July 1, 2012 People who matter – Jessica Lybeck and Dabble
I had the pleasure of chatting with Jessica Lybeck, founder of Chicago based Dabble. Dabble is one of the front runners in an exciting new trend called Social Learning. Social learning is the idea of people getting together to learn about a common interests. While Lybeck has been the creative and strategic force behind several start-ups, Dabble is the one closest to her heart as it answers a problem she directly faced in the market – it’s either to expensive or requires too much commitment to learn something new. Dabble answers this problem by bringing together teachers, students, and local businesses to help you dabble in whatever your heart desires. Currently Dabble is in Denver, Milwaukee, and of course Chicago. If you’re interested in Dabble and are looking for an awesome grassroots marketing gig to bring it to your city, get in touch with Lybeck here.
When did you first see the opportunity for Dabble?
Last March I lost all my hobbies due to working a 9-8 job. I had a great family life, but didn’t have time for the things I loved – group theater, languages, wine appreciation. I went to school for architecture, but didn’t have an outlet for that creativity once I entered the working world, and my group of friends were in the same boat. We wished we had more accessible classes, and not having a ton of money to throw at $2k three credit course, nor the desire to commit to that without knowing we wanted to pursue it, we found the market.
Who does Dabble look to help? Is there a specific age group you have in mind or is demographic agnostic?
Such a variety of people use our service, and we don’t want to limit who can learn. We see this as being applicable to college graduates, those looking for fun hobbies or to increase their knowledge, retirees, families – I once saw a woman at least in her 70′s taking a class next to a 20-year old guy covered in tattoos. That said, our marketing efforts are geared to the young professional because that’s who we are, and we know ourselves best.
Was Chicago a city of convenience or strategically chosen?
Chicago worked well with contacts. We already knew about that little knitting shop down the street or the cafe. Chicago also has Mid-Western values, very friendly and open. Even if we weren’t here initially, we probably still would have gone with Chicago as the first Dabble city.
How do you see Dabble as distinguishing itself from competitors?
This space has so much opportunity that it could probably support even more players. After-all education hits everywhere and everyone. While there is competition out there, I see us as solving different things. People are busy, I know I am, and usually don’t like to commit to a lot of classes or just can’t afford it. In other words, you can’t “dabble” in an $800 class. We allow people to try something for $20 and keep trying new things till they find their passion. Also, our brand represents fun and quirky, while most other education start-ups out there take themselves far too seriously.
Where do you see the social learning space going over the next five to 10 years?
Evolving and taking off since traditional education is expensive. If you think about it, pretty much everyone goes to college at this point, it doesn’t really distinguish you anymore. I firmly believe that there are certain things you can’t experience through computers or mobile devices, and the experience of learning together is absolutely one of them. That said, I see a lot of potential in mobile technology to augment the experience. I think we’ll start to see more mobile technology integrating with lessons, but the traditional class structure of meeting and learning together will never go away.
What advice would you give other start-ups and their founders?
I have 700 answers to this question! The main thing is you need a problem to solve that either you yourself have experienced or enough people experience that you solving it would have a major impact on the market. It’s so easy to lose steam when you’re not passionate or the problem isn’t big enough to sustain you past the honeymoon period. Before you keep your head down and work on the legal and business plans, ask the market you have in mind if they’d find your solution relevant. The last thing you want is to put all that work (and it is a lot) into a solution that no one cares about or that doesn’t address the problem in a meaningful way. When we were first getting started, we called up 100 people asking if they would use our service. People are the most important part.
What’s next for Dabble?
Improving the experience for hosts, teachers, and students. We keep what’s working and refine the process. We’re always looking to expand, and are putting a lot of effort into finding people who want to bring Dabble to their city. Anyone who says they have a five year plan is full of it, but that said, we still want to pursue the goals that started us on this journey – create a place where people can have fun, explore a passion, inspire, and learn.
Dabble represents a lot of things, most of which are core pieces of my philosophy. It’s ok not to commit until you’ve found your passion, but once you do, go after it full-speed.