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Start-ups

Craftsy, an E-Learning Site for Makers, Raises $50 Million

By Mike Isaac
November 13, 2014 1:59 pm November 13, 2014 1:59 pm PhotoInside the offices of Craftsy, which provides a platform for people who want to increase their arts and crafts mastery via online video courses.Inside the offices of Craftsy, which provides a platform for people who want to increase their arts and crafts mastery via online video courses.Credit

The executives at Craftsy want to make one thing clear: Arts and crafts aren’t just for children anymore.

That’s not to say that the company, based in Denver, doesn’t want young people on the service. Five million people have already registered for the site.

But Craftsy wants to get much, much bigger. The company has just raised more than $50 million in its fourth round of financing, nearing almost $100 million in total venture capital.

The pitch is simple enough. Craftsy is something of a hybrid of YouTube and Etsy, a platform for people who want to dive deeper into the world of arts and crafts mastery via online video courses. Users who come to Craftsy search for their particular area of interest and pay to watch experts teach tutorials on the subject.

A would-be knitting buff, for instance, can go to Craftsy and buy a video tutorial for $20 and try to brush up on knitting skills from the comfort of home. The company said it had $12 million in revenue in 2012, double that in 2013 and expects to double that again by the end of 2014.

“It’s much like what YouTube has done,” said John Levisay, the chief executive of Craftsy. “How do you democratize access to the best teaching in the world?”

Craftsy is essentially a sort of paid huge open online course, or MOOC, a type of e-learning style made popular by web pioneers like Lynda.com and, more recently, Salman Khan’s Khan Academy. Like these companies, Craftsy prides itself on the quality of instructors it attracts; people who may be skilled in their trade but have yet to find an ample outlet to sell their knowledge.

“There are teaching and design rock stars within these communities,” Mr. Levisay said. “But frankly, before Craftsy they may have struggled to monetize their expertise.” He said the company makes it easy for non-technical teachers to use the platform, which gives a non-tech-savvy crowd a better chance at wide distribution.

Craftsy is not without competitors. CreativeLive, another MOOC start-up which offers a similar service, hosts more than 600 courses online with more than 2 million so-called “students” using the service.

And of course there is YouTube, the Google-owned site that popularized user-generated online video and is perhaps Craftsy’s most interesting competitor. Thousands of hours of interest-based tutorials are freely available to watch on YouTube, which is supported by advertising rather than upfront user fees. Google has also promoted its “Helpouts” product, which also allows people to sell online classes to consumers.

But Mr. Levisay says Craftsy’s users come to the site for its high quality selection of content, which may be more difficult to find inside of YouTube. Craftsy says it heavily screens its instructors, and makes sure the video production is of high quality. In essence, Mr. Levisay says his customers are willing to pay a small premium for the convenience and assurance that they can learn well from the teachers on the service.

“They trust our brand,” he said. “They can find what they want simply and easily without having to wade through a lot of subpar content on YouTube.”

Over the next year, the company plans to add 500 additional classes to its catalog of 550 existing courses, while also continuing to sell supplies like knitting, drawing and decorating materials via its website.

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