Storytelling About Skillr With Cassel Shapiro

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast! Today we have Cassel Shapiro from Skillr and we’ll be talking about the use case of Skillr, and why their customers continue to use them.

Skillr is a marketplace app where consumers can connect with professionals to learn new skills through one-on-one video chat. The app was founded by Cassel Shapiro, who was inspired by his own experience struggling to communicate in a foreign language while traveling.

Shapiro spent two years researching and developing the app before launching it commercially in November 2022. Skillr currently offers 50 categories of skills, with 250 specific skills available, and professionals can set their own rates and availability. The main challenge for Skillr is marketing the app to potential users.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 24 minutes

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Cassel Shapiro
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Storytelling About Skillr With Cassel Shapiro

[00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case podcast. Today we have Castle on from Skiller, and we’ll be talking about the William. Yep, William. Thank you for having me. So let’s do introduction castle. Tell us about a little bit about yourself and a little bit about Skiller. I spent 20 years on Wall Street based in Manhattan.

Working in venture capital, raising money for promising startups and tech and life sciences. And along the way, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a number of companies that, from their infancy went public, but I’d never been in the [00:01:00] hot seat and five years ago, and I always, I’d always raise money for these companies and advise them, but I’ve never been to the ceo.

And five years ago I had, I was traveling in Europe. And I I was using Google Translate all the time, right? Specifically, yes. I was in, I was just north of Milan and I’m in a gas station trying to converse with an attendant about how I can pay an upcoming toll, because I saw the sign on the highway, right?

And so I’m typing into my phone and it just, and he’s typing back and it was a real pain point, and it just got me thinking, whoa, this is a perfect example of where there’s somebody out there, one of my friends possibly, who speaks Italian. Would be more than happy to pause Netflix for a couple minutes and help me out.

Help me help be my interpreter, and I couldn’t tell you when or where I would need it. On that trip, I went all around Europe. I was bouncing around all these countries, but when I came back to the States, it was apparent that there was a real need for something, and the idea started for skiller with interpreters.

[00:02:00] It didn’t need to be that there’s a, I didn’t need a professional interpreter if I was asking to, how to order on a menu or how to pay a toll, right? So it just got me thinking of this construct of a consumer who needs access to a pro. That pro could just be an everyday person that purports to have the skill and in turn, or conversely how there’s millions of people out there that have a skill, have some spare time, would love to monetize that.

Spare time would love to share their passion and their experience. So I, I spent two years after coming up with the idea, researching and thinking about really what Skiller was gonna become. And it was apparent that it wasn’t just in er, it was things like fitness instructors and homework helpers.

And how to create this marketplace where a consumer and a purported pro can instantly connect instantly. Video chat one-on-one, engage. And we were off to the races. So right now in your development where do you [00:03:00] see, where do you see your barriers right now? Again you’ve been on the funding side of this.

So if you were doing another raise what would be the hardest questions that you’d have to answer right now? Yeah, certainly. So I started the company three years ago in early 2020 and we spent about a year and a half DEIB designing and doing the initial development to come up with our minimally viable product, with which in 2022 and early 2022, we began testing privately and we’re fortunate to roll out our commercial product.

In November of 2022. So we’ve been in the market now just about five months. Look, it’s, a lot of people will tell you wanna start in one little niche, and it’s true. We, we have this. Skiller is an app iOS at present Android coming soon where you can instantly video chat one-on-one with thousands of kinds of pros on millions of topics you can pay by the minute.

There are pros that set their own rate and set their own availability. [00:04:00] And some pros work just for tips. But the low hanging fruit for us has been while we have 50 categories of skills, 250 skills they’re in and with the pro’s ability to tag themselves literally millions of specialties. The, it’s about marketing the app.

So questions that we get often are, how do you market a one stop shop? And we don’t. We know that there’s viable online businesses and other businesses for homework help, right? Interpreters and language lessons, talent and astrology fitness. And so we focus there, we focus on creating ads that are speaking to that skill and presenting those to people, searching for that keyword, and then endeavoring to get those consumers into our app and have them have a great one-on-one session with the pro of their choice.

