PopExpert raises $2 million for its video teaching marketplace

By Richard Nieva , written on May 21, 2013

From The News Desk

Seems like you can learn anything these days by watching a video online. Here’s one more site that let’s you do that.

PopExpert is an open marketplace that connects skill and advice-seekers with so-called experts for one-on-one video sessions. Today, the company announced a $2 million funding round led by Learn Capital, including participation by Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment and angels like Founders Fund’s Ken Howery.

The service works similarly to any other peer-to-peer marketplace: Anyone who deems themselves an “expert” in something can list their services on the site. The service focuses mostly on lifestyle areas, like yoga, nutrition or style. Work-related areas include career coaching and social media skills. Each individual consultant decides how to price the hour-long session – ranging from $30 to $250. The site is invite only for now, but founder and CEO Ingrid Sanders says she plans to open it up to the public this summer.

The online learning space has been heating up considerably. (In fact, PandoDaily devoted all of last month to exploring the realm of online education). Big sites with big cash behind them, like Udacity, or with its $103 million investment from Accel and Spectrum, have been pushing the educational video space forward. CreativeLIVE does the same thing, but with a live production element.

PopExpert, though, focuses more on areas around development and growth, says Snyder, and not the academic, “IQ-based learning” that some of the other sites highlight. Those topics around personal growth, she says, are underserved by technology.

But the site PopExpert is most like is Maestro Market, a site launched in 2008 that also pairs advice seekers to advice givers. That site also has verticals devoted to things like wellness and nutrition, but also has the Lynda-ish subject matter of phtography or design. The difference maker here, Sanders says, is the ecosystem of the website. On a marketplace like Maestro Market, a consumer and expert link up through the website, but then connect via phone or Skype. On PopExpert, the two parties meet online at a dedicated URL within the site’s network for a video chat. Users can also take private notes while on the video session, and send files back and forth with the consultant while the lesson is going on.

It’s also notable that, for the most part, experts on PopExpert's marketplace aren’t vetted. There’s a laissez-faire element to it, and Sanders has put her faith in the social graph to let the cream rise to the top. She says that user ratings, reviews, but more importantly, seeing who your Facebook friends are using and reviewing, will give you the best match. There are some downsides to that, especially if an expert is just starting out on the site and is largely untested. Then it’s hit or miss.

The exception is when the PopExpert team goes and recruits experts to populate the marketplace. (There are about 1,000 on the platform, Sanders says.) In that case, they look at background info, like number of years practicing a skill, but also number of years teaching it.

Perhaps a good editorial rating system would help, alongside the user ratings. Because if I’m going to shell out money, I’m going to need someone to be an expert on the experts.