Recently we managed to catch up with Chris Thür, Co-Founder and CEO of a very smart startup called Ovelin. During our interview, Chris introduces us to Ovelin while sharing advice abuts the business plan process and applying by the medium of an accelerator program. Ovelin is the #1 music app across more than 34 countries and WIRED magazine named them as the Hottest Startup of 2012. This is our first interview in a series of interviews with companies from the Finish accelerator program Startup Sauna.
What is ovelin all about?
Ovelin is changing the way people learn to play a musical instrument. Our interactive music games are played with a real guitar, and help players to learn to play real songs. We are a group of crazy creative engineers and passionate musicians that are reinventing the way that music is taught.
How did you come up with the idea for ovelin?
Both Mikko (fellow co-founder) and I were guitar dropouts We realized quickly that all the products and services out there in this space were focusing on the wrong thing. We asked many people around why they succeeded or did not succeed in learning to play an instrument. Almost all “successful” guitar players said they had a good teacher, while the dropouts said they did not have a good teacher (or no teacher at all). We then investigated what differentiates the good from the bad teachers and found a pretty simple (and maybe even obvious) difference. The good teachers are good at MOTIVATING people to practice. Thus, we wanted to develop a product that would focus heavily on the motivation aspects of guitar learning. And what is more motivating than playing a good game?
What were some of the challenges that you faced starting a company?
The background of both of us co-founders was not very “suitable” for this task. Mikko is an electrical engineer and I worked as a laser scientist. Though we both met when studying Industrial Management. Neither of us was a coder, gamer, guitar player, teacher, or had any experience in audio technology or any adjacent field in which Ovelin operates. The only real “insight” we brought to the table was our experience as guitar dropouts However, maybe because of this outside view we were able to keep the focus on what matters (while meantime hiring the best game developers, audio scientist, music teachers, and visual artists out there to build the product).
Obviously, it was not very easy for us to raise money, but we managed to get a first prototype built, we’re able to build excitement, and launch the product with FFF and some governmental support money. After it became clear that WildChords was popular, fundraising was easier.
You took part in the Startupsauna accelerator program, what difference do you feel being part of an accelerator made to your company?
I think there are many benefits an accelerator program can bring, and I think Startup Sauna was really a game-changer for us in many ways. The key takeaways for us were (1) focus stronger outside Finland for partnerships and fundraising, (2) getting out of the building and show unfinished products, and (3) build up a network of fellow entrepreneurs to share, support, and exchange experiences and contacts. We are still regularly at the venue, and good friends with many people we met during the program. From all programs Ovelin has been part of, Startup Sauna was clearly the best. I highly recommend it!
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into an accelerator program?
Read the blog posts of companies who were in that program (if they write about their experience), and follow the people running the program (very often they say quite clearly what they are after). If you think it’s a good fit, you should join. Do not try to “fit” your startup into the program. Not every program is suitable for every company.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to raise their first round of funding?
Don’t put all your effort into fundraising, the further you get the product, user base, team, or the company ahead, the better chances you stand. I always hated the advice about “be picky about your investors”, because no-one wanted to invest in the first place. How can you be picky in that situation, being picky is a luxury that few startups get. However, eventually, we were in a situation where we could choose between many top investors, and we are now extremely happy we went with True Ventures.