Vienna Skill Smiths won BETAPITCH Vienna in 2015. One year after, the company is scaled impressively. Therefore we called Stefan, the co-founder of Vienna Skill Smiths to hear about their progress and lessons he’s learnt along the way.
What is the idea behind Vienna Skill Smiths ?
Vienna Skill Smiths is an impact business. We design contemporary learning experiences. Our mission is to empower and inspire through learning. So far we’ve connected curious minds with outstanding teachers in the local community. Our customers are able to follow their interests in affordable, fun, and very short sessions in a rad location in the local neighbourhood. Next we’ll create compact settings that allow people to discover a professional path from the creative sector. Again, people can learn from pros at the top of their games. Eventually, we’ll see us also in the area of professional orientation for youth. We believe young people should learn as early as possible about the different creative professional paths you can take nowadays.
You won BETAPITCH | Vienna last year. What happened right after that?
We’ve got a lot of attention which was good and were able to meet outstanding entrepreneurs at the BETAPITCH global event. I was very happy to see all that buzz around the topic of learning.
What is your main focus now?
Our main focus now is to work together with local professionals to build the most stunning learning experience you can get out there. This is our secret sauce and we’ve gained a lot of credibility in various scenes.
Along the way, however, I realized that Vienna Skill Smiths was about something else. It’s rather about designing stunning learning experiences and building a strong learning & teaching community. We learned that we are community shapers, not coders. Instead of worrying of not being able to afford excellent coders, I focused on the people behind our offer. Building meaningful communities takes time; that’s why Vienna Skill Smiths is not that much about scaling but rather about growing.
How did you overcome having no programmers in the team?
By learning super fast. If you lack certain skills in your team (or can’t afford to pay for it) you have to look at your idea and see how you could deliver the value without a fancy web app or stacks of money. It depends on what you are doing. If you work on the next killer app, in the long run you’ll need a tech person on board, go and find her / him. For Vienna Skill Smiths, however, there were plenty of options that were a good enough solution as the real value is in the community we built. I admit that as aspiring UX designer I sometimes look at the gap between the things. I wireframe or sketch the things I eventually implement. Along the way I learned to work with what we have.
What has helped you to shape what Vienna Skill Smiths is today?
There were lots of helpers that made this happen. We had volunteers and mentors that supported us in early days. Most importantly, we received a lot of support from all our venue partners. They were ready to experiment with us on all our iterations. sektor5 in particular helped us big time in various stages; also on a personal level. The same is true for our outstanding teacher community. I guess what I can share here is that if you ask people to help you and give them reason to do so they most probably will. I should have been asking even more often in retrospect.
On the other side there is a lot of noise out there. Everybody has an opinion on what you are doing but only a fraction of that feedback is useful. Your job is to find those that are in the position to give you constructive, honest and valuable feedback and be reflective on the things you hear.
Any advice for other startups?
Don’t try to be something that you are not. In the early days I thought a lot about how Vienna Skill Smiths could look like – cutting-edge, seamless, automatised web marketplace. It was very tempting, especially if you are surrounded by fast moving (tech) start-ups. Having no programmers in the team (and bootstrapping our start-up), it felt like something hard to overcome. But we made it happen.
In the finals of BETAPITCH global 2015, Vienna Skill Smiths won 6 months of free workspace. This gave the founders a possibility to stay based at sektor5 – a coworking space, our friend and long term host of BETAPITCH competitions.