Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Interview with Aviv Grill, Miso Media
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Today's interview is with Los Angeles-based Miso Media, a developer of iPad-based music education software, which uses note detection to help users learn guitar, ukulele, and banjo. The firm is backed by Google Ventures, as well as a number of well known angels. We caught up with founder Aviv Grill to dig deeper into what the firm is doing.
First off, let's talk a little bit about your software. What does your software do?
Aviv Grill: We just launched our 2.0 product, which is called MisoMedia. It teaches people how to learn guitar, ukulele, and banjo. There are two ways you can use the app -- you can either play your iPad like it is a real instrument, by strumming the touch screen. Or, you can sit in front of tablature with a real guitar, and it uses note detection that figure out what note you're playing right now. It gives you real time feedback while playing, the notes across across similar to a Guitar Hero-type game, and will not continue to scroll until you play the right note. We have had over 30,000 downloads as of last week. Features in our new version include a section of tunes, which allows you to buy music--guitar tablature--from the Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and other choices from the Sony and Universal catalog. That's our initial product, and we will be bringing out an iPhone version very soon. It's actually a universal iOs app. In addition to that app, one other thing we are working on which is not yet out there to the public is a cloud-based, sheet music editor. That editor is similar to Finale or Sibelius, but is all in the cloud and in the browser. We're using it as a way to allow people to create tablature for us. Eventually, when it's complete, it will be able to transcribe sheet music for you. That's something we're really excited about as well. It's already available in beta, and we're expecting to fully launch it in two to three months.
You're backed by Google, isn't that right?
Aviv Grill: Yes, Google ventures led our last round. Other investors include Justin Timberlake, Dave McClure of 500 Startups; Keith Rabois, CEO of Square; and Lauren Sizkin, the recently deceased producer of Spider Man. It's a diverse group, both entertainment and technology.
How did you find those investors?
Aviv Grill: We had launched at Techcrunch Disrupt, and Keith Rabois of Square was the first to come aboard. Investors were really excited, and in the weeks following we took investment meeting after investment meeting. Finally, we hooked up with AngelList, Naval Ravikant really helped us out, which is how we found Google Ventures. We had them lead the round, and after that, we had a pretty ridiculous conversion rate from our meetings to investments. Seventy percent of the people we met with invested in the company. We really got to hand pick who we wanted in the round. Justin Timberlake actually came on board because Eghosa Omoigoi, up in Palo Alto, had previously invested with Timberlake in a photo sharing startup. It was the perfect investment for us.
What's your background, and how did you get into this?
Aviv Grill: I actually had worked at William Morris as a talent agent trainee. I spent almost two years there. But, I had been raised in a recording studio--my dad was a recording engineering, and my mom an opera singer. I was friends with two kids from Caltech, and I had brought an idea to them--which ended up totally different from what we ended up doing--and we decided to start a business together. I was kind of naive about it, and it ended up being my wife--who is a world class designer--those two guys, and myself. We thought we could build some really cool stuff. We ended up taking quite a bit of client work in our first two years, including building a world for Playboy, but we never had any really big success. Then, about a year and a half ago, one of my partners left, so we decided to focus on a single product, and really make it as amazing as possible. About a week later, our CTO was in Japan, and calls me, saying he had a crazy idea for a music, app, and he'd tell me about it when he got back. He showed me the prototype, we flushed it out, and figured out what Miso Media could really end up being. We then decided to move back with the parents, because it was going to take a lot of time to develop the prototype, and didn't have a means to sustain ourselves otherwise, and spent seven months on our first prototype.
How long has the app been available now?
Aviv Grill: Our app has now been available for a little less than two months. We had a 1.0 beta launch, with no press, and we'd specifically withheld putting it out there for the public. We really consider these past couple of week our intial launch. Verson 2.0 is what we see as our first product which is ready for public consumption.
What's the revenue model for this--do you have to pay for the app?
Aviv Grill: The app is free, but you can buy additional songs for 99 cents. The store is built in, and you can also buy a variety of virtual instruments. We have partnerships with Fender, Martin, Deering Banjo, Kohala Ukeleles--where users can buy branded instruments, which sound like those authentic instruments. For our editor, it will be free at its core, but there will be an advanced version that people can pay a subscription for. It will be $15 a year, which compares with $600 for a piece of software like Sibelius. It will have all the functionality of Sibelius, but in addition to that, we're going to want to encourage users to use our editor to self-publish music directly throug our app. That will allow anyone with original music to publish into our Miso Music application.
You mentioned Guitar Hero earlier. Is there a place for real music apps like yours in a Guitar Hero world?
Aviv Grill: Actually, I'm a big fan of Guitar Hero. I'm actually a very skilled player. Guitar Hero is obviously a game more about rhythm and coordination, than actually teaching music. But, what they're doing--and what we've replicated--is creating a game mechanism behind the music. One of the big things about it is real time feedback. It's the gamification of music education. I think in the education field in general, gamification is the key to engaging people moving forward. Music education is a nine billion dollar industry, and sheet music is a 6 million dollar industry. We believe that sheet music eventually will be an all-digital industry, and interactive. That's like everything else in the world, especially in print, which is already moving in that direction. I think people now have high expectations of a level of interactivity when they're dealing with sheet music.
Finally, what's the next big thing for you?
Aviv Grill: Moving forward, obviously, is our iPhone version. Also, by the end of the summer, we'll have an Android version of the app. The next big thing is a launch of our sheet music editor, which we see as a huge step for us. We'll also have automatic scoring in that sheet music editor, which is completely brand new, which we think will revolutionize the music scoring industry.