Simon Barkow-Oesterreicher (Co-Founder, COO), Eckart Burgwedel (Co-Founder, CEO), and Martin Polak (Co-Founder, CTO) © Anne Schönharting
What inspired you to found your startup?
The two co-founders Eckart and Simon met on a plane commute from Hamburg to Zurich and discovered their mutual love for guitar and the struggle to learn it. Learning music seemed to them a tedious, opaque learning process with a lack of clear progress. As smartphones had became powerful enough for real-time audio recognition and feedback, they set out to create a new way of learning music. After more than six months of technical research they met their third co-founder and CTO Martin in a serendipitous moment — at a pitch event where an investor had told them that what they wanted was impossible. Martin eventually developed all of Uberchord’s supreme technology.
How do you define success for yourself and your company?
Our vision is to change the way we learn musical instruments and to allow everyone to pursue his or her dream of making music. Our success is our users’ success in learning how to play and not to give up. Everything else is secondary — financial success as a company will inevitably come when we achieve our main objective.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you could do it again?
Our earliest investors pushed us to accept their money before the round was closed to incorporate the company and start product development. Since we didn’t have enough runway to hire our own team at this point we used a software agency until the round was closed. Although this sounds like a great idea, in hindsight we should have closed the round first and hire our own developers. Although we hired one of the best agencies, they couldn’t cope with the complexity. Communication was difficult, the results were too expensive for the quality and all the knowledge was outside the company. In addition, fundraising while trying to get the entire company off the ground without a team is a very bad idea.
What problem does your product solve?
Traditional music education is broken – it’s inefficient, people give up and in most cases don’t even learn how to make music but simply reproduce notes like a robot. 85% of beginners give up within the first 12 months. This is harmful to an industry living off selling expensive equipment and struggling to reach their customers. We solve both problems: With personalised and interactive learning we keep people motivated and at the same time we are creating a marketplace for the industry to market and sell their products.
Where do you see your company in 1/5/10 years?
We want to become the #1 music education solution in the world. In one year we will be the most used guitar learning app on iOS, in five years we will cover most instruments on all platforms and will be the standard platform to connect learners and music education institutions worldwide. By then, we will also have the largest user generated song catalog of the highest quality on the internet. In 10 years we will be the largest sales and marketing channel for music making related equipment and accessories. Well. Isn’t it awesome to have humble goals? 😀
How are you different?
Uberchord uses a whole stack of extremely powerful technologies and pays painstaking attention to the learning experience in order to achieve two goals: make the journey the reward, and enable users to make music instead of just mindlessly playing notes. Instant feedback and personalised, deliberate learning and a learning concept based on the notion that music is a language makes Uberchord extremely effective and engaging. In addition, the community platform is going to provide an unlimited repertoire of popular music in the future.
How often does your product/service show up in a user’s day or week?
Our goal is motivate users to practice every day, even though we know by our own experience this is near impossible. While we do have a small hard-core fan base using Uberchord on a daily basis, the problem with the majority of users is that music learning itself (like language learning) requires a lot of time and dedication. People aren’t simply lazy. You need time, a quiet room, and a bit of tranquility. Thus, while many of our active users practice 2-3 times per week, we want to push this further.
Impact: how are you doing good and building a better future?
Musical training can have a dramatic impact on your brain’s structure, enhancing memory, as well as math and language skills. We believe that the society would benefit tremendously when everybody gets his or her chance to learn how to make music. The Chinese government, for example, understood this well and is now making practical instrument lessons obligatory in all Chinese schools with the intention to use modern technology to move away from the usual drill style. With our apps we are supporting efforts like these by making music learning as motivating and as efficient as possible. In addition, our web platform we will be a central hub for music learning where casual players on the one hand and professional institutions on the other hand can create and share content.
How has the startup scene in Berlin changed?
We feel that the Berlin startup scene is getting more and more traction. More and more meet-ups, accelerators, co-working spaces, and most importantly, VC funds increase in number and size, even though we are still way behind the Valley, Tel Aviv and for the most part London. With this development comes a professionalism that is necessary to get the Berlin startups to be the digitalisation drivers that we need in Germany.
What are the pros and cons of launching your startup from Berlin?
For us, founding our startup in Berlin was not really a question. Berlin is the music tech capital of the world and all the important players are here. The combination of an attractive startup community and the creative spirit draws a lot of talent, also from the eastern countries, that we were able to tap into. On the down side is a clear lack of commitment and work ethics. Berlin is colorful, cheap and relaxed, so there is little pressure to work hard. In addition, unlike in other startup hubs, we don’t have enough successful companies to make shares really a widely desired incentive to work at a startup and put in the necessary extra hours.
Bonus Question: Anything else that we need to know about you?
We will launch a Seedrs crowd investment campaign around September 1st. This is extremely important for us, so please point your readers to the campaign page: https://www.seedrs.com/uberchord. The campaign will run until end of October, long enough that also late readers of the magazine can benefit from it.
Our vision with Uberchord really is to make an impact and change the way we learn musical instruments. We are aware this is a long shot, but that’s what drives us. What we are creating is incredibly hard to build, but we have already achieved things everybody would tell us is impossible. We simply refused to believe it.
Uberchord was featured in “The Hundert Vol. 10 – Startups of Berlin“, October 2017.