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In this week’s episode we sit down with Yuval Kaminka, CEO and co founder of JoyTunes, the cool new app that helps even the most tone deaf people to learn how to play an instrument. We will discuss how he created the dream team advisory board using perseverance, what the ninja week is, and why they decided to set up a booth at a mall to get their investment?
Also, I am excited to announce the release of Startup Camel’s new eBook called “21 Powerful Tools to Catalyze the Growth Your Startup.” In it you will find, surprisingly, 21 tools recommended by the founders of Israel’s most innovative startups. You can get it totally for free by signing up for our mailing list at startupcamel.com.
And now, we welcome Yuval Kaminka of JoyTunes.
Startup camel bringing you the best and the brightest in Israeli startup scene. A new start up every week.
IDAN: So hello, Yuval and welcome to The Camel.
YUVAL: Hi. It’s great to be here.
IDAN: So before we start, I am going to tell you about how we going to do this interview. So, the first part is going to be all about you, your journey to entrepreneurship and your company. The second part is going to be the camel race. I am going to ask you few quick questions; you are going to give us short but insightful answers. So, please tell our listeners a little about your company “JoyTunes.”
YUVAL: We at JoyTunes make it possible for anyone to learn and play music on instruments. That’s our grand vision to make it easy, accessible, affordable and fun. Some branding guy that I once met told me what we are actually doing is democratizing music education.
IDAN: Democratizing music education. I love it already. Please tell us what does it feel like to use JoyTunes?
YