, picking up supplies for class that night, and overseeing classes in various locations.
If someone was interested in starting their own company, their day may look completely different than mine because all small businesses are unique. Every workday is different for me, and it is different now than it was 6 months ago. That being said, I typically work between 7:30 am and 4:00 pm and then attend class in the evening to make sure things are running smoothly. Right now my days are long, and are a mixture of planning for the next month, but also trying to make sure we are set for what is happening that evening. I am currently managing the tasks involved in keeping the Charlotte classes running as well as laying the groundwork for the start of classes in Raleigh. As we are expanding, we have to grow our team, so I am simultaneously taking tasks off of my plate and guiding two of our employees to take on more.
One thing that I think is unique to startups is that a lot of tasks are outsourced. When I used to work at Newell Rubbermaid, we had all capacities right there - a marketing team, an IT team, etc. In a larger company, different departments would work together in-house. We are a currently a 4-person team at SkillPop, so I work closely with other professionals such as web developers and social media experts, all on a contract basis. Simply put, I spend more time meeting intentionally and emailing/communicating with professionals outside of my business to get things done.
It seems like attending a class, whether it's hand lettering or marketing essentials, is a great way to end the work day. What's that like to see the results of your work?
When you are in the middle of something fast-paced, like running a small business, it’s easy to get into the rhythm and forget ‘why’ you are doing it. One night after a class, a mother and daughter were walking out and they stopped me to tell me how wonderful it was and how much they loved it. It really is special to see what you are working on come to life and to see how you are impacting people.
When you got the idea for SkillPop, what was the first step that you took to make it happen?
Building a business is all about finding the next step and taking it. I was still working full time at a startup when I got the idea for SkillPop. I pitched it to my husband, and we both really couldn’t shake the idea. I started pitching it to friends and family, and it resonated with them as much as it did with me. So I asked myself, “If this is going to be a real thing, what would the next step be?” My first few steps were to do market research and to write down a business plan. I created a survey and sent it out to friends and family and included questions like,"How do you learn things, what kinds of things are you interested in learning, and what does learning look like for adults outside of formal education?" I looked for companies that were doing similar things. I also spent some time looking for other places that taught classes in Charlotte. I really couldn’t find too much, so that was a big sign for me that we were meeting a need. I wrote out a business plan. It was rough, nothing beautiful, but that act of writing responses to questions like, "What is the root of our concept, is this financially viable, who is our demographic, and does it meet a need?" Since then, we have applied for a few grants and have revisited our business plan. Although it was tedious, thinking it through and writing it down was a very helpful exercise.
Where or who do you go to for encouragement or business advice?
Early on, I sought out a few different entrepreneurs and asked them for business advice. Usually, a small company has investors that have a financial interest in the success of your company, so they are wanting to know how you are doing. We put together a small advisory board of a few people that meet about every other month. We discuss how things are going, and we look at how we can continue to improve and grow.
When starting a business, you can take short cuts, but it’s often helpful to avoid them. For instance, instead of navigating the legal logistics on our own, we hired a lawyer in town who was a great resource for startups. Hiring someone who specializes in small businesses and who knows the some of the challenges has been so helpful. The same goes with our tax accountant and social media experts. I compare it to hiring a wedding planner when you are getting married. If you have never done it before, it is beneficial to have someone with experience guide and direct you in the right way.
How do you manage the work/life balance?
To be honest, we know we are in a season where our lives are not going to be completely balanced. My husband works full time as a project marketing manager, but he does serve on the advisory board and works for SkillPop outside of his business hours. We have intentionally dropped off on some things so we can prioritize our marriage. I think in some ways it is easier that he is involved, because it is not a choice of working on SkillPop or spending time with one another. We do work well together and I know not all couples can have a business relationship and have common work interests, but we do. We can go to dinner and talk about it and have a great time. Is it acceptable to not have a work/life balance when you do something that you love? Does that sound like way too cheesy and cliche? I have found that I can work harder because I enjoy it so much.
SkillPop is expanding to Raleigh, NC! Why do you think SkillPop has been so successful?
I think we are meeting a great need at the right time. The majority of our demographic are millennials, like myself, and this generation has grown up with technology and has so much interaction online. There are a lot of online opportunities for learning, but our classes are in person and hands-on; it's a natural way to be with others and to meet new people. People are looking for things outside of work besides heading to the gym, watching Netflix, and going to happy-hour. Providing that space to learn something new, to meet new people, and share their skills - it meets a lot of needs and allows for people to connect with the community. I think it satisfies a craving. A huge part of our success we can contribute to the caliber of our partners and teachers. Our teachers are top notch. Expanding to Raleigh is difficult and it can be scary at times because I know just how important the people involved are. It is a relational business and our teachers and partners matter.
Which classes are you most excited about?
We have three main buckets of classes - DIY crafts & hobbies, business development, and lifestyle classes, such as gardening and budgeting. The ones that I continue to get excited about are in that business category. Those are geared towards entrepreneurs, which may be so exciting for me because I want to learn more and get better at MY job. I have been excited for weeks about the class we are holding tonight! We are holding a branding workshop for individuals who have a business idea and want to build a brand around it or who have a company and need to refresh the brand. We have a designer who is going to teach us how to figure out what you want your brand to be, including logo, colors, voice, etc. This type of class is so valuable for professionals, and we have made it accessible to anyone at a reasonable price.
I am always looking for people who are experts in their field. Another special thing about SkillPop is that some of our teachers are industry leaders and some teachers work, for example, for a nonprofit or are project managers full time, and have a unique skill on the side that they love sharing with others. They are just as much as an expert in that as the person who has a whole career around what they are teaching.
What are your goals and dreams for SkillPop?
The root of our mission is making in-person learning accessible. Our goal is to make it accessible to as many people as possible, so that means growth outside of Charlotte. I am really excited about our expansion to Raleigh, and although I don’t want to be too specific, we do have dreams about where we would expand to if all goes well. I also want to see SkillPop as the go-to network for learning knew things. I’d love to know that if someone got the desire to learn something new, that they would then wonder if SkillPop offered it. Our goal is to make learning, outside of formal education, easier to navigate so that you can gain the tools and knowledge to start pursuing your passion.