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Nowadays you can find a course on any desirable discipline: from cooking to corporate management. Specialization is the most interesting trend in this market. You can’t teach just using video chats and assign different tasks online. Other possible solutions are of great need and it is a great chance for new picky startups. Alexey Minchuk, CEO of FASOL “musical gym”, told us how you can make money on your hobby and why this niche is a perfect option for developing an online business.
We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.
FASOL online music school has been developed from a traditional music school. Along with my partners-musicians, I launched it 4 years ago in Minsk. We’ve helped thousands of students believe in themselves and unleash their creativity. Our mission is to make music as accessible as possible, to remove fears and barriers. People think that they have no hearing nor voice and they can’t learn anything. In fact, everything is possible, the main thing is not to be afraid.
Two years ago we decided to scale our experience into an online school. This work format opens up a more interesting perspective: a large availability of training programs, perfect teacher selection in the “tinder” style, the ability to teach and learn from anywhere.
The online music education market was then operated by companies with investments of tens of millions and stable revenue of hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. This clearly showed that there is a market and it is growing.
When the pandemic happened, we understood that we’d chosen the right direction. The regular classes at our music school had to be stopped back in February. And we were very pleased that we started developing our own platform for online music learning even earlier, so we were ready for such changes and moved to a remote location with enthusiasm.
The platform was finalized and launched for all students in a matter of weeks. If not for the pandemic, this task would have dragged on for a long time. We haven’t worked so dynamically for a long time! We were the first to transfer the most popular directions online — vocals and guitar. We will expand this list.
Almost all our students were enthusiastic about the transition to online learning and the fact that they will attend their favourite classes even in the isolation at home. In the spring, the demand for online classes was such high that it was necessary to double the number of teachers and, at the same time, develop a “hot-working” platform.
The pandemic has affected musicians the most as most of them perform in different restaurant and cafes, as well as, teach in private studios, and COVID-19 has put a bold cross on all this. We gave our teachers the opportunity to continue teaching online and increased earnings by 30%.
Now, there are about 400 students and 70+ teachers on our platform, who study remotely via video communication, do their homework, store notes and visually track their progress. The monetization scheme has not changed — student pay for classes.
We didn’t have the opportunity to buy a ready-made software, fill it with our own content and start the learning process. There were simply no solutions that allow organizing music lessons with a teacher online. And there is none until now. We only had to create our own platform for teaching music.
Your own platform is costly, complicated and incomprehensible. At the start, we did not have strong technical competencies in the team, because before that we were engaged in music and offline business. But we also had no way out — we could only scale online. And the main technical problem was the quality of the connection.
In a music lesson, it is very important to hear each other in the same way as in personal communication. Each note, each sound should reach without delay or interference, as if you are with a teacher at a couple meters distance. Now, remember how exactly Zoom, Skype and other services transmit sound. Most often they have long delays, and the lower or upper frequencies are jammed. Try calling Zoom, turning on the minus and singing to it — the person on the other side will hear either only the minus or you.
We were very lucky: one of the few Russian-speaking specialists with experience in developing video services, Dmitry Bobrov, believed in the project and became a CTO of FASOL. Six full-time programmers work with him. It took about six months to develop the platform.
Now, we have a video transmission system with minimal delays. Even at low connection speeds, the video may lag a little but the sound remains clear and carries the entire frequency range. Under the hood, it has a complex mix of ready-made solutions and our exclusive developments.
Apart from a good connection, you need a good business process. In one platform, we have collected an interactive timetable, student progress diary and rating system, CRM for teachers, class records, analytics and many other features. I had to do most of the functions myself. We were able to give part of the tasks to third-party services but now we are putting everything into the platform — this is more reliable and cheaper.
Thanks to the struggles of our developers, we have a scalable and functional platform for teaching music, which is easily adaptable for any type of discipline. Currently, we have several special training functions that differ us from the competitors. For example, we have a visual voice pitch trainer. This is a kind of karaoke that shows whether the student has hit the note correctly, in which octave or which range he sings. You can load any track — the simulator will highlight the minus, plus and words. The lyrics will be displayed on the monitor, and the graph will show the correspondence of the student’s singing to the original. For vocal homework, this is a very effective solution for completing homework on vocals.
Studying music is not a need, it is a desire and for many, it is a dream. Music as a hobby is an emotional purchase, our task is to inspire and motivate people to start practising here and now. Students need a creative atmosphere and positive emotions, although some want to learn professional skills.
It is not enough just to show beautiful ads to our audience. It is necessary to cultivate this desire to study, to draw out the long-forgotten craving for creativity. Our exclusive content helps us to achieve these goals. On our youtube channel, we’re telling how to learn and what results you can achieve. It already has over a million views
Every day on our Instagram, we post everyone’s favourite one-minute “tutorials” that show people complex vocal and guitar features on simple exercises. We host online concerts, collect and publish recordings of our students. This is how we build brand awareness and help students become popular artists.
We have a complex sales funnel as the product is complex. We have spent a lot of effort on rebuilding the funnel and are constantly improving it. We use the personal experience of past projects, we steal interesting solutions as artists and learn from the best coaches.
From our side, the funnel looks like a conveyor: first, the lead is met by the recording manager for a trial lesson, then the support manager works with him, if necessary, the rewrite manager, and after the lesson, the sales manager. Also, a separate manager works with an active client base, we are planning to add a manager to return clients.
