EVERETT — Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve Cherewaty was opposed to building a virtual platform for his new venture.
Cherewaty recently founded Abacus, an online marketplace that connects hobbyists, crafters and artists with people who want to learn a new skill.
Users can learn from experts how to 3-D print, sew, craft leather goods, concoct “epic guacamole” or operate a drone. Sessions start at $15.
“We’re similar to Etsy, but instead of listing products to sell, teachers pay a monthly fee to list their maker sessions,” Cherewaty said.
His business plan called for in-person sessions and hands-on instruction in a designated maker space.
In January, Cherewaty was ready to launch. Instructors could carve out a maker space in their own homes or garages or classroom.
Locally, Cherewaty’s Everett home had become an informal maker space on evenings and weekends.
But by March, with the pandemic raging, in-person sessions were canceled.
The question became: How to offer skill sessions, from bookbinding to laser-cutting instruction, in an online format in real time with an instructor?
Offering pre-recorded videos, which can be found all over the Internet, wasn’t what he had in mind.
He looked at Google Hangouts and Zoom, two live-meeting applications, but neither quite fit the format, said Cherewaty, who has a master’s degree in aerospace safety science.
So Cherewaty, whose day job is managing TheLab@everett, a nonprofit business incubator, sought help from an acquaintance, Symon Perriman.
Perriman is the founder and CEO of FanWide, a Seattle-based company that connects sports fans with local game-watching parties for their favorite teams.
Cherewaty’s new vision of Abacus involved offering live maker sessions, where viewers could participate in live sessions and get their questions answered in real time.
FanWide provided the software platform.
Through Abacus, instructors can host live tutorials, provide live commentaries of pre-recorded videos and sell kits and materials.
The swift pivot from in-person to online meant the business had to undergo another round of scrutiny.
“We had to go over everything — the website, the terms, the legal aspects — and we were trying to do it relatively quickly,” Cherewaty said.
One of Abacus’ first offerings was a live session demonstrating how to build a model trebuchet, a type of catapult with great range.
Cherewaty was the instructor.
Here’s how it works: For $35, buyers receive a kit with pre-cut pieces. The price includes a live assembly session, along with some history and banter. Buyers also receive a video copy of the session.
Abacus now offers courses in laser cutting, bookbinding, photography and designing a “cool logo,” among other skills.
“Our makers run the gamut when it comes to hands-on experience, from novice to pro,” he said. “Most of us don’t learn our cool hobbies from professionals, though. We learn from friends, family, neighbors through trial and error.”
The idea for Abacus was born in 2017. Cherewaty was job-hunting and found himself with a few spare hours. He had always wanted to learn to weld.
“I was watching YouTube videos and getting frustrated, wondering why I couldn’t find somebody nearby to get my questions answered,” he said.
The idea for Abacus popped into his head.
“I was born in Korea, where my dad served at the very last Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) hospital in the country. On our way home to the states, we spent time in Japan and the Philippines. I was just a toddler,” Cherewaty said.
“My first memory of being fascinated with something mechanical was of a small brass abacus my parents bought me. When I conceived of this venture … my mind immediately went to the small, ancient adding machine that I used to play with.
“Our motto is, ‘Adding creative means to creative minds.’ We find the makers and connect them to the people who want to learn or never had the opportunity to nurture their creative side,” he said.
“We still have the in-person model in mind, but we’ve had to adapt, and as a result now offer ways to connect creative makers, crafters, artists and inventors all across the world.”
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods