Combining Company & Product Growth

Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Founder & CEO, Skillshare | Season 1, Episode 1

Spero Ventures
Oct 25, 2016 · 6 min read

By Rob Veres, Venture Partner at Omidyar Network

Part of what makes an entrepreneur successful isn’t just her or his vision, but also the day-to-day approach to productivity, motivating others and communicating both regular activity and major changes.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn founded Skillshare with the belief that everyone has a skill that they can teach or share with the rest of the world. With more than 2 million students and nearly 10,000 classes online, Skillshare is a global learning community for creators. We sat down with Michael to get his thoughts on getting to product-market fit in the early years of Skillshare, how he thinks about building an enduring mission-driven, for-profit company and how his role as a leader has evolved over time.

An excerpt of the full interview with Michael is below:

Be relentlessly user-focused. Don’t build anything unless you know it serves a real customer problem

The culture fit test: Hire based on your core values

We realized throughout the years that we had to recruit a certain type of person that would thrive in our culture. To maintain our culture, we set what we called our core values that we vet all hiring and essentially performance against. It’s around humility, adaptability, resourcefulness and passion for excellence.

In the early days, when we didn’t set the core values, the culture fit test was, ‘Can you grab a beer with this person?’ Then we updated it to, ‘Would you be able to sit on a flight with them from New York to SF?’ We realized that there were people who would pass these tests but weren’t a culture fit. We then decided to shift over to our core values. We said if people value these values, then no matter who they are, where they came from, how they grew up, it didn’t matter because we would all value the same things. That is what would create a really strong culture. Over the years, we updated interview questions, we trained around these values, performance awards are given around the culture — it’s really ingrained within the company.

We have an interview dedicated to culture fit. That is the #1 interview that a lot people don’t pass. We say culture fit over skills fit. If people are great at their job, but not a culture fit, we would pass on them 100% of the time. They may be great hires elsewhere, but they may not be great for us.”

Set a clear and shared vision with the team

To be a great leader, become a better listener

In the early days, when the company was smaller, I would talk a lot. Today, I speak a lot less. I think another reason is because there are lot of other leaders who have emerged in the company. I want to give those leaders the opportunity to be the voice of the company and allow them to lead their teams.”

Writing as a communication tool can be very impactful

I’ve written about ‘Being frugal.’ After raising our Series B, I was getting so many requests for things. I lifted the hood and wrote about where all the expenses were going — it was mostly people’s salaries — , and why curbing expenses mattered. After I wrote about this, all the requests ended up disappearing. Throwing money at a problem is easy, but it’s not always the right answer.

I’ve written about the ideal product vision and experience. I wrote a post around celebrating milestones. In the next post, I’ll be writing about goal setting — how we should set goals, why is it important, why does your work matter and how does it ladder up to impact.”

No morning meetings to increase productivity

Be patient and spend more time listening

The second piece of advice I’d give is to just listen. When I was much younger, especially when everything was so gut and intuition‑based around product market fit, you have a very clear vision. But if you’re not listening, you might miss cues that can help you to maybe change the course of the direction that puts you a lot closer to what you want to accomplish.”

The Founder’s Corner podcast series is produced by Omidyar Network’s Emerging Tech initiative. For more information, visit our website, sign up for updates on the podcast, and subscribe to Founder’s Corner on SoundCloud, iTunes, or Google Play.

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Spero Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm driven to deliver value to shareholders and society.

Spero Ventures

News, podcasts, and insights from Spero Ventures.