John Levisay: Setting Up Crafting Classrooms Online

Online entrepreneur John Levisay is one of the four co-founders of Sympoz Inc., the Denver-based startup behind the rising online crafting school Craftsy. Prior to starting Sympoz, Levisay worked at eBay, where he helped developed the online auctioneer’s music, photography, and industrial categories. After deciding that he had “had enough of California,” he moved to Colorado to join Service Magic, an Internet company that connects homeowners with contractors. In late 2010, Levisay teamed up with colleagues Josh Scott, Todd Tobin, and Bret Hanna to launch Sympoz, which began as an online education vendor. During its first six months, the startup offered classes on crafting, cooking, wine tasting, and even some academic courses. The crafting classes turned out to be the most popular, leading Levisay and his co-founders to create the Craftsy platform in May 2011.

Craftsy’s online classes, which cover a variety of topics from cake decorating to paper crafts to sewing, have seen 840,000 enrollments. Students normally pay $30 to $50 per class, though there are also some free or discounted offerings. In 2012, Craftsy made approximately $12 million in revenue. According to Levisay, about a quarter of that came from the class materials and other goods they sell in the Craftsy shop, which they opened at the request of students.

“We’re trying to create an experience,” says Levisay. An experience that, aside from interactive classes and an online marketplace, includes message boards, Facebook clubs, and mobile apps.

Jason Mendelson, a managing partner at Sympoz backer Foundry Group, believes quality and convenience are the key ingredients in Sympoz’s “secret sauce.” “At first, everything on the Internet was free since no one could figure out what to do with it. Now, people are paying for convenience… That’s what Craftsy does – it makes it convenient, giving you the instruction when you want it. Then, they lay in the quality.”

Right now, Levisay and company are focused on producing new courses and reaching even more crafting enthusiasts. “When a strategy works, and it works very well, it makes sense to double down on it,” he says.

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