College dropout raises $1.5 million to enable service workers to become marketers
Marketing agencies are struggling to find talent to hire for high-turnover positions, and service workers are struggling to upskill to succeed in our knowledge-based economy. SkillBank, founded by 2019 Purdue University dropout Mehak Vohra, is a mentoring and marketing training platform dedicated to helping service workers improve their skills and find jobs as marketers. The LA-based startup has raised $1.5M from Launch Accelerator/Syndicate, Jason Calacanis, Hawke Media Ventures, Soma Capital, Hustle Fund Champion Hill Labs, Transcend Network, John Kobs, Nelson Wang, Saunder Schroeder, Zack Bloom and TikTok stars Josh Richards and Griffin Johnson.
Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawke Media, said, “We invested in SkillBank for three main reasons. First, the market for finding digital savvy marketers is very narrow and most people who present themselves as marketers have no formal training and most of the time don’t have a good basics. Basically, there is a huge demand for marketers and not a huge supply. Second, the typical education model has a lot of room for improvement and we loved how SkillBank makes their training so accessible. Lastly, Mehak is a rockstar and we absolutely believe she is the person to succeed.
The startup closed its round in 2021. Vohra plans to use the funds to increase SkillBank’s growth as the company aims to scale. SkillBank currently charges $4999 upfront or $7199 paid in installments for access to its courses. SkillBank is currently a six-person team aiming to stand out in a crowded field that includes Masterclass and General Assembly.
Frederick Daso: What led you to discover the propensity of service workers to change careers to get into marketing?
Mehak Vohra: When I started SkillBank, it was just before the pandemic hit in the summer of 2019. SkillBank was originally a growth marketing training program for startups and tech companies.
During the pandemic, I realized that 1) many service workers were being laid off from their hourly paid jobs and 2) digital marketing agencies were experiencing high employee turnover. I realized service workers had a strong background in communication and customer service, and they’re exactly the person an agency is looking for when hiring entry-level marketers. In the spring of 2021, we have decided to offer a 12-week paid media marketing training to help newbies land their first entry-level job with a marketing agency.
Daso: What explains the shortage of marketers for marketing agencies?
Vohra: Churn. Marketing agencies have had a hard time finding hard-working people willing to stay longer than six months. Workers fresh out of college use marketing agencies as a starting point, then go to internal marketing teams.
According to ANA and Forbes, the annual turnover rate is around 30%, the second highest rate after tourism.
Daso: What were the particular limitations of the live training programs that SkillBank offered in the beginning?
Vohra: Live training does not take into account the learning style of the fellow. If you’re a SkillBank member, we want you to learn at your own pace. We don’t want you to worry about delaying your class or getting bored because you can’t move forward.
Our new model takes scholars’ learning styles into account and lets them decide how they want to spend their time with teaching.
Daso: How does SkillBank leverage the benefits of self-paced and cohort-based programs in a consistent and beneficial way for startup marketing interns?
Vohra: Our program is centered on projects that are due at the end of each unit. Each unit builds on itself, so by the end of the program, every graduate is going to have real-life experience they can take with them on their journey.
Most cohort-based programs also have projects, but class time is spent listening to an instructor teach, and then fellows complete projects on their own time.
At SkillBank, we decided to reverse this model. Fellows review the program at their own pace (we filmed our lectures like a masterclass), and fellows plan 1-on-1 with their instructor to cover their projects and receive feedback. This model emphasizes action and practice. If they don’t understand something, they can ask their instructor and immediately put that concept into practice.
Daso: With the market facilitated by SkillBank, how did you discover that recruitment was the dominant force?
Vohra: Ultimately, our scholarship recipients must be able to be hired by these agencies. If the skills they learn are not relevant to their job, it will be much more difficult for them to land a job. Our program was built with feedback and input from some of the top digital marketing agencies in the United States. Knowing that they are co-signing our program means that our fellows can be hired at any marketing agency as entry-level employees.
Daso: What are some of the unique lessons your team learned from their respective past experiences building SkillBank?
I ran a ghostwriting and copywriting agency for two years before starting SkillBank. Thanks to this company, I learned how an agency works. I’ve also worked on deals with many other startups and VCs and learned growth marketing on the job. Shiraz Sultan is our admissions officer. Prior to SkillBank, he was Regional Admissions Director at the Coding Dojo. His previous bootcamp experience has helped us ensure that we are establishing the right framework to grow and succeed as an organization.
Our lead instructor, Chris Graham, had previous General Assembly experience and also came from a solid background at the director level of a marketing agency for over 300 years. Her experience in the world of education and marketing agencies has helped us bridge the two worlds. Our Career Services Advisor worked at boot camps and a community college in New York City before joining SkillBank. She brought a lot of structure to our Career Services side of the company and helped our colleagues land jobs.
Author’s note: This article has been corrected to indicate that SkillBank is headquartered in Los Angeles, not San Francisco.