Founder and CEO Haley Bohon on in-person education, startups and SkillPop’s success

Charlotte startup SkillPop offers pop-up classes on a range of subjects, from marketing basics, to hand lettering, to interior design, to “chocolate appreciation” and more. CEO and Founder Haley Bohon talked to StartCharlotte about the company’s success and the ups and downs of running a company.
Do you want to learn marketing secrets from one of Charlotte’s top marketing VPs? Do you need a Photoshop refresher? What about a new hobby? If you want to learn to watercolor or hand letter, you better jump on it quick. Those classes sell out in a matter of hours.

Charlotte startup SkillPop offers these pop-up classes and more in interesting spaces around the city, taught by local professionals. That might be a hobbyist who is self-taught but incredibly talented at art, or that might be a top executive from a large Charlotte company. Classes range from $25 to $60 and teachers receive a flat percentage rate of the class rate.

“Education has been strongly trending online,” founder and CEO Haley Bohon said. “It struck me as sort of interesting because taking classes and taking them in person is such a part of growing up.”

SkillPop offers pop-up classes in interesting spaces – usually co-working offices, but teachers have hosted classes at farms, dance studios, distilleries, and salons as well. Recently, the company started offering workbooks for popular classes, to extend the life of the learning past the in-person class. Right now a hand-lettering basics book and a holiday hand lettering book are available online.

The SkillPop crew is super active on social media, often tweeting at students and teachers discussing their upcoming classes.

“I think by making it a community we made something that people are excited to plug into,” Bohon said.

Bohon and her team of six expanded to Raleigh in August, and so far have been pleased with the success in a second city. They hope to bring SkillPop to a third city in 2017. So far, Bohon said, SkillPop’s inclusive offerings are pretty unique in both the Charlotte and Raleigh markets. Online platforms and solo studios have some parallels in the education market, she said, but so far no one is tapping into the public’s craving for broad, hands-on learning quite like SkillPop has.

“Learning comes in all shapes and I think competition does as well,” she said. “We would love to be the go-to platform for in-person learning both for students and for teachers.”

Bohon launched SkillPop in September 2015 after graduating with a degree in engineering from North Carolina State University, then four years working with Newell Rubbermaid and Charlotte startup Passport.

“I say often that starting a company is much like having a baby and I will asterisk this by saying that I don’t have any kids,” Bohon said.

“I’m making a lot of assumptions here, but I think it’s a lot like having a baby in that you get unsolicited advice all the time. At least, I have gotten unsolicited advice all the time. I can’t tell you the number of things that someone has told me do it this way and someone else has told me don’t do it this way.”

Advice ranges from whether or not she could get a business partner (she hasn’t) to whether or not she should seek investors (SkillPop is fully self-funded.)

“A really good thing I’ve learned is to trust is my gut and to trust myself.”

While also hosting 30 classes per month with a SkillPop employee at each one, Bohon and her team try to stay as connected as they can in the Charlotte startup scene.They attend pitch and networking events, and their pool of teachers includes some of the most well-connected people in Charlotte, such as Corrie Smith of Black Wednesday and #InstaBeerUpCLT and Blair Primis, VP of Marketing for OrthoCarolina.

“I really strongly think that Charlotte is a special place right now for entrepreneurs,” Bohon said. “It’s good for startups and startup founders. It’s better now than it was five years ago and better than it will be in five years. Right now you can make a big splash.”