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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 21, 2008 at 6:00 AM

Online demo: Ex-Amazonian’s launching today

Seattle’s the testbed for an education oriented startup called that’s launching today.

There’s been a wave of education ventures around here lately but is going after a niche that seems ripe for Webification — the lifelong learning category that includes music lessons, hobby classes and other teaching that’s advertised mostly through bulletin boards and Craigslist.’s going public with a beta service listing more than 25,000 classes offered just in the Seattle area. After it’s fine tuned, the service will be extended to other cities across the country (I’m guessing Portland is next).

Founder Dave Schappell, a former manager, was brainstorming business ideas when he was inspired by the difficulty he had finding a good motorcycle instructor.

With a team of eight — and funding from Madrona — he’s built a platform that consumers can use to search for classes by subject, location, price and other criteria. It also includes a system for rating and commenting on classes.

The service also offers a way for teachers to list their classes. Schappell envisions it being used by everyone from advanced music instructors to college students offering soccer clinics during their summer vacations.

The team and outside contractors gathered the initial batch of listings to get the ball rolling.

The ad-supported service is free for both students and teachers. Eventually it may add premium services for teachers, such as tools to better promote their services and manage their teaching ventures.

It’s not the usual consumer startup, but I think it’s going to be a sleeper hit. People are accustomed to searching online for these kind of services, particularly through Craigslist, but that online bulletin board hasn’t kept pace with the rating and discussion features Web users are coming to expect online.

“The idea resonates with people — this isn’t building a Web 3.0 semantic search service,” Schappell said.

It’s also different — and refreshing — that the service is designed to help people find an offline experience involving real people.

TeachStreet’s offering for teachers also seems like a parallel to the artist page services that iLike, MySpace and other social networks are offering to musicians, helping them build out online storefronts.

I’ve mentioned in the past, and Schappell has a relatively high profile in Seattle’s startup community. He’s also extremely connected through the alumni network. In the brainstorming phase he worked closely with Jason Kilar, another alum who is now chief executive of the network video streaming service

Schappell, 39, grew up outside Philadelphia and came to Seattle in 1998 to work at Amazon as a summer intern while studying for his MBA at Wharton. He eventually became director of product management and stayed until 2004. Later he worked for Unitus, a local nonprofit, and JibJab, the California-based online media company.

Best of all, Schappell was generous enough to participate in an experiment here on the blog. I’m going to start posting videos of entrepreneurs and others demonstrating their products and invite people to discuss the ventures.

Here’s Schappell’s demo — what do you think?



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