With a renewed focus on creative skills, online learning company Skillshare raises $66M

Skillshare CEO Matt Cooper said 2020 has been a year of rapid growth — even before the pandemic forced large swaths of the population to stay home and turn to online learning for entertainment and enrichment.

Cooper (who became CEO in 2017) told me that the company decided last year to “focus on our strength,” leading to a “brand relaunch” in January 2020 to emphasize the richness of its creativity-themed content. At the same time, Cooper said the company defines creativity very broadly, with classes divided into categories like animation, design, illustration, photography, filmmaking and writing.

“It’s not Bob Ross,” he said. “And I love Bob Ross, but that’s a very narrow definition of creativity. Creativity can come in lots of different forms — art, design, journaling, creative writing, it can be culinary, it can be crafts.”

Cooper added that daily usage was already up significantly by mid-March, when the pandemic led to widespread social distancing orders across the United States. That created some challenges, particularly for the more polished Skillshare Originals that the company offers alongside its user-taught classes. (For example, Originals include a color masterclass taught by Victo Ngai, a class on “discovering your creative voice” taught by Shantell Martin and a creative nonfiction class by Susan Orlean.)

But of course the pandemic also meant that, as Cooper put it, “A lot more people had a lot more free time at home and were looking for a constructive way to spend it.” In fact, the company said that since its rebranding, new membership sign-ups have tripled, with existing members watching three times the number of lessons.

And Skillshare has continued producing Originals by sending instructors “a huge box of gear” and then supervising the shoot remotely. In fact, Cooper suggested that this has “opened up a whole new world” for the Originals team, allowing them to “look at parts of the world where we probably weren’t going to fly a camera crew to go shoot.”

The company now has 12 million registered members, 8,000 teachers and 30,000 classes — all accessible for $99 a year or $19 a month. And it’s announcing that it has raised $66 million in new funding led by OMERS Growth Equity, with managing director Saar Pikar joining the board of directors. Previous investors Union Square Ventures, Amasia, Burda Principal Investments and Spero Ventures also participated.

“Skillshare serves the needs of professional creatives and everyday creative hobbyists alike, which presents a highly-innovative value proposition for the online learning market,” Pikar said in a statement. “We look forward to deepening our partnership with Skillshare, and our fellow investors, in order to help Matt Cooper and his team scale up the company’s international reach – and help Skillshare achieve the full potential of its unique approach to online learning.”

Cooper added that the company (which had previously raised $42 million) was cash-flow positive for the first half of 2020, so it raised the new round to invest in growth — particularly in the Skillshare for Teams enterprise product, which allows customers like GM Financial, Vice, AWS, Lululemon, American Crafts and Benefit to offer Skillshare as a perk for their employees.

Cooper is also hoping to expand internationally. Apparently two-thirds of new member sign-ups are coming from outside the United States, with India as Skillshare’s fastest growing market, and that’s with “no local language content, no local language teachers.” While Cooper plans to remain focused on English content for the near future, he noted there are other steps Skillshare can take to encourage global viewership, like accepting payments in different currencies and supporting subtitles in different languages.

“Just by making it a little easier for those international users to get value from the platform, we expect to see dramatic growth in these international markets,” he said.