Q&A With Aaron Rasmussen & David Rogier, Founders of MasterClass

Q&A With Aaron Rasmussen & David Rogier, Founders of MasterClass


Imagine taking acting classes from Kevin Spacey, voice lessons from Christina Aguilera, or a writing workshop with James Patterson.

That's the magic of MasterClass, a Berkeley-based online platform that pairs A-list celebrities such as Usher, Dustin Hoffman, Annie Leibovitz, and Serena Williams with online users who want to benefit from their talents and advice.

The company was founded last spring by Aaron Rasmussen and David Rogier, with the mission to give everyone the chance to learn from the best in their field. Each class costs $90 and includes a combination of audio, video, interactive assignments, Q&A sessions, and even peer reviews.

Kevin Spacey teaches "Acting 101" for MasterClass.

We sat down with the founders to learn more about the MasterClass experience and how they were able to grab a meeting with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

7x7: How did you come up with the idea for MasterClass?

David: Aaron and I met a few years ago (on a friend date) and immediately after we wanted to work together on something. I had been speaking with people in education, both in and outside the traditional school system, and found that people felt they were getting ripped off.

Aaron: So we thought: What does the most ideal online education look like? Learning from well-known instructors who have mastered a particular skill on one seamless platform. We've been working on MasterClass ever since!

What is the most popular course right now?

David: That's hard to say. In terms of new classes, we recently launched a singing class taught by Christina Aguilera and we opened up pre-enrollment for a filmmaking class with Werner Herzog.

How did you contact all these famous artists?

David: Honestly, lots of cold calling, persistence, great advisors and a little bit of luck. We had a few connections here and there, but the artist has to want to do it. In the beginning we reached out to James Patterson, and one day he called me on my cellphone and said he was interested. I was in shock. I think I actually said, "Wait, this is James Patterson, the author?"

What does your student population look like?

David: MasterClass students are enrolling from all around the world.

Aaron: It's a lot of word-of-mouth, people seem to really like their experiences in the classes. Despite the fact that our classes are available online, we've had students organize in-person events and meet-ups all over the world. We knew student communities would be an important part of our learning experience, but the desire to connect with other students and to practice together, both in person and via Skype, has blown us away.

What are some of the highlights of your work?

David: Both Aaron and I are naturally very curious people. MasterClass gives us ability to learn from and work with the most talented people in the world. As a lifelong learner, I've basically found my dream job.

Aaron: Getting to take the classes we make is really exciting, and pushing the format and boundaries of online education has been a huge highlight. With each class, we're also able to create new tech to push online education even further. For example, with Christina's class, we developed proprietary technology to help singers find their vocal range using the microphone in their computer.

If you could have one Bay Area artist in your portfolio, who would he/she be?

David: Elon Musk. Building a successful business is hard; building three that change the world is mastery.

Aaron: Jony Ive

Do you think the Bay Area needs more art and artists in general?

Aaron: Always. I think everywhere needs more art and artists in general, even if it's only as a hobby.

Favorite Bay Area venue for live music?

David: The Mountain Winery in Saratoga. I think it's one of the best outdoor venues in the state.

Aaron: The Fox Theater, Oakland. I just took my little sister to see Chvrches there and it never fails to deliver.

Best Bay Area day trip?

David: It's always been on my bucket list to fly a helicopter. Last month, I decided the first step was to actually fly in one. I booked a tour and we flew up and down the coast, including under the Golden Gate Bridge -- that is hands down one of my favorite day trips ever!

Aaron: Hiking near Pacifica, or eating BBQ chipotle oysters at Tomales Bay.

Perfect lazy Sunday?

David: Watching VEEP and old West Wing episodes, or a great intellectual dinner discussions with friends.

Aaron: Hibernating or reading.

Burrito or burger?

David: Chipotle. I'm addicted. I eat it everyday.

Aaron: El Farolito Burrito

Independent or Fillmore?

David: Fillmore

Aaron: Fillmore

SFMOMA or the DeYoung?

David: DeYoung


Dolores Park or Golden Gate Park?

David: Golden Gate Park

Aaron: Dolores

Bike or Muni?

David: Walking

Aaron: Bike

Three words that describe your life in the Bay Area.

Aaron: work, work, daylight?

David: ditto plus SFO

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