As I was browsing the web in hopes of treating myself to an arts and crafts class for my birthday, I not only found an interesting class, but also discovered a great website –Verlocal. Verlocal provides hundreds of classes and workshops offered by local hosts, people who have expertise in various fields and happen to love teaching others. It’s like seeing something handmade on Etsy, getting to meet the maker and learning how to do it. Impressed with their concept of an open platform for artists and makers to offer classes, I contacted the founders for an interview.
The team who started Verlocal are Will Lee (CEO and Founder), Minsoo Kim (Co-Founder and Head of Business Development) and Hannah Chan (Co-Founder, Head of Design).
Hannah, born and raised in Hong Kong, came to study in the US five years ago and is a UC Berkeley graduate. She met Will at a networking event:
“If you meet Will, you’ll see how passionate he is about his ideas. That’s actually the reason I joined the company and I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m in charge of the design team and I get to work with really great people.”
Minsoo is in charge of Business Development in Verlocal. When he met Will last year, Minsoo was a UC Berkeley student. Will was putting a team together for his startup. Minsoo had one more year of school ahead of him and wasn’t really looking for a job but the idea of the startup sounded quite interesting. The more they talked about the company over coffee, the more it made sense for Minsoo to drop out of school and join the team. At that time everyone was talking about the success of Airbnb and Uber. Minsoo thought that if he didn’t join the Verlocal team at that point, another great opportunity wouldn’t come his way again.
“When I think about it now, well, my parents weren’t happy. If I had a kid who decided to quit school with one year being left I wouldn’t be happy either. But at that time I didn’t really have to think about it. The idea of the company was much bigger to me than getting a degree. Growing up in the Bay Area and hearing about all these companies making it big, the startups with new ideas; I never really envisioned myself being a part of that, but after talking to Will and learning about his idea, it wasn’t a hard decision to drop out of school. And even now I don’t regret doing that at all.”
How far has Verlocal spread out of SF since it was founded in 2014?
Right now we are in 12 cities. But we plan to be in 20 cities within the next six months or so. We are very stable in five major cities: SF, NY, LA, Chicago and Seattle. And that’s just from one office – here. We want to branch out and stabilize our service in 20 cities and then we want to start satellite offices to grow in each city in more prolific and personalized way.
Who are your competitors?
We do not have direct competitors because we are an open market place. Lot of people compare us with Groupon. Groupon takes certain classes and makes the cost lower. It is great for the consumer but it’s not such a great deal for the providers. When a consumer takes a class for a half price they are unlikely to go back and pay full price for the same thing. So, there’s not much user loyalty. One of our missions for the provider side is to turn individuals into one person businesses. We want to make sure that these providers can use our platform and the tools that we provide to make a living and generate revenue out of what they love to do.
There’s a lot of data being collected from users these days. How does your company manage the data that’s collected?
Companies want to know more about you so they can make your life easier. At the same time as a consumer myself sometimes it’s a little troubling because all these companies know a lot about us. Because there’s two different sides to this I think it’s very important to know where the line is. It’s a very grey area, but for companies who collect a lot of data to say ok we can collect data but we can use it only for these purposes. We don’t collect a lot of data. Only the tidbits of data that we need to introduce you to experiences that we think you would like, and they will help you develop your skills and learn something.
Do you or any other staff members take Verlocal classes?
Oh yeah! We do team bonding activities quite often and take group classes. Some employees see something that their girlfriends like, so they take the girlfriends to different classes.
How do you guys control the quality of the guest experience?
It’s an open platform, anyone can join and be a host but we do quality control before we start marketing them. A lot of times people can be great teachers, but they can’t be great hosts. For example they may fail responding on a timely fashion to the guests on our platform. We go through a lot of QA to make sure these people are reliable.
After having a nice chat with these two, I believe, Verlocal is going to be my new source of inspiration when I look for giving experiences rather than gifts to my friends and family for the holiday season!