Tomas van Ammers is co-founder of enrichme, an educational platform that empowers New Zealand's diverse creative communities to connect through in-person learning and creative courses. Quickly transforming the face of creative education, enrichme is focused on building community through co-learning opportunities – lifting the hassle of booking, payment tracking and course marketing off the shoulders of creative educators. In this interview, Tomas sits down to talk about the process of establishing enrichme and about his love of – and dreams for – continuous arts learning in New Zealand and around the world.
What was the initial idea behind enrichme? How does it work?
enrichme is based on the idea that work should be meaningful. There’s a market failure in the creative economy that sees art consumed by those with the most wealth, and created largely by those with the least. It’s really not right, especially considering how integral art is to a healthy and well-functioning society.
enrichme provides creative people with a simple way to list courses, take bookings, and process payments, allowing them to focus on what they do best. On the other side, we make it easy for people to learn a new creative skill and meet new people through in situ learning.
What have you learned in the process of starting your own business that you feel newcomers should hear?
I don't think I'm far enough along the journey to be any sort of authority on this, however I can say that one of the key things I've learned so far is that perseverance is critical. Building a business takes a huge amount of time and energy, and the risks are enormous.
Rather than aiming for success, I think it’s important to enjoy the journey, and I think perseverance is necessary to overcome the challenging times, of which there will undoubtedly be many.
Especially in trying to establish a business and maintain an existing job, how do you manage your multiple obligations?
The level of difficulty in managing multiple obligations really depends on what kind of business you’re building. In my case, it made sense to do both as there's a strong relationship between my current employer and my business that allows for a lot of crossover.
Learning how and what to delegate has been key, and something I'm always trying to improve. It’s important to trust specialists to do their job and so you can let go of as much detailed work as you can, freeing you up to focus on strategy and grow your business.
What have you seen a lot of your customers struggling with over time?
We find that our customers would prefer to focus on their creative outlet rather than the admin associated with running courses, managing payments, refunds, marketing, accounting and taxes.
Our customers are creative people and they’re super passionate about what they do. As they’re natural teachers and community builders, we help them focus on what they do best.
What courses seem to be gathering the most attention on your site?
At the moment we’re seeing weaving and felt crafting doing very well, however there’s lots of interest across a broad range of creative courses on offer. Weekend wine tasting and painting are popular ones too. I’m always excited to see new courses show up for review as there’s such a diversity of interests in this space.
What tips do you have for other people who are trying to pivot into sustainable “passion projects”?
I say go for it! You’ve got nothing to lose and it only takes a few minutes to get set up on enrichme. Plenty of our customers work a permanent job as well, but they’ve managed to reduce it to part-time hours while sustaining their income by teaching what they are truly passionate about (e.g. a lawyer turned part-time yoga instructor or office admin turned part-time drawing teacher).
We are always happy to help you figure out your niche and get you set up with enrichme so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re thinking of giving it a try!
Why is New Zealand integral to the work you do in sharing creative ideas?
There are thriving and passionate creative communities all across New Zealand and a growing movement based around the benefits of creativity on mental health and well-being - people are increasingly turning to creative pursuits in order to feel part of something and to better understand themselves.
There’s also a strong technology and start-up ecosystem here, with a great support network that makes building ideas into reality a lot more manageable.
These things make New Zealand an ideal launchpad for a platform like enrichme.
You’ve been able to empower more people to learn new skills and techniques through in-person courses – how do you see approaches to education changing over the next few years?
There has been a massive shift toward online learning over the last few years and it’s only speeding up. You can learn anything online: from astrophysics to blacksmithing, to programming. This is a great shift as it’s lowered the barrier to become educated, which is particularly important for less developed parts of the world.
That being said, we are focused on in-person learning and with all the social media of late, people are feeling more isolated rather than more connected. We strongly believe in-person learning is key to feeling like you’re part of a community, which is as important as learning something new.
What’s next for enrichme?
For now, we are focusing on New Zealand. We want to be the go-to place for unique creative courses nationwide. After that, we have plans to expand throughout Australia and the Pacific.
The commission model that creatives often have to deal with needs to be disrupted - we are experimenting with online store functionality for creatives who want to sell their work easily alongside their course – using beautiful and simple templates with lower fees and a simpler, more intuitive interface than others offer.
For now, though, we are focused on listening to our existing customers and growing our business based on their feedback and support.
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