In today’s world, you’re a few clicks away from a how-to video or an online course covering anything you might want to learn. But for Haley Bohon, the in-person networking and community building aspect of learning is missing from those tools.
“On the community side, I felt like a lot of my peers who had just moved to the city went to pop-up fitness classes and networking groups, looking for things to do outside of work, with new people,” says Bohon. “You should be able to take a photography class and that learning should be happening in your community.”
With time spent at both a Fortune 500 company and in the startup world, Bohon made the transition from mechanical engineer to entrepreneur.
While working on a business plan for what would become pop-up learning startup SkillPop, she hit the ground running by doing in-depth research about adult learning options in her Charlotte, NC community, and reached out to expert friends that showed interest in spreading their knowledge.
“We had a dinner party and tapped into our designer friends for feedback as they seemed like they would be great teachers,” says Bohon.
SkillPop makes in-person learning accessible through community pop-up classes, which users search and pay for on the platform. Subject-matter experts in marketing, photography, social media and more lead short, small classes at local venues and expose attendees to career tools or new hobbies.
Bohon led SkillPop alone for almost a year until she was able to hire her first employee.
“When you’re starting anything, it can be really intimidating to look at the whole picture. It can seem like a long road to building an amazing company,” says Bohon. “I need to remind myself to sometimes see only the next step or the next couple of steps to get through. We’re very goal-oriented and metrics-driven because that’s how progress is made.”
Since its inception in 2015, SkillPop has surpassed the 20,000 student attendance mark and has expanded from Charlotte to three other southeastern cities with a few more on the horizon, including Atlanta.
“What surprised me about our business is that a large number of students come by themselves. At least half,” says Bohon. “What I tried to create for customers from day one was a great place to meet people and engage with those in your community, especially since you already have an icebreaker and common interest built into the class.”
As a first-time startup founder, Bohon has extended that feeling of community into her team of five full-time and 20 contract employees. The team is updating their core values to reflect their current growth.
“We’re all about fostering learning and growth — that’s part of our core values. We’re always looking to learn something new ourselves and to continue to improve the services that we offer. Another value is hospitality — we want everyone to feel welcome and that there’s a place for them here,” says Bohon.
SkillPop recently completed the Techstars Austin program. Bootstrapped thus far, they’re exploring funding options to help scale the startup to more cities in the next year. Bohon’s one piece of advice that has helped her grow her company to this point? Trust yourself first.
“One thing that I learned early on was to trust your gut. In the early days, before we had a name in the Charlotte area and the Southeast, I would get conflicting advice all the time. This is something probably every startup founder experiences. Everyone has two cents about how to grow your business.”
“Soak all of the advice in, but at the end of the day, I’m going to trust my gut that we’re going to move in the right direction.”
Photos courtesy of SkillPop and Julia Fay Photography