Yousician: an app to tune up your music skills

Learning a new instrument as an adult isn't easy. Chris Thür and Mikko Kaipainen created their own learning platform to simplify the process – and make it fun.
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Chris Thür, co-founder of app-based music education platform Yousician, spent most of his life wanting to work with lasers, but sometimes life moves in different directions with unexpected outcomes. ‘I moved to Finland almost 15 years ago to pursue a PhD in laser physics. I took some business classes and met a guy named Mikko Kaipainen. We became friends and decided that, before we got a real job in physics, we'd try to do something of our own.’

When they began thinking about what type of company they wanted to start, they settled on a shared experience. ‘One thing we both had in common was that we'd failed to learn an instrument when we were young,’ Chris says. As is common in children, their enthusiasm waned quickly after starting, leading to them putting in ever-shrinking practice hours and, eventually, giving up. The more they thought about it, the more they realized they'd still like to learn to play an instrument and wished they'd never quit. ‘Then we said: “Why isn't anyone doing anything about it?” We had [video game] Guitar Hero, which was fun, but that doesn't actually translate into playing the guitar,’ Chris says.

From there, they envisioned a business that would make learning an instrument easy and, most importantly, fun. ‘The idea for gamifying it and making it exciting for people to play was there straight away,’ Chris says. The aim, he says, was to ‘radically change music education so that it works for the masses’.

Their early meetings with potential investors were tricky given they had no background in the industry or type of business they were building. Chris recalls one pitch meeting where someone inquired about their work history, expecting a clear path to the story behind their idea. ‘He was like: “Ah, so you guys are music teachers” and we were like: “no”. Then he was like: “Oh, so you're musicians” and we were like: “no”. And he just went down this list of potential meaningful background skills that we could have to go into this adventure. The answer was simply that we'd both failed, so we know how it feels and we know what's not working.’

After an early version of the app, a music game experience aimed at children, didn't work well financially, they pivoted to an educational experience, with game-like elements, aimed at adults. ‘When humans are in a game-like mindset, it's quite good to learn all kinds of things,’ he says. ‘The challenge for music learning, especially in the early stages, is a motivation issue. It's not that people don't understand what they need to do – it's just that they don't do it.’

Chris' theory about what people need to truly stick with learning an instrument proved to be correct. Now Yousician has 20 million users worldwide learning the likes of guitar, piano, ukulele, bass and singing, competing against themselves and others every single day.

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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