So we focused initially on. Homework help ads and language lesson ads. And then over time we continue to advertise more skills online and see which ones work. So the financial model on the app [00:05:00] side is, whatever per month, and it can probably turn it on, turn it off, whatever, and then on the back end you’re paying the pros and y’all are taking whatever’s in the middle.

My ambition was, it was a grandiose ambition. It was to create this new it, it was, and I left 20 years a job of 20 years on Wall Street to pursue this because I just thought that there was something to this construct of learning one-on-one from another human being, be they.

Be they a shingle professional Mandarin interpreter, or just somebody that speaks Mandarin in English who can help you out, or a teacher versus somebody that can just help you finish your math homework. So I wanted to build this thing. I wanted it to be as frictionless as possible. So to me what that meant as pay by the minute.

So no subscriptions as of yet, right? So the consumers. You install the app, there’s no surprise billing. In fact, like I said, we even have pros that just work for free plus tips, right? So if you’re hesitant about paying by the minute, there are [00:06:00] people in pretty much every category in the app who will work with you for free.

The way we make money as a corporation is that the pros who set their own rate, Be at a dollar a minute, $10 a minute, what have you. They pay us 25% of whatever they make. So we take 25% of whatever the pro makes. So you don’t, yeah, you make it you’ll the model is you’ll make money on both sides.

So make money from the consumers, but also the producers. Pretty much, yeah. So the consumers pay the pros in our app, right? There’s embedded payment processing and whatever the pros make, we take 25%. Yeah, no, that totally makes sense. So are there, like with Uber or Lyft, are there ratings of the interpreters?

Yeah. Or the, or even the customers, right? Yeah. And great question. So it’s a marketplace and my vision for this was to create a place where anybody can purport to be a pro. We call our pros. Skill and we call the consumers seekers. So back to skill, the skill anybody can purport to be a skiller.

Case in point they [00:07:00] have a profe, we have a channel partner who provides professional interpreters. If you have a business meeting, for instance, you can book. Instantly one of our professional mandarin to English interpreters for $2 and 25 cents a minute. And or you, conversely you could book somebody that purports to be a pro in Mandarin, and we have some that work for free or a dollar a minute.

Great thing is at the end of the session, you review that person and that review impacts how other people are willing to perhaps book that person. You can also flag the session for review by my team. You can you can share the session, the recording of the session, and you can refer back at any time to recordings of your session.

So perhaps if you had some, but one of our Italian chefs. Help you cook a dish, you’ll have that video forever. So the marketplace over time it informs itself, right? More and more reviews. And we have written reviews as well as stars. So rating system. Expertise [00:08:00] level, you’re not grading people out they self grade in terms of the skewers.

Yeah, absolutely. And we enable we facilitate this by making it an open garden. So pros, our skewers can add links to their social media accounts. They can add videos. Of past sessions or of, or just profile videos that they wanna upload themselves. And we have the ability in the app for a cons, a skiller, and a consumer to instant message.

So if you’re not certain that this Italian chef. Is going to be able to help you make veal, salt and boca. You can instant message them in the app and ascertain if they’re proficient in that dish and they can perhaps piecemeal you the items you should go get in the store before you meet them later in the day.

Because it’s a two-sided marketplace, you’re trying to you need both, right? So you need skewers and seekers simultaneously, what’s, what are you trying to do to raise awareness and [00:09:00] bring in new people on both sides? Great question to bringing in pros. We’ve taken a, an old school approach where we’ve placed ads online programmatically on hundreds of job board around the country.

In fact, now around the world in bits would beers to join the app, okay? If we specifically reach out to a pro, the pro becomes approved immediately. If a pro responds to one of our ads, they begin an estate called Pending where they can only accept tips and after they’ve had a session or two with one of our seekers, then we ascertain if the pro’s willing to be is qualified enough in our opinion to be approved.

So for acquiring pros, we advertise online on job boards, right? And then for. For acquiring seekers, consumers, there’s a bifurcated approach. On the one hand, we have a referral program, so any pro from, an everyday person to somebody with hundreds of thousands and millions of [00:10:00] followers, which we have, can invite their friends and followers.

