May 25, 2018 Arttu Närhi
Ever tried learning a new skill? It can be a tough task! Back in the day, you had to hire a specialized tutor or attend a structured course. Nowadays, most of this can be accomplished with a mobile application. Yousician co-founder and CEO Chris Thür already recognized this during the initial stages of developing Yousician’s early predecessor, Wild Chords.
Everything began with a simple idea. Chris does not have a special background in music, or even mobile games for that matter. However, he and his Co-Founder, COO Mikko Kaipainen, did have a personal interest in learning to play.
“I wanted to learn Finnish, but it was hard to keep motivated,” Chris thinks back to 2010 and what inspired him. “I wanted to find something that Duolingo is today. Then I met Mikko, and came up with the idea of creating a service that helps people stay motivated to practice on their real instruments.”
Taking Finland by Storm at Slush 2011
The duo assembled a small team that created Wild Chords: an app which utilized a real guitar and played up the gamified aspects of learning. The result was a story-driven game which especially appealed to younger players. However, even with a unique product, the early 2010’s were a tough time for two students with a demo to get funding in Finland . The situation lead them to Slush 2011 and the Slush 100 Pitching Contest.
“We were a part of Startup Sauna, a startup incubator, already,” Chris explains. “We were going to go to Slush anyway because it was a startup event, sowe signed up to compete in the contest for the prize money.”
Wildchords impressed the crowd and the jury, and the team walked out as first prize winners. It became a hit in the major app stores and even dethroned Angry Birds, for a moment, as the most downloaded app in Finland. Victory was a great boost for the young company and the exposure more than welcome. Building on this success, the team began developing their first prototype of GuitarBots, the app which Yousician is based on.
The new app was quite different from Wildchords. Apart from an entirely new interface, GuitarBots allowed musicians to practice and play fun songs, whereas Wildchords had only focused on teaching individual chords. The app was launched a year later in 2012, also at Slush.
Working on GuitarBots expanded the team’s reach from focusing on beginners and made it possible for more advanced guitarists to play and have fun. As such, the foundations of a solid product and initial fan base had been laid. But just as Slush was only a whisper of what was to come, the story of Yousician was only beginning.
A New Beginning as Yousician
Development of GuitarBots continued in 2012. Gamification was a defining factor, which influenced mechanics and design. What Chris and his team discovered, however, was that users appreciated its capacity to teach far more than its game-like mechanics and appearance.
“We moved away from a gaming service, which lead to people respecting it more, being more willing to pay for it, and becoming more interesting for businesses,” Chris describes the impact of the change.
He believes that gamified learning is probably not the way of the future, at least for adult education. Still, Chris does not dismiss the motivational factor game features can provide for self-learning services. The remaining challenge will be introducing apps like Yousician to the social settings which traditional schools currently provide.
GuitarBots was rebranded and relaunched as Yousician in 2014, a dramatic move that even surprised Yousician’s core users.
“We even got some feedback saying Yousician is just a GuitarBots rip-off,” Chris says. “We had to explain to the users that it is the same company!”
A Chance to Create a New Culture
With a new name, the company expanded its mission from “changing the way people learn to play a musical instrument” to “make musicality as common as literacy”. While not everyone may be destined for a career in music, the team believes everyone is born musical and can lead a more musical life.
“We believe everyone has the potential to make music. We may not all be equally talented, but we all can play and benefit from the overwhelmingly positive benefits this hobby has according to research,” Chris says.
Playing music together is a way to connect people through a collaborative experience. One way Yousician enables this is by acting as a resource for music educators.
“Currently there are thousands of teachers using Yousician with their students,” Chris elaborates. Yousician has enabled a separate set of options for teachers to follow students’ progress and use the app as part of a lesson plan. Moreover, Yousician’s user base of talented musicians can also contribute to the lesson and song database, something music educators really love.
“We have a song creator and editor in Yousician,” Chris explains. “Technically, it’s pretty easy to use, but writing something meaningful requires skill. But, for example, teachers have that skill and can create good and fun exercises for their own students and the other users of Yousician alike.”
The music editor is one thing that makes the Yousician community unique and engaging. Today, over 10 million people use Yousician products every month. The company itself is a prime example of how music works to bring people together, with office jam sessions and other free time activities rising in popularity at Yousician.
People used to form bands to revolutionize culture… Now they are founding companies
Compounding an inclusive culture with a revolutionary product helps explain Yousician’s rapid expansion. While still in the growth stage of the corporate lifespan, the team working in Finland is made up of people from over 25 nationalities, a number that continues to grow with the team size. Yousician also recently opened their second office in New York, a major feat for any Finnish company at this stage. The whole crew consists of almost 100 people today.
Just like in 2014, Yousician is still the greatest contender for world’s best self-teaching app for musicality. With the ukulele (remember this back in Slush 2016?), bass, guitar, and piano rolled out globally, they are already testing their fifth instrument and have a number of other features in the works.
Yousician though is just getting started. Opening in New York is only the first step in their global conquest, and it happened in under a decade. We can definitely expect at least another eight exciting years ahead of Yousician, and we at Slush feel nothing but pride for having had a chance to be a part of this story.
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