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Colorado Company Attracts Students — And Venture Capitalists — With Online Crafting

Grace Hood
Producer Lorie Hirose (left) works with instructor Marie Zinno (right) to produce a Craftsy video on business tips for machine embroiderers.

Etsy, the website where people can buy and sell handmade goods, is rumored to be planning an initial public offering. The company won’t comment. The Internet has made crafting a lucrative business — and it’s not just for selling goods. Lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills.

For help, they’re turning to companies like CreativeBug or the Denver-based company Craftsy.

Compared to many free YouTube videos shot with one camera, Craftsy tutorials look pretty slick with graphics and multiple camera angles. In one popular class called Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine, students pay about $35 for eight lessons.

Craftsy Founder and CEO John Levisay said this course has been a blockbuster.

“It’s a skill that scares people because they spend a lot of time making this beautiful quilt, and then when they go to sew it together, people are afraid they’re going to wreck it,” Levisay said.

Craftsy seeks out the best instructors across 16 categories like cooking and woodworking. Overall, classes range in price from $15 to $60. What makes the courses, Levisay explained, are the social features Craftsy has built into its courses.

“While we wanted to capture the anytime anywhere nature of online learning, we also wanted people to be able to ask their instructor a question, ask fellow students questions, and to interact with others,” he said.

It’s paying off. In 2014, the company nearly doubled its revenue bringing in $43 million. In November, the company raised more than $50 million in venture capital. IBISWorld Industry Analyst Zeeshan Haider said the appeal for investors is the company’s large potential customer base.

“For example, there are more than 21 million plus quilters that spend anywhere around $4 billion annually on quilting,” said Haider. “So there’s still a tremendous market for the company to tap.”

Right now Craftsy has just 6 million registered users, and there’s room for growth. Many millennials are interested in Do-It-Yourself fashion — which Craftsy has also tapped in to. On the company’s website you can learn how to make your own jeans, skirts, and shirts, even your very own undergarments.

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