Editor’s note: Haley Bohon is founder and CEO of Skillpop, a startup focusing on a variety of face-to-face classes in Raleigh and elsewhere on a wide variety of subjects utilizing local experts. But as the impact of the coronavirus deepened and “social distance” became the mantra of most businesses, Ms. Bohon knew her business had to change. To pivot, as startup execs like to say. She did – in 15 days. Here’s her story.
CHARLOTTE – On Thursday, March 5th, I texted a mentor as I was throwing together dinner.
“Had a crazy idea just now. Maybe dumb. Maybe brilliant. Literally just came to mind.”
You see, I run a company called SkillPop that hosts pop-up style, in-person classes taught by local experts. I started the business out of my home in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2015 with $3,000 and a drag-and-drop website. After our first class of Handlettering Basics, I quit my full-time job and began to grow SkillPop one class at a time.
Our Ukulele Basics class in Charlotte, NC last summer. All classes are taught by local experts and hosted in community spaces.
Four years later, we host over 150 classes each month in Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, Greenville, and Nashville. I have a team of 3 full-time and 30+ part-time working on one simple mission: to make in-person learning accessible.
All of this changed with COVID-19. And starting with that text to my mentor on March 5th, all that has been on my mind for the past 14 days has centered around doing whatever it takes to keep this company that I love in business. That crazy idea? It was to move our expert-led classes online.
By Monday, March 9th, we were still running classes at night but my time and energy had shifted. I had a quick project management plan and gave myself 24 hours each for phases that would normally take weeks:
- Research the online learning landscape
- Build a business model
- Figure out launch budget
- Marketing & PR plan
By Wednesday, March 12th, it was clear things with COVID-19 were escalating quickly; to do our part in flattening the curve, we were starting to cancel classes. We drafted a quick survey about online learning to gather interest and tease what we were working on. At this point, I was optimistically hoping to gradually transition a few classes to our new online platform and then launch everything around the end of the month.
On March 13, I texted my mentor again. “Sales definitely starting to drop off today.”
His response: “Panicking?”
Mine: “No time to panic right now.”
By Sunday, March 15, we had postponed an entire week of in-person classes. My team was managing the logistics of communicating with 800 students (and their corresponding teachers & venues), and I was full steam ahead to see if we could get this new online product — working title, “SkillPop Anywhere” — ready to go in the next 72 hours.
That was just 5 days ago.
We launched SkillPop Anywhere on Wednesday, March 18th at 9:00 AM. It’s been fast and furious work and now we’re in the messy early stages of pivoting a completely in-person business to the online space. We’re onboarding teachers, figuring out tech, trial running classes and — yes — selling (and selling out of) tickets.
I shared about the launch on my personal social media accounts this week and called it “the most surprising project of my life” — and it absolutely is. For four years, I’ve been passionate and fired up about in-person learning! I’ve said in who-knows-how-many pitches that “online learning just didn’t work for me.” And as I’ve sat at my kitchen table working on this for the past two weeks, I’ve had a few moments of thinking — “Is this really us? Is this who we are?”
Right now, we’re embracing it and figuring it out one day at a time. It’s fast and it’s messy, but it’s also our best and most exciting option to keep bringing community, learning, and value to the world. Over the next few weeks and months, I’d love to bring you along for the ride as we work to figure out a brand new business.
Welcome to SkillPop Anywhere.
Note: This blog was published originally at Skillpop.com and is reprinted with permission.