Q&A with Greg Swierad, SkillMentor’s Founder & CEO

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Greg Swierad founded SkillMentor roughly three years ago, and since then has been laser-focused on developing the app into what he hopes will be the world’s premiere personal development tool.

SkillMentor is powered “by the wisdom of over 100 bestselling books,” which have been converted into a clear learning path for users. The path itself can then branch out across more than 1,500 habits; progress is tracked and evaluated by the app to ensure that users really learn and adopt their new skills. In short, SkillMentor is a game of self-improvement, where you are the main character, playing to ultimately change your life.

We spoke with Greg via Zoom recently to learn how he got started, how he pivoted, and what it means to use Poland as your home base. The highlights of our conversation are below.

We first talked about the origins of SkillMentor and Greg’s “a-ha” moment for the app.

In 2010 while living in Barcelona, Greg and a friend co-founded an online dating website, Randkologia.pl, which at its peak had 8.5 million users around the globe. “At some point, we split the team and the capital in half and started to work on different things,” said Greg. He started to listen to audiobooks to pick up some management skills, clocking in at least one book per week.

Greg remembers thinking, “I have all this knowledge and I always promise myself that I will come back to the books and put those ideas into reality,” but of course found it almost impossible to do with audiobooks.

“There was no solution on the market that both summarized the book and easily let listeners return to specific habits for practical purposes.”

— Greg Swierad

This was Greg’s a-ha moment, and in 2017, the first version of the app, HabitCoach, was born. “It was a completely different product,” Greg explained, laughing. “The idea was the same but my initial approach completely missed the mark.”

Looking back, he listed off some of the issues: “it was definitely over-complicated,” “the conversion was so low,” and we had “inferior content, UX and design.”

Undeterred, Greg moved from Barcelona to Krakow, Poland and continued to iterate on the app, steadily growing his user base over the last 3 years to top over 5,000 active users this month. The most popular category? Productivity, with mindfulness second.

Greg Swierad ©

Next we dove into where SkillMentor is today and how the coronavirus has impacted downloads (spoiler, it hasn’t).

Today, the app has users around the globe, with the most downloads coming from the US, followed by the UK, Australia & Canada. Greg says downloads have been stable, month over month, even in the midst of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Greg is also tweaking the app’s pricing. While there’s a free version of the app, “what’s different about our product is that users see so much value,” Greg explained. “They will be comfortable with paying more once they are hooked. It will allow us to grow the product faster and provide constant value.”

One of SkillMentor’s big breakthroughs was using RPG (role-playing game) methodology.

As a self-professed video game addict, Greg said he often wondered “how it was possible games give you nothing and you still take a lot of time to play them.” He found the answer in Actionable Gamification by Yu-kai Chou (among other resources), and turned that same psychology from video games to his app.

“Some of the gamification features are very simple, like progress bars,” Greg said. “Other elements are designed to get people very excited about every milestone.”

In our case, it’s important to visualize to the user at what point in gaining the skills they are. It’s like constructing a building with every new element as a skill learned.”

— Greg Swierad

We wrapped up by discussing Greg’s growth strategy and getting his thoughts on what it means to use Poland as your home base.

“My strategy is to make an epic app,” said Greg. “It has to be super simple to understand and give value right away.” While the app has users from over 15 different countries, Greg is focusing his efforts on the US market — “everything is done to fit there,” he said.

So far, the app has 3,000 new downloads each month and growing, which Greg predicts might eventually mean 500,000 organic downloads if the app’s ranking in the Google and Apple stores gets even higher.

As for the Polish startup ecosystem, Greg said, “We have one great advantage: talented programmers and designers for a relatively low price.”

At the same time, compared to other parts of the world, Polish startups “don’t think globally,” said Greg. “If you’re a smaller country like Estonia or Israel, you have to think global right away because your local market is too small.”

Poland’s size — a population of almost 40 million — puts founders in a quandary: should they take the risk to scale outside the country or stay comfortably local?

“Founders here usually choose local because it seems easier,” said Greg. “In my opinion, it’s a mindset problem but it is changing.”


Lightning round

1. Recent book you read: Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson
2. Skill you learned f/ SkillMentor: Public speaking (being charismatic)
3. Paper books or ebooks: Paper books & audiobooks
4. Favorite music: Deep house
5. Ideal holiday destination: My parents’ house in a village far away from civilization