A “global campus”: Australian education marketplace startup Zambesi scores partnership with co-working giant WeWork

Zambesi co-founder Rebekah Campbell and general manager of WeWork Australia Balder Tol. Source: Supplied.

Zambesi co-founder Rebekah Campbell and general manager of WeWork Australia Balder Tol. Source: Supplied.

Australian business-focused education marketplace Zambesi has partnered with global co-working space provider WeWork, giving the platform access to what founder Rebekah Campbell calls a “global campus”.

Launched in Sydney in November last year, Zambesi was born out of Campbell’s own desire to share some of her expertise in raising capital. As founder of food and drinks ordering app Hey You, Campbell helped the startup secure a total of $7 million in funding before stepping down as chief executive in 2016.

During this time Campbell was running workshops to earn a bit of extra cash, but soon realised there were other founders and leaders who wanted to share their own expertise.

There was a clear demand from new or aspiring startup founders wanting to gather as much advice as possible, but “there was also a need from leaders who wanted to share their skills and a structured way … in a way that was feasible for them, not running around having coffees with a lot of people”, she tells StartupSmart.

Campbell developed Zambesi as a platform allowing those leaders to share their skills in a “really organised, fair way”, she says.

“It gives it a structured format, brings together the best of the best people,” she adds.

Zambesi now has more than 40 programs available, including a digital marketing workshop from Showpo head of marketing Mark Baartse; a ‘disruptive digital leadership’ course from former chief of Facebook for ANZ Stephen Scheeler; and a public speaking and personal branding workshop from co-founder of TEDxSydney, Fleur Brown.

The startup runs a mix of free sessions for large groups and more intimate paid-for sessions.

In the nine months it’s been up and running, Campbell says more than 3500 people have enrolled in a course of some kind, and 1500 of these have attended the paid sessions. While Campbell doesn’t reveal Zambesi’s revenue figures, she does say the venture has been “profitable from day one”.

Workshops will roll out in Melbourne next month and in Brisbane in November, and Campbell also has plans to run courses overseas next year, starting in Auckland.

“We can exist anywhere”

The partnership with WeWork is part of this global expansion plan, and will provide some 280 locations around the world where Zambesi workshops could potentially be held.

“We don’t have a physical campus … we enable networks to create and own their own platform,” Campbell says. “WeWork gives us a global campus.”

The US co-working giant opened its first space in Australia in Sydney in March, and came to Melbourne in November. Now, it has six locations in Australia, plus another five in the pipeline.

In many ways, the partnership is simply a practicality. Previously, Zambesi sessions have run in boardrooms or other spaces hired for one-off events. Equally, it will open the platform up to more entrepreneurs around the world.

“Our whole philosophy is to be different to training institutions. We can deliver much better content that is owned by the people doing it, and it’s very current,” says Campbell.

With technology moving so quickly, content delivered through traditional institutions can quickly become out of date. But if teachers are immersed in their business day-to-day, it stands to reason their expertise is going to be up-to-the-minute.

“The future of ongoing learning has to be led by the people who are actually doing it,” Campbell says.

The founder describes Zambesi as “a training organisation, but a marketplace, not an institution”. “We can exist anywhere,” she adds.

Look for the market lead

Despite her experience in startups, Campbell still says she learnt a valuable lesson through launching Zambesi — or rather through a different startup she thought she was working on when she founded Zambesi, which stemmed from an idea she had after leaving Hey You.

“I was passionate about the idea, I went out, built an MVP [minimum viable product] and launched it … but I still needed to keep an income coming in,” she says.

Campbell started running her own workshop on capital raising and that workshop would eventually became the Zambesi platform.

“It was going really well … [but] at the same time my startup idea wasn’t really working,” she says.

Campbell was passionate about changing the future of work, but that passion didn’t turn into what she had originally thought it would. Instead, “it fed into a whole other thing”.

While she aspired to address the issue of disruption coming into the workspace, and hoped to launch a business that “would make that transition easier … and would help people upskill”, it turned out “the idea of how to solve that problem came later”.

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