Matthew Conway founded ClassFill to give dance studios and cooking classes the opportunity to broaden their reach. From a user's perspective, the site is little like Craigslist and a bit like Groupon, but with a clear focus on instructive classes offered across Chicago.
Conway wants to expand the site outside of Chicago, though, and we wonder if it might one day be to sites such as Groupon what Learnist is to Pinterest. Conway spoke with Education Dive by phone about what he wants to do with ClassFill, how it all began and whether or not colleges could be working with his company down the road.
EDUCATION DIVE: How did you get started with ClassFill? What was the need you were looking to serve?
MATTHEW CONWAY: I've actually spent the better part of the last decade as a professional musician playing jazz. I've been around a lot of creative types, artists and actors and things. They all work in the same sort of sphere of studio work.
I actually ended up marrying a woman who owns a performing arts studio, and I kind of saw firsthand how a lot of these places live on the edge in terms of making it or not. At the same time, a lot of the classes are half empty.
It just so happens I also have a technical background, so I've been building websites for a long time.
ED: I noticed you have a lot of dance and yoga classes posted right now. What have you found the most success with in terms of businesses and class types?
CONWAY: In this early stage, the most successful things we've found have been the ones that have really interesting or unique qualities to them. As opposed to "Yoga Class A" or "Yoga Class B," we're finding that things like—there's a nature museum in Chicago that hosts a "butterfly haven" yoga class. They have a room full of butterflies.
That's one example of a really interesting class that we've had. Instead of "Pilates 1," we had a street self-defense class teaches not just martial arts and stuff, but also how to take care of yourself while you're out on the street—what to look for and things like that. Instead of "Cooking 101," we've had "Make Stawberry Jam." Those types of classes tend to go a little more viral.
That said, we have a great volume of your typical yoga, pilates, fitness, art, or more typically-named classes, which are proving to get some traffic too, just based on convenience and location for the user.
With our software, you can search by location and time.
ED: Do businesses come to you and pay to have a listing? Are you finding partners out in the community? Or a little of both? What are you looking at as a business?
CONWAY: Good question. Right now, we're offering completely commission-free listings to businesses. For businesses in Chicago—because we're only in Chicago right now—signing up and posting classes and selling classes is completely free.
We do plan on eventually taking a small commission, but for now we're really interested in just just building volume. The great part is that businesses so far seem to really like us. There's not a lot of red tape in getting listed on our site. It's basically that we have to verify that you have a legitimate business, but after that it's all self-serving.
They post what they want to, and then they also set the constraints of the deal. So they set how many spots are available at a certain class, what's the bottom price that they're willing to take, things like that.
With other sites like Groupon and things like that, they have to worry about making contact with a sales person and signing your life away—all that stuff. We've found that our methods are a lot more seamless.
ED: Are there any areas that you're looking to expand to specifically? I know you had said you're looking to expand beyond Chicago.
CONWAY: We definitely want to go nationwide. We're proving our model in Chicago so we can go after some venture capital. Then, the sky's the limit in terms of offering classes. We would definitely like to eventually get into community colleges, park districts—bigger accounts.
ED: I was actually going to ask you if community colleges were something you had in mind.
CONWAY: That's definitely on our laundry list of things that we want to scale up to. In this early stage, though, it's all about proving our model and then scaling up from there. But that is a big part of what we want to do looking ahead.
ED: Do you have anything else going on right now? I know you're pretty young.
CONWAY: Yeah, just a couple of months. I had been building it since about last fall. From the developer's side, I feel like we're doing a really excellent job. In fact, we're actually building a second app that's like a class scheduler for these same venues that we deal with. There's not too many free options for them out there, and the ones that are good are really expensive.
So we're going to offer a scheduling app that will then let a yoga studio accept payments online—things like that—at a reasonable price.
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