TeachStreet Expands to Portland Metro Area, Looking to Double Its Traffic and Much More
When I first met Dave Schappell a few weeks ago, we talked mostly about entrepreneurship and his experience running his startup— TeachStreet, an online community site for connecting local teachers and students. Today TeachStreet has some big news: it has expanded to Portland, OR, in its first move outside of Seattle. The idea is, if you want to learn any new skill or find students to teach in any area of your expertise, Schappell’s site will hook you up. (Initial highlights for Portland include 699 yoga classes, 355 knitting classes, and 149 fishing classes.)
It’s a big step for TeachStreet, which launched in Seattle only four months ago and is backed by Madrona Venture Group and Bezos Expeditions. The site, which is free to use, makes its money on contextual ads. Increasing traffic is the key to its success. “It’s a big change going from one site to two, mostly search-engine related,” says Schappell. “We are more than doubling the number of pages we have indexed.” That should translate into more-than-doubling the traffic to the overall site, he adds. “We’ll be a lot more discoverable.”
But more than that, the move speaks to an interesting company strategy. A key issue in any expansion is the time and resources needed to launch and maintain a new site or location. Schappell says it took about five months to prepare for the initial Seattle launch—gathering data on who the experts were in various fields, making contacts, and so forth—but it took only about half that time, 10 or 11 weeks, to prepare for Portland. The reason? Much more efficient data gathering, and knowing exactly what information (like start and end dates, titles, and addresses) and Internet tags they needed for their teachers and classes. That came from his team’s Seattle experience.
So Schappell doesn’t anticipate needing to grow his core team of developers and product managers, who number about 10 in Seattle. Which is huge, of course, because if they can keep increasing their traffic without hiring more people, they’ll make a killing. To do that, however, will also require continually improving the site. As of today, the TeachStreet website is redesigned to have more intuitive navigation buttons and more content to introduce teachers to the site.
In the coming months, look for TeachStreet to expand into other, larger metro areas. And further down the road, the company has its sights on a broader vision. “Our [larger] goal is not really about classes and schools,” Schappell told me at our first meeting. “The bigger opportunity is around thousands of people establishing themselves as experts.” That might mean helping people find personal advisors, rather than take classes—say, someone to help them set up their home entertainment system, buy a new car, or redo their kitchen. Again, it’s all about the traffic.
As Schappell sees it, the main challenge for TeachStreet will involve taking the show on the road to much bigger cities with massive boroughs and suburbs that are like separate cities in themselves. He isn’t saying yet which city will be next, but he says it probably won’t be a big surprise. “It’s still hard to launch each city, but it pretty much doubles or triples your [search engine] relevance each time,” Schappell says. “This is just the beginning.”