The great thing about this is we pay our skill, our referers. Not only an upfront fee for every consumer they bring into the app, but we also pay them 5% of whatever that consumer spends in the app. Oh, cool. For the next year. So if you bring in, if your next door neighbor has a lot of kids, your next door neighbor spends tons of money and skill around homework help your kids.

Finish their homework, you’re going to earn 5% of whatever that family spends in the app. So that’s one approach. And the second approach is, making targeted advertisements, presenting a skill to a consumer, looking for that keyboard online. So we run advertisements on Facebook, meta Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, Snapchat, LinkedIn.

Tabula and in fact dozens of other ad networks. And then those ads bring in people looking, bring looking for a particular experience. And then we endeavor to [00:11:00] inform that consumer once they install their app that, yeah, you can have a. An instant one-on-one golf lesson later tonight. If you go to the driving range and it can be as little or as long as you like and you pay by them in, that’s great, but maybe you also wanna try our fitness instructors, or maybe you want your kids to try our homework helpers.

So the idea is to bring people into our world, give them the experience that they seek, and then thereafter inform them that there’s so much more to skiller that it is in fact the one stop shop for all of your instant on-demand. Access to pros needs. So analytics wise, when you look at the data, what are the seekers looking for in, I’m sure it changes moment by moment, but if we were to look at Q1 because we’re in April, we can do this.

If we were look at q1, what would be the top two or three things that you could see, okay, this is what seekers want, this is what they were really searching for, this is what they needed. I, in this moment of time, what was trending, if you will. Great. Early, great question. Early on I [00:12:00] joke that if skill ends up beating the world’s best terror, astrology and yoga site, then I’ll be content.

At least I created this marketplace where somebody could vibe. Somebody else. In fact, that’s what’s happening. We thought initially it was going, skiller was gonna be a marketplace where knowledge would be transferred from a skiller to a seeker. Really what ends up happening is people are making friendships.

And it’s that, it’s the humanity that’s drawing people to use the app again and again. That said, we’ve only been in the marketplace for five months. Our first full quarter was the last three months, and we advertised fitness instructors, weight loss coaches, makeup tutorial language lessons, Tara Astrology.

Low and behold, Tara Astrology and some of our fitness categories are the top performers. But what’s interesting too is that we’ve seen people, consumers spread their wings and try out different areas of the app such as we have [00:13:00] guitar lessons and those guitar lessons instructors can also just play music for you.

So we’ve had some consumers come into the app and have a pro play their favorite song. So just, it’s great to see that not only are the advertisements we’re running online, working to bring in consumers looking for a specific experience, but more so tho some of those consumers are. Exploring other areas of the app.

Just as we started we started with translating language and obviously that’s a huge part of what we do. And in like in fitness, are we thinking about we find somebody that’s doing something in fitness, but they’re doing it in polish or they’re doing it in Spanish, et cetera, and then that’s translated into whatever language you want it to be translated into, or is language translation just one of the spokes?

Of a much larger wheel like his leg. Great question. Yeah. At present, yeah, at present. The, an, the app is localized to English, right? And so [00:14:00] all of our instructors are speaking English, but for the interpreters who help you with language lesson or in interpreting, so you would consume a fitness instructors.

Expertise in English that said you’re thinking great because that’s on our roadmap, down the road you’d be able to pair an interpreter with an instructor so that any, if you speak a certain language, you could access a pro that doesn’t speak that language.

That’s right. That’s, we’re on just low hanging fruit and evolving and enhancing the existing app and making sure people have a great experience. But you know my eyes, you know how impatient investors are. This is the beauty. This is the beauty guest. You’re on the other side of the firing line.

And of course they want you to be there faster. So I get it. You have some Yeah. Goes back to, it’s the, taking what we have and evolving and investors wanna see traction. And they also wanna relate to the product. So I love Skiller because, it’s tough for me to get the motivation to go to the gym, right?