Such task delegation increases the throughput capabilities of the entire system. When you do one task, it’s much easier to learn how to do it well. A narrow specialist is much less likely to find himself in an unfamiliar situation and get lost.
For a potential client, communication with us begins with an appointment for a trial lesson. We have divided this process into five stages, the process is owned by a special manager.
After the registration, we offer the client to take an online survey in order to carry out the first training session in a quality manner. We send the client to a specific chatbot, based on the survey results, which is connected to our platform via API. Now we can communicate with a person in the messenger and guide him through a special funnel. This is how we increase conversion.
When the client comes to the first lesson, he meets the teacher. We have built a selling presentation into the platform, which controls the teacher and helps him to go through all the stages of the process without getting lost. Unfortunately, such a tough approach is indispensable — otherwise, teachers simply do not follow the rules.
The presentation contains the benefits for the student and the visual result that awaits him, with a written lesson plan. We have programs from a newbie to pro. You can buy it as a whole, then it will come out cheaper and with a larger number of bonuses. You can start at a basic level without some of the features, such as a vocal trainer. This strategy significantly increases the average bill and LTV.
We tell the user what he will learn in great detail, what benefits he will receive after each block of classes. Even before the lesson, we determine the needs and psychotype in order to adjust the program accordingly. For example, a client wants to learn how to play yard songs on basic chords, which means that we will not load him with notes on the guitar.
So far, we have a 7% conversion from a lead to a regular customer and we are constantly improving this indicator. We see how leads are lost at different stages of the funnel. There is room for improvement.
We take people without work experience onto the conveyor in the sales department and train them for our tasks. We have constantly updated video tutorials for each operation: in detail, there’s told what to say, how to deal with objections, and what result you need to achieve. We consolidate our knowledge in regular classes with sales managers. We are still small, but the guys already see the prospects for career growth and our turnover is low.
After a trial lesson, we give an incentive to continue through bonuses with a limited “lifespan”. If they do not motivate the client, then we politely remind them about the lessons by calling. For each call, the manager has a thoughtful reason or a bonus offer.
For example, we have a “Invite a friend — get a bonus” promotion, and our managers can call a client and offer to be that friend for another client. And you are pleased, and you will help another person. Works well.
We divide the markets by language segments. We started to develop from the Russian-speaking market. This solution has its advantages. Firstly, the music school is very strong, as really good professionals come from universities and art colleges. And there are not so many good jobs for them, so we have no shortage of Russian-speaking teachers. We offer them good working conditions; so good teachers willingly come to us.
Secondly, it is easier to gain experience, experiment and develop in the home market.
Thirdly, in Russia, there is a demand for EdTech startups from large players (Yandex, Mail.ru, Skyeng). They are actively developing the lifelong learning concept and adding more and more new directions to their structure. In order to achieve this, they buy projects with noticeable success and audience.
In the English-speaking market, the demand for music education is higher than in the Russian-speaking one. We have a mental trait of 10,000 active Russian-speaking students. When we’re going to reach it, we plan to start reaching the English-speaking audience. But we may go earlier. We already have enough competencies.
When we started developing our platform, most of the users were learning music from Coursera, Edx and similar platforms. These courses are video lessons without the teacher’s feedback. Yes, it is available and easy to implement, but ineffective.
The educator is the best way to increase LTV and initial conversion. It’s much more difficult to quit with a good teacher — there are personal sympathies, social pressure and tangible results.
We chose a mixed model of teacher + video lessons and homework, because 80% of users who study the purchased programs and courses just don’t complete them, and in our case, the teacher solves this problem. Without an experienced teacher, student mistakes will accumulate and it is unlikely that good results will be achieved.
Specialized platforms, where a real person works with the student and the technical part is adapted for music lessons, have started to actively develop in the last two years. And today there are only a few strong projects in the world, which we are closely following. The Chinese Xiongmao Peilian is growing very actively. They only have one tool — the piano, but have over two million students and plans to exit the IPO this year. There are also several steadily growing projects in the US market.
We can say that we have two products now. The first is the platform, the second is the content on it. We have set up the process of attracting teachers, constantly producing training and marketing content. More than 10 specialists are involved in these tasks.
In terms of the number of students and income, we are doubling every month and keeping this pace is our main task. We plan to start entering the English-speaking market within a year and for this, we are looking for a Seed-round of investments in the amount of $400 thousand.
We focus on the range, not the exact amount because it will depend on our valuation at the time of the deal. It will also depend on the investor whether we’ll bond or not. We are ready to attract a smaller amount from an investor with cool experience and network in our industry.
Mikhail Bychenok, the CEO of MediaCube, and Viktor Denisevich, the investment director of Zubr Capital, have already invested in us. With the funds raised in this round, we developed a platform, made a large amount of content and established sales. The MediaCube team helps us with their expertise and technical base in the video content production.
We don’t want to be only limited by teaching music. We know how to work with people who want an interesting, creative hobby. There may be several directions but the technology (and the sales department) is one. The hobby market is much larger and difficult to even count.
Our second product is the platform itself. Selling shovels during fever days is an old strategy, and we can use it. It has been several times already that users of our platform, who have their own businesses, wanted to purchase the platform or pay for use on a monthly basis. While we aren’t ready to sell the platform in its current form, important improvements are still needed to be a full-fledged SaaS.
In the future, each author will be able to launch their course on our platform or make online classes in dancing, drawing and anything else out of it. This is a completely new niche: such products are already on the market, but with less functionality. And the demand for it is quite large.