Do You Dabble?
Dabble lets users teach or take classes on a wide range of specialty subjects.
Do you like to dabble in new things? What if you took a fencing class or learned how to start your own Etsy business? Do you think you can teach a class about something? Anything? Dabble is a new service that brings the two together: people who teach and people who want to learn. Founded in 2011 in Chicago by Erin Hopmann and Jessica Lybeck, the company recently relocated its headquarters to St. Louis after winning a $50,000 Arch Grant—one of 20 non-equity grants the organization gives each year to attract startups to St. Louis. “It’s social learning,” newly appointed Dabble CEO Jay Swoboda says. “There are websites where you can learn how to do a lot of things online in your pajamas, but what we’re really passionate about with Dabble is that people are getting offline and going out in their community and meeting real people. They’re disconnecting with technology a little bit.”
The company’s Chicago operation currently has more than 20,000 users with more than 170 classes being offered at any given time, accounting for 80 percent of Dabble’s revenue, with the remaining revenue coming in equal amounts from Denver—which started when one of the founders moved there—and St. Louis, the territory the company is now building. If Swoboda gets his way, St. Louis will soon offer an array of classes and events that will rival even Chicago. A glance at the Windy City’s home-page shows classes such as BYOB Sushi-making, Do-It-Yourself Solar Electricity and Zombie Survivor Training. By contrast, the new St. Louis market has about 400 users and currently is offering 30 classes that, though small in number, are no less interesting and wildly diverse, like Designing Rainwater Harvesting Landscapes, Raising Animals for Food and Scotch 101.
Tech for Teachers
Essentially, Dabble is a marketing tool. “We provide teachers a way to market their business and monetize those skills in a way that really didn’t exist before Dabble,” says Swoboda, pointing out that posting fliers at coffee shops or on social media doesn’t guarantee people will show up. Dabble handles registration, payment collection and email communication to both teachers and students, and also offers suggestions to help teachers spread the word or modify their classes in ways that will attract more students. The teacher knows 24 hours in advance who is on the class roster and how much they’ll be earning. Following the class, students can leave public feedback on the experience. All a teacher needs is a space to hold the class and the 10 minutes it takes to register it on the Dabble website. Classes cost an average of $30 each.
Education of the Future
But why move to St. Louis? In spite of a strong concept and platform, immense scalability and ease of duplication in city after city, the company failed to attract any critical Series A funding over three years; however, during the six-month transition to St. Louis, the company has had some of its highest revenue numbers ever. “The Arch Grant gave us a nice injection to help keep it going,” Swoboda says of the grant, which was used to hire part-time class scouts, marketing interns in Chicago and St. Louis, and Zach McCullough as community manager in St. Louis.
Company leaders intend to deepen Dabble’s presence in Chicago and Denver and continue to grow in St. Louis, drawing on Swoboda’s deep local roots, beginning 17 years ago when he arrived at Wash U as a student and stuck around. When the company has a solid foundation to work from, expansion into additional markets, such as other areas of the US and Europe will follow. The goal is to grow to 1 million users by 2017. Swoboda is encouraged about Dabble’s future. “Everybody’s interested in something.” Swoboda says. “Everybody has a passion.”
Photo by Attilio D’Agostino
CEO Jay Swoboda