And [00:15:00] if I do wanna go to the gym, it’s great to be able to procure and skill her when I get to the gym. If in fact I go today, procure a fitness instructor in the skiller app and video chat with ’em one-on-one for as little as long as I like. It allows me to be a little bit more flexible and it also is.

Pragmatically, it allows me to afford or allows a lot more people to afford a fitness instructor when they otherwise couldn’t, because, you don’t need the historically fitness instructors work for an hour, and now with the Skiller app, we can disintermediate that. You can book a Skiller fitness instructor and use them for as little or as long as you like, so that’s great.

So what’s in the next release without giving away secret sauce and stuff like that. Question. We have, it’s funny, we have witch doctors and we have all sorts of, eccentric. Entertainers in the app. So I think it’s funny. We’re gonna be we’re in our next major rollout.

We’re going to be adding actual doctors in partnership. Oh, cool. Call many Orbis. So this is an app now where [00:16:00] you’ll be able to procure a doctor for urgent care or weight loss or medical with the same ease with which you procure a fitness instructor or even a witch doctor. So first up with a doctor and a witch doctor in one place.

Great take. What’s interesting about that bringing in modern medicine or western medicine, if you will, is you now have the, you’ll, you at one point will have the strata. You’ll have the entire spectrum of, Hey, listen, if you want a homeopath or a witch doctor, or you want to do something non-traditional, or you want western medicine, like we’re not in the business of we’re not in the business of making opinions about that.

We’re in the business of connecting people that what they need and what they want. Yeah, totally. Bingo. And that’s, that was the ambition for skill. It was, if. Put it this way in the, if historically you wanted to, you wanted to explore Eastern medicine, right? You have to find a practitioner.

You’d have to schedule in advance. You have, you’d have to go meet them in person and you’d have to [00:17:00] commit to a minimum increment of time, which is pretty expensive. The beautiful thing about Skiller is it just allows you to, if. If to peak your interest with bite-sized exposure to different types of medicine or different types of entertainment or, what I like to say is if, especially in this global recession, if, if you can’t afford to give your kid every experience under the sun, you still, you can sit ’em in the couch, in the living room safely and with 50 bucks they can have five or 10 different, experiences in Skiller right at one after another, be it.

Weight, weight loss, or, or drawing, singing fi French lessons one after another for as little or as long as they’d like. The, what I love about what you’ve built is it scratches a bunch of curiosities. Like I, I personally would like to know more about nutrition and I’ve bought books on nutrition.

I’m sure there are thousands of websites that could educate me about nutrition, but you know what? I’d like to have a [00:18:00] five minute call with just a nutritionist. Explain to me what the hell, the difference between sugars and carbs are. Like, what? I don’t understand. Yeah. And it’s, I your last podcast was about chat, G p t or your last Oh yeah.

Yeah. And I think that this is the antithesis to chat G P T because in a lot of ways you can either watch a YouTube video or in the near future. A lot of people will be typing things into chat g p T, right? It doesn’t offer you that responsiveness that this a person understands, not just the question that you’re asking.

Sure. But the gist of the question and drawing from their experience offers you tailored information. And I go back to most of our pros are charging a dollar a minute, so it’s a DEIB minimus amount of money. To have a five minute session. Yeah. With a nutritionist. And actually, and I think what’s, what I’m just alluding to was alerting to earlier.

It’s not just that nutritionist will transfer their knowledge to you, but they’re going to imbue you with their passion and their expertise. And motivate you. And I think going [00:19:00] back to chat, g p T doesn’t do any of those things. See that’s the, and it’s also one’s gonna feed the other because the more we automate, the more we use ai, which is great, the more we’re gonna want human connection.

Agreed. So it, it’s all that stuff is great and we use Alexa and Siri and Google Maps and all that stuff like, and all that stuff makes our life better. Great. Fantastic. But it’s gonna create a more of a yearning and especially getting back to these scratching, some curiosities you don’t have to take off and, Do a traditional class, you can just take a couple minutes.

