(This is an article I wrote after Bijan asked me to write about the “why” behind Skillshare)

In South Korea, on the second Thursday of November, flights are grounded to reduce noise pollution, the stock market opens an hour late to clear roads, and all schools shut down for the day to keep the country quiet for Suneung.

This life-or-death exam is like the American SAT but with 50 times the pressure and anxiety. In South Korea, there’s a cultural belief that the university you attend will lead to what career you pursue which will ultimately lead to your success. Your test performance seals your fate.

I grew up in Seoul but my parents moved our family to the U.S. so that I could get into a top college. From the fifth grade to the day of my H.S. graduation – every grade, test and extracurricular activity mattered because nothing was more important than getting into college.

I was accepted into the University of Virginia, which was the #1 ranked public school at the time. I was ecstatic, but when I finally graduated from UVA, a funny thing happened. While I did fairly well in school, it wasn’t really what I expected. I was stuck with a lot of loans, the jobs and careers that were offered to me weren’t appealing, and I felt that I didn’t really receive an education that would help me be successful in life.

I felt mislead and duped.

Over the next couple of years, I encountered event after event that reinforced these feelings. I visited charter schools in New Orleans trying to turn 80% drop out rates into 80% college graduation rates. I sat down to watch Season 4 of The Wire, in which a grim, incredibly realistic picture is painted of youth in America’s inner-city public schools. Everything started to come together in my mind.

I knew that some of the biggest problems in our society could be solved through solving education. That’s what planted the seed for why we created Skillshare.

For many, education as we know it has become largely inaccessible and unaffordable. For those with access, even the highest-grade education can land you with large loans and skills that don’t apply to the jobs available today. We set out to create Skillshare because the way we learn needed to be reinvented.

We started Skillshare to make it possible for anyone to learn real-world skills. If we could build the world’s biggest school on the web that was accessible to everyone, we could make the world a better place. It wouldn’t necessarily replace traditional education, but could be another option.

After graduating from UVA, I was accepted into a graduate program at VCU Brandcenter. It was there that I received the best education of my entire life. We never had tests or exams. I never had to buy a textbook. And everything was centered around creativity, collaboration, and learning-by-doing through project-based learning.

Today, you’ll see these same tenets on Skillshare. You can take a class from Jonathan Mannion (Jay-Z’s photographer), a visual storytelling class from a Disney Animator, or meatball making class from The Meatball Shop. Each class is free or less than $20. The student projects coming out of these classes are exceptional.

Wilco by Justin Froning in Designing Rock Posters Class

The why behind Skillshare started with a personal experience. But it lead me to asking why things were the way they were and why the world couldn’t be different. It’s a purpose that unites everyone on our team and why we come to work everyday. It’s a lifelong mission for us.

Make education accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Written by:

Michael Karnjanaprakorn