It’s All In The Game: Growing A $ 50 Million Music Education Business In A Crowded Market
If you spend time watching music content on YouTube, chances are you’ve seen at least one advertisement for the course app, Yousician.
And if – at any point in your life – you’ve struggled to learn to play a musical instrument, the Finland-based company promises to facilitate progress through a series of graduated lessons characterized by a technology-powered engine at listening to the user play and rewards progress with star ratings.
At this point, you may have clicked the Skip button. YouTube itself is full of music education videos – some of them ad hoc and posted by enthusiastic amateurs, others lovingly created by pros, and a few offering gateways to full lessons. Take a step back to look at the Internet at large and there is no shortage of free and premium music education. Yousician exists in a very large universe.
But over the course of a decade, the company cut the noise. Today, it has around 20 million active users – up from 14 million before the pandemic – and revenues of around $ 50 million. In April of this year, the company secured an additional $ 28 million in Series B, with True Ventures as the lead investor. The deal brings the total amount raised to $ 35 million. As it stands, the company’s main markets are in the English-speaking world – US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand – but it is rolling out local language versions as well.
From Finland to the world
So when I spoke to co-founder Chris Thür, I was eager to find out how a Finnish startup set out to increase the number of users outside of its home market.
It turned out to be a case of necessity. Gaining ground in the English-speaking world was part of the game plan from day one.
“Finland is a very small country,” he says. “It was therefore natural for us to turn to the largest markets. ”
Again, given the size of the market, it made sense to go with English as the app language. This, says Thür, was a well-established strategy. “Finnish game companies tend to launch in English to address the larger market,” he says.
The idea behind Yousicien was simple. Thür was a trained laser scientist and his co-founder Mikko Kaipainen was trained as an electrical engineer. Both had tried and failed to learn the instruments. The idea behind the platform was to provide effective music training for those who were struggling with self-study or conventional courses. “We were solving our own problem,” says Thür.
Now, music education is an area dominated – unsurprisingly – by musicians. Thür admits there were a few raised eyebrows when the company was launched with outside musicians at the helm. “We spoke to an investor who asked us: Are you music teachers? Are you musicians? Are you sound engineers? Are you app developers? We said no. He didn’t write us a check. But he said it was fantastic that we brought new thinking. This is how innovation happens.
But what does innovation mean in the context of music education? Yousician started small with a kids app. Thür admits it was not popular. When it comes to their children’s education, parents weren’t willing to pay for an app. So the business has pivoted. In addition to a guitar tuning app, he began to take an interest in a wider range of learners – older groups.
“Our audience is made up of people who have tried to make an instrument their own, but it didn’t work for them,” says Thür.
So why does he think Yousician works? It would be easy to point out the element of gamification – now almost mandatory in educational apps – but Thür points out that over time the platform has become flexible enough to meet the musical ambitions and aspirations of different customer groups. “Some like the workouts. Some like music theory. Some like to focus on the melody. Others like chords, ”he says.
Also, a more recent development is the introduction of masterclass style sessions with musicians such as Jason Miraz and Metallica.
The development of the platform is underway. From a bare minimum at launch, its functionality increases. At the same time, the application is continuously optimized through A / B testing of functions.
The challenge for any business is of course to reach the target audience. Although based in Europe, Yousician’s English-speaking offering could easily be mistaken for an American product. At the same time, much of the advertising through YouTube on social media is directed at those whose online activity shows an interest in music education. Free lessons are available but they are basic. Thür says many people convert to the $ 10 per month premium plan in a matter of days. “It’s not a lot of money.” The challenge is to make the free offer useful enough to gain users while ensuring that it is limited enough to incentivize upgrades.
Will growth continue after the pandemic? Thür thinks so. “We were growing up anyway,” he says. “People will want to continue to use their time well. ”
And he thinks people will continue to be drawn to music. “It’s a complete workout for the brain,” he says.