What’s the latest trend in learning? What’s the easiest way to conquer a craft? How can you affordably hone a hobby? How have more than 13,000 people broadened their personal and professional skill set? If you answered “SkillPop” to all of the above, give yourself an A. These pop-up community classes started in Charlotte in 2015 with a simple hand-lettering class. They’ve since ballooned across Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, and here in Greenville, with instruction on everything from crochet basics and cookie decorating, to podcasting and branding essentials. SkillPop founder, 28-year-old Haley Bohon, is revolutionizing continuing education by ditching digital methods for an old-fashioned technique: a real teacher in front of eager students, inside a classroom as active as kindergartners on Skittles.
SkillPop has grown so fast, Bohon is spending this spring meeting mentors to cast a vision for controlled growth and sustainable expansion. She sat down to chat between brainstorming sessions.
How does a mechanical engineer hatch the idea for pop-up classes on marketing tools and tapestry weaving? >> I had lived in Charlotte a few years and I was seeing a lot of my friends go to fitness and run clubs, yoga at breweries, and casual networking events. As a life-long learner, I struggled to find places to learn that were in a similar, unity setting. Everywhere I looked for a photography class, the best and easiest, and cheapest, options were all online.
But you wanted to learn in person? >> Yes! I love to learn when there’s someone there with me and I can say, ‘Hey, can you come show me that again?’ I like to learn alongside other people. So, I started working on this idea. Learning is great to do in person. It doesn’t have to be digital, just because our whole world is going digital.
You had a full-time job going into that first hand-lettering class. How long did you stay? >> I quit my job that day, or shortly thereafter. It was quickly very apparent this was going to be more than a side-hustle. My husband, Steve, and I self-funded with a very small amount of cash, and we’ve been boot-strap since the beginning. We doubled in 2017 over where we were in 2016.
Where does SkillPop go from here? >> We’ve been in Greenville about six months, and launched in Nashville in November. I want to make sure we’re strong, and that people have the classes they want, before taking our next step. My goal at Techstars Austin [a start-up accelerator program in Texas] is to learn to do what we’re doing, as best as we can. Learn to get really good at it, so we can bring it to other communities. Whether that means the Southeast, or nationwide? It’s a little too soon to tell.
SkillPop offers quite the range of classes—beginner hip-hop to small business finance. Is there a formula to your offerings? >> We play in spaces of hands-on hobbies, business development, and personal development. We try to offer a balance of new classes, and repeat classes, on a wide-range of subjects.
Any classes you thought would tank, but proved to be popular? >> We recently introduced a ukulele class, and I had no idea how it would do. But, it’s a hit!
What’s been the biggest surprise? >> We’ve seen people completely change careers, go from operations to marketing, and do all of their training at SkillPop classes. We’ve seen people take one class on embroidery, and get so good at it they launch an Etsy shop. We’ve seen people meet their best friend in a class. Seeing how impactful a two-hour class can be, it’s been really exciting and really powerful to see how much people have rallied around this idea.
What’s been the biggest challenge? >> This is my first business. It has been amazing how fast things change. I do not have kids myself, but I imagine it’s like having kids. You figure out one stage and feel like you know what you’re doing, and then everything changes, and you have a whole new set of things to figure out. That’s what keeps it fun and that keeps me energized.
SkillPop reminds me of going to the rec center as a kid to learn ceramics and gymnastics. >> Yes. It’s something communities need everywhere. I think learning is something that is not going away. Community is something that is not going away.
Do you take any classes? Recommend any? >> I usually try to get to one class per week. It’s hard to pick favorites, but our gardening class on a nice spring night is up at the top.
Most Greenville classes take place at Atlas Local. For a list of upcoming classes, visit SkillPop.com. SkillPop is now offered in Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, and Greenville, where Jeremy Elrod serves as Community Manager.