creativeLIVE, an online learning startup that borrows heavily from the cable TV world, is putting down roots in Silicon Valley. On Thursday, the company, which was founded in Seattle, said it was opening two new studios, as well as a new headquarters, in San Francisco (it plans to keep a headquarters, as well as two other studios in Seattle). And to help break in its new digs, the company said it was broadcasting a special series of live online “master classes” featuring tech industry hotshots, including Greylock partner (and creativeLIVE investor) Reid Hoffman, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff and well-known technophile Guy Kawasaki.
As creativeLIVE’s user base grows, it needs additional capacity to film more courses, said CEO Mika Salmi. Since its launch in April 2010, the company said its students have surpassed a total of 12.5 million learning hours and top one million learning hours per month.
Despite growing competition in online education — from veteran companies like lynda.com to newer entrants like Udemy — Salmi said it’s increasingly attracting students with its high production quality and live online broadcasts.
“It’s not just about telling you what to do, it’s about people in the classroom attempting to do what the teacher is doing,” he said. “It’s a real-time event.”
Unlike other companies targeting lifelong learners, creativeLIVE doesn’t just offer pre-taped video courses. Users can purchase recorded courses but watch frequent live broadcasts of classes on everything from software development to filmmaking for free. Salmi said that the average live class receives 30,000 unique viewers and while he declined to share how popular the paid courses are, he said that the company has paid out a total of $3.5 million to the more than 100 instructors who teach 250 different courses on the site.
The company was launched in 2010 by photographer Chase Jarvis and entrepreneur Craig Swanson but mostly operated under the radar until last year, when it announced a $7.5 million round of financing from Greylock and others and added Salmi, formerly the president of Viacom Digital, as CEO. (It later raised a smaller amount from Hollywood talent giants Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Endeavor, as well as Google Ventures and Crunchfund.) Now that it’s making a bigger push in a crowded field of online education, it makes sense that the company wants to maintain a bigger presence in Silicon Valley, where it can be closer to potential teachers for its classes and talent to help the startup grow.
For now, the company’s audience is mostly U.S.-based, although Salmi said that its most successful broadcasts get viewers from around the world. But it has aspirations for cultivating an even more global audience. Given its focus on live broadcasts, it would make sense for the company to open up studios in different time zones. But Salmi declined to comment on future plans regarding new studios, saying only that viewers tune in at all different times of the day and night to watch its broadcasts and that it’s exploring different products that would enable the company to reach a global market on a real-time basis.