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How Skillshare uses video to fuel their business

Kate O'Connor Morris
August 29, 2017 by Kate O'Connor Morris Staff

It’s no secret we’re all about the videos over here. Well, our pals at Skillshare are, too. They’re using well-crafted tutorials to build an online learning community that reaches over two million students. While video might not be the crux of Skillshare’s mission, it’s one of the principal ways they go about achieving it.

In the hopes of soaking up some of these community-building vibes, (and to see what it’s like to be on the client side of filmmaking), I asked CEO and co-founder Michael Karnjanaprakorn some questions about the role video plays in Skillshare’s business as a whole.

Kate: How did the idea for Skillshare come about?
Michael: The beginnings of Skillshare came about from my own personal experience. Education changed my life and provided a lot of upward mobility and opportunities for me. The idea really started taking shape after I returned from a stint down in New Orleans, helping with the reconstruction of the city post-Katrina. 

After coming back to New York, I started reflecting on how lucky I’d been to have such a great education, and how without it, there was no way that I’d have gotten where I was. From these reflections, the vision for Skillshare began to take form, and we set out to create the internet’s school — an affordable community where students could take classes in any cutting-edge skill and where anyone with expertise could be a successful teacher.

How does video drive your mission?
Our mission at Skillshare is to provide universal access to learning and opportunity — and video enables that mission in several ways. First, video allows people from all over the world, regardless of location, background, or socioeconomic status, to learn from leading experts in design, business, and technology. 

The other side of the equation is that video allows our teachers to tap into our huge audience and monetize their expertise by creating a class and posting it on our platform. In the age of smartphone ubiquity, almost everyone now has the ability to film and edit directly on their phone, which means that anyone with talent to share can be a successful teacher.

What do you believe you’re accomplishing with widely available video lessons? Is video necessary to achieve it? 
We want Skillshare to be a tool that allows anyone to build their professional skills. By focusing our efforts on online video lessons and offering unlimited classes at an affordable monthly rate, we’re able to reach the widest possible audience. 

We also believe in “learning by doing” which is why all of our classes are project-based.

All your videos have a great uniform look and feel. How did you develop that? Are you producing your videos in-house or in a studio, and why did you go that route?
While the majority of our classes are created independently by our amazing community of teachers, we do produce a small amount of classes in house. For these classes, we typically partner with some of the top minds in a certain category, such as Seth Godin for marketing or Aaron Draplin for design. Over time, we’ve learned what works best stylistically and we actively share these learnings with our community of teachers so they put out their best work. And because our algorithms give top classes maximum exposure, best practices are further reaffirmed to our community.

What do you look for when hiring filmmakers?
We have both an in-house team of videographers as well as an ongoing freelance network of up to 12 editors. Our in-house videographers are truly full-stack. They shoot, edit, and are fully involved in the creative evolution of our videos. Technical editing proficiency is important, but we’re also looking for someone who can find creative visual solutions, level-up video engagement, and bring abstract concepts to life. Initiative and creativity go a long way. 

One interesting note is that we don’t use scripts. Classes are shot based on an outline, and editors have full ownership over transforming those bulleted talking points into an engaging, seamless class experience. This unusual format can initially be challenging for video editors, but it’s also very empowering and gives them a ton of creative leadership over the final piece. It’s also how we can achieve a much more authentic, organic feel with our classes.

Our freelance video editor network primary edits class footage and short 60-second spots for Facebook. Initially, a reel is the best way to get a sense of someone’s work, but there are consistent qualities that transform someone from an occasional into a regular contributor: proactive communication, quick turnarounds, and bonus skills like motion graphics.

For your in-home lessons: how do you empower your teachers to make their own videos that still align with your brand?
We spend a lot of time nurturing new teachers and making sure they have the information they need to publish their first class and make it successful. We run regular “teach challenges” that walk new teachers through the process of outlining and filming their first class. Recording yourself can be really intimidating, so we focus on starting really simply with a smartphone and a simple mount. Some of our most popular classes are shot this way. To a lot of companies, the word “brand” is synonymous with aesthetics. For Skillshare though, while aesthetics are important, I think it’s even more important that we promote great content from a diverse set of experts than that we place production quality above all else.

What role does Vimeo play in Skillshare’s goals?
We love working with Vimeo! More than 13,000 students have taken Vimeo’s free Skillshare class Video Basics for All: Shoot with Your iPhone, Edit Like a Pro. It’s a perfect starting place for figuring out how to make the most of a smartphone to create pro-looking video.

Another Vimeo connection is that aspiring filmmakers can learn the ins and outs of indie filmmaking on Skillshare with Matty Brown, an award-winning filmmaker who also has received the most Vimeo Staff Picks of all time.

Internally, our video team turns to Vimeo Staff Picks for inspiration all the time. At least once a week, you’ll find our producers and videographers sharing links in Slack and calling out perfect transitions and scenes that can fuel their own work.

Thanks for your insights, Michael!

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p>For more inspiration, see some of todays’ best brand videos or dig into more interviews.

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