I love the buy model for seekers is they can find something that they’re interested in, a passion or just something that they’re curious about, and then go talk to somebody that actually knows it, that’s skilled in it, and have a conversation. And then if they want to have more, they can, if they don’t, great, like they’ve scratched the itch.

William, you get it. And great stories. Early on in, in our discovery and development phase of Skiller, a young [00:20:00] man reached out to me from a high school in Northern New Jersey, and I didn’t know how he found his, found on the internet. And he was a he’s a Rubik’s Cube Savan. Oh wow. Okay. So he’s competitive.

Rubiks cube solver. And he had started, a lot of his friends had, had they, he’d peaked their interests. And so we started teaching his friends and and he was asking us if he could be our first Rubiks Cube instructor. And because he’d exhausted his natural network in his high school of people that wanted to book him.

And now I’m just thinking of that. When he reached out to me, of course I was touched, but I also realized that it was, I know I always wondered how to solve a Rubik’s cube. And I’d seen clips of people doing this rapidly and I thought, that’s unreal. Would I actually take the time to, commit to an hour long class to do it?

Probably not. But the fact that there’s now this young gentleman in Skiller and I can book him and, and just get a taste on how he does it, is, it’s really exciting. So two questions. Left. One is, What’s [00:21:00] success look like for you for the end of the year? What are you defining as success?

Okay. For us, we’re a formative stage business and for success to us is is continuing to evolve and enhance our product to make it the most meaningful experience as rapidly and easily as possible. One tenant of success is just continuing to make our product better and solve particular consumers problems rapidly.

Another tenant for us is to get consumers using our app. On a recurring basis, so it’s great if you come in and have a use one of our homework helpers to finish your homework tonight. It’s my desire that. The second to that, you use that homework helper often, and then the greatest success to us would be if people start using poly skill.

So you come in and you have the experience of your choice, but then you realize that there’s so much more to Skiller. You came in and you had a golf lesson, but then you. Realized we had barbecue chefs and we had, you’re going on vacation to Italy and you [00:22:00] keep us in mind and you use some of our Italians English interpreters when you’re on the road.

So that’s gonna be success. And then just getting, continuing to create awareness for this one stop shop and growing. We’re also gonna be bringing in another tier echelon of influencers to help drive our referral programs. And I’m excited to see how that pans out. Oh yeah. I can see, especially in the cosmetics industry, I can see a lot of the influencers in the health and beauty area, being able to be both sides, just drawing.

There’s a bunch of people that will seek that knowledge, but there’s a bunch of people that are just great. Let’s say makeup and stuff like that. But yeah, I can see the influencer market being really attractive. This is the last question before we go in is it’s really way off topic though.

As we were talking, I was wondering, like I have let’s see, vans in seventh grade, But he is dyslexia and doesn’t take a foreign language. He actually codes. So he is learning scratch and some other types of things as his foreign [00:23:00] language. But it’s gotten me to think do kids, do they need to actually learn foreign languages?

Outside of the desire and all that other stuff, do they need to learn foreign language? What’s your take? Do you believe that kids need to take Spanish or French or whatever? I don’t know. I, it’s funny right before the internet lemme answer that question differently.

I think that the classroom is the entire world and far from me, people, me to tell you what you need to learn. And the beautiful thing is I want skill or to help you peak your interest in the areas where you want to go explore. Personally, don’t think you need to. Learn multiple languages unless you plan to go live someplace overseas.

And the help of an app interpreters like Skiller, I can wander around Manhattan’s Chinatown, where our office is located and speak with locals in the markets, which I’ve done. We’ve filmed with as though I am a local. So it’s really, the app for me has been great for that very reason.

I don’t. I don’t profess to wanna learn Mandarin, but I can. I can converse. I don’t think I [00:24:00] could, but yeah, I can converse with somebody in Mandarin with as easily as just opening the skiller hat and hitting connect. Oh, I love that. Castle. I love what you’ve built. It’s just, it actually, it’s an app that actually helps people.

There’s so much of the technology that’s built that doesn’t, it doesn’t really help people. This is absolutely, truly something that’s helpful. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast, William, thank you so much. Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case podcast. Until next time.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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