Introducing you one of my favorite characters in Seattle. Dave wins many awards in my book for being a great community organizer, supporter of startups, sharing words of wisdom all while sharing a pint at his weekly Thursday group called #Hopsandchops. My first appreciation of Dave came from how accessible he is as a leader in the Seattle entrepreneurial scene I believe he is one of the leaders who is creating a welcoming ground for young entrepreneurs like myself to stand on.
When I was thinking about what questions I would ask Dave Schappell that would be of value to you and might be fun for him as well I focused on his current startup company TeachStreet. A company that brings people with talents and skills into a community that is looking to learn those skills. From social media marketing to math tutoring you can learn just about anything from the talent on TeachStreet.
Connect with Dave!
TeachStreet Elevator Pitch
We have the worlds largest collection of courses, because we’ve built an easy-to-use tool that schools and teachers can use to add their classes, and manage their teaching businesses — we offer easy-to-use online payments, reviews, marketing tools and more — and we provide transparent metrics, so that teachers know what’s working, and what isn’t.
Startup Team Recipe
You need people who are passionate about the opportunity that you’re pursuing, and who are curious about life, because most of what needs to be done isn’t known with certainty. Every day is filled with problem solving and a little bit of the unknown. You need people who are not only comfortable with that, but actually thrive on the challenge. It’s important that there’s a good chemistry/fit, and that your skills complement one another, and if it’s a technically-focused startup (e.g., a website), err on the side of having more technical vs. non-technical team members.
TeachStreet Areas of Focus:
We focus most on the non-traditional learning experiences, such as evening classes and professional education. We leave the 2- and 4-year colleges, and K-12 education space to others. Beyond that, though, we’ve seen big growth in hundreds of subjects — of late, we’ve really done well with Test Prep (GMAT, GRE, SAT, etc.) and Tutoring.
Social Media Marketing
If you have a new social media tool, I’m sure we’ve experimented with it. Blogs, Twitter, YouTube/Vimeo, Facebook, Foursquare, and the like. It’s most important to us that if we’re going to engage, that it’s “real”. The only requirement is that employees speak in their own voice, and exhibit their own personality.
#1 Marketing Tool: Word of Mouth
It’s the biggest driver of growth — some part of that is “word of link” or sharing via social & other networks. We encourage sharing of popular classes, and newly listed classes, and we see much of our recurring (and highly converting) traffic coming in from these trust networks/links.
Importance of Building Long Term Trust
Not important at all — we want them to be wary of everything we do (yes, that’s sarcasm… but, really, what kind of question is that?!?). We’ve tried to be incredibly open with teacher communications, as we’ve introduce new features, prices, and other changes to their class-listing experience. We hope that this level of honesty has earned their trust and respect, even if/when they aren’t happy with changes. Regardless of the change, we try to tell them what led to the change, what feedback we included from them, and made feedback mechanisms an important part of the experience, so that we can continue to iterate based on their inputs.
Pitching to Investors
Much of an entrepreneur’s job is pitching/selling — if you aren’t comfortable with that, then you better find a good co-founder! You pitch employee prospects, existing employees (to stay excited/motivated), investors, reporters, loved ones, and more on a regular basis.
You need to be able to convey why your mission is important, valuable, non-being-done-by-others, and something that they’d want to get involved in, in some way.
Seattle Supports Success
Seattle’s just a great place to find passionate employees, and a supportive startup ecosystem — we’ve found it fairly easy to find people to join, and help, our team — and we’ve tried to give back as well.
Personal Brand Influence & Importance
It’s probably important — but I think all TeachStreet employees’ brands are important — I want anyone who comes in contact with a TeachStreet representative to come away impressed by the passionate talent that we’ve assembled to pursue our goals. So, I personally try to give back and help other entrepreneurs, and to be helpful with investors, reporters, and the like — so many people have helped us get where we are!
Blogs Dave Reads
AVC.com (Fred Wilson), pMarca (Marc Andreesen), Ben’s (Horowitz) blog, Both Sides of the Table (Mark Suster), Continuations (Albert Wenger), Daryn.net (Daryn Nakhuda), Paul Graham, Sawickipedia’s tumblr (Todd Sawicki), and the Flickr French Bulldogs photopool.
Founder & CEO Challenges
The level of ownership and ultimate responsibility far surpasses any of my previous levels of responsibility — as an employee, there was always someone above me who could/would override decisions. As the founder at TeachStreet, I have great supporters and partners, but ultimately there are some decisions that I need to make and implement, where I’m now taking full responsibility for. It’s been very humbling to see how hard it can be, and how rewarding as well.
Reading Making the move to a “Premium Service”, you mentioned the “importance of transparency and clearly communicating the company’s vision. How do you make sure to keep that value as TeachStreet grows?”
As a company, we try to be incredibly open with each other at our Monday afternoon team meeting — there are almost no metrics or discussions that I’m not happy to share with the team (usually to the point of talking endlessly), if there’s a way that it can impact their job, or make things easier to understand (why we’re doing something, what the risks are, how much cash we’re burning, etc.). In addition, we have a part of that meeting each week where a different team member brings a recent story/link/video to bear that reminds us of our company vision — it could feel hokey, but we’ve found it to be an effective reminder.
Who is Dave Schappell Offline
A very boring person. Very similar to the guy you see blabbing online. And he likes ice cream.
Thank you to Dave for his insight into the world of startups, being a leader and an overall cool French Bull dog owner. Connect with Dave and checkout TeachStreet
Connect with Dave!