Starting a Business

What You Can Learn from the Startup that Pulled Piano Lessons into the Internet Age

What You Can Learn from the Startup that Pulled Piano Lessons into the Internet Age
Image credit: Skoove

A lot of parents reading this have suffered through childhood piano lessons. They may have been required to take them when they were younger, and/or they may have made their children go through the ritual.

I don’t want to give private piano lessons a bad rap here. I’ve played piano virtually all my life and performed Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu” when I was Miss Missouri in the Miss America Pageant. However, I know that many youngsters find piano lessons a chore and I also know that later in life many adults wish they had studied piano, or tried harder when they had lessons in their youth.

One of the best things about technology today is that it can help us learn things that we missed earlier in life. Technology does this by making learning more convenient and less expensive. Sometimes it can also customize content delivery in ways that better suit our individual learning styles.

Image Credit: Skoove

In fact, I think one of the most exciting areas today is in learning technology, or e-learning. You can’t watch television without seeing a commercial for an online university, for example.

One of the newest and best examples in this area is Skoove, an online and very tech-savvy piano-teaching system. I think it can get more kids playing piano and also fulfill the dreams of many adults by providing them with a convenient way to learn fundamental piano skills.

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For the kids, working with a computer and Internet connection is probably more in line with how they prefer to spend their time. For adults, being able to learn piano in the privacy of their homes and whenever they have the time are major selling points.

“Sixty-one percent of the people in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Germany would like to learn a musical instrument, but currently only a fraction actually do. With Skoove, we hope to make that dream a reality for anyone with access to a computer and a desire to learn,” says Dr. Florian Plenge, Skoove's co-founder and CEO.

I’ve checked out the technology and it works well. You need an electronic keyboard and it must have either a USB or MIDI interface so it can be connected to the computer you’ll be using. Setup was simple for my MIDI and I ran through a few of the introductory lessons. (A version that works with an acoustic piano is in development.)

You get your instructions from the computer screen. It illustrates what you have to do and then you basically follow along. The software is able to measure how you’re doing so it can help you pace your progress.

Image Credit: Skoove

“We have designed Skoove to combine the best elements of a live tutor – giving real time feedback and adapting to the student – with all the convenience of the web, being available anywhere 24/7, and at a fraction of the price,” Plenge says.

In fact, you can take the teaching system on a pretty decent test drive without having to pay anything or even input your credit card – which is something I really appreciate in online commerce.

Skoove has a good deal of backing. It came out of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator and recently completed a seed funding round with the largest German early stage fund, the High Tech Gründerfonds. I mention this because teaching/learning/information-sharing is one of the most solid industry areas in the world of startups.

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Not everyone will get the high-level of support that Skoove has received, but virtually anyone can develop teaching materials online and find a market for them. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What’s my special area of knowledge?
  • What have I been successful at?
  • What do I love doing?

The answer to any of these can give direction for developing an online business built around knowledge you have, or knowledge that you will work hard to gather.

You don’t need to develop sophisticated software like Skoove. I recently heard how a local martial arts instructor created a very successful online business by selling videos that demonstrated specific self-defense tactics. He said his first videos were very crude, but sold well nonetheless.

And even in music, less high-tech strategies work. I know some musicians who supplement their incomes by offering lessons via Skype. Further, many of them even leverage Craigslist to help them find students. There’s nothing too difficult in that.

So, does the Skoove story strike a note with you? Are you ready for piano lessons, or are you even more ready to put together your own course and start selling it?

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