Pre-revenue business: Nic Pillow, CEO of Rhizome Live

In a new series on firms with minimal sales, we speak to Nic Pillow at Rhizome Live about the development of its online learning platform.

In our pre-revenue series, we take a look at the businesses with minimal sales histories that nevertheless have the potential to fly.

E-learning, classes and lectures could be vastly improved.

That’s the view of Rhizome Live – a new online learning site.

CEO Nic Pillow wants to upgrade face-to-face and online training so that students share with each other online instead of being dictated to by a teacher.

The problem, he says, is the small class sizes currently on offer and the inflexible approach currently offered by training providers and institutions. ‘It’s currently done pretty badly,’ he says.

Classes should be interactive

‘They either do things in very small groups, like video conferencing or they’re just pushing information so you’re broadcasting information at people in the hope that some of it will stick but you’re not actually trying to get them to learn.’

Their current approach allows multiple users to comment to each other during a lecture or class which allows students to answer each other’s questions rather than asking the teacher.

Founder formed top uni class in the UK

Rhizome was co-founded by Jonathan Worth in April 2016 and Worth seems to have the learning formula nailed. Following photography portraiture work for the New York Times and Vogue, he set up the highest-ranked photography class in the country at Coventry University when he realised there was a chance to make it online and global instead of just being in a lecture hall.

Within three years he had grown the class from nine students to 35,000 and it became the most oversubscribed course at the university.

Further reading on online businesses

Following that breakthrough, Worth researched Rhizome’s form of learning at the Newcastle University Open Lab as a senior researcher and then worked with the World Press Photo Foundation. He then won awards including the MIT learning prize and was made a higher education authority national teaching fellow.

‘Getting people learning together is not about pushing information at people; it’s about getting people together so they’re sharing their notes, experiences and their ideas with each other. This has got huge potential,’ says Pillow.

The next challenge is taking his ideas from Coventry to Cadiz, Canberra and Chaozhou.

The firm, which has ‘negligible turnover’ currently, as of 4 September 2018, has prepared an international business plan and expects to sign some UK contracts to kick things off.

The company employs four full-time staffers and has received £350,000 in angel investment which will be used to create its own platform so they don’t rely on open source tech like Twitter and Youtube. These require the teacher to juggle five or six platforms live during a class which is too much of a tall order.

Rhizome also counts David Rees, managing partner of edtech specialist investor Izy Capital, as an advisor to the board.

‘International opportunity’

The international opportunity seems to be too big to ignore; India and China are investing heavily in online education.

Pillow says, ‘Now we’re at a point where we want to make a bit more noise with our marketing efforts and hopefully start revealing some of the big institutional clients that we’re going to work with.’

He adds, ‘We’ve run some small-scale trials and we’ve picked up some small customers in the UK.  But this is the point where we’re actually starting to go out and find the bigger ones.’

Watch the video from Rhizome Live

Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for and from 2018 to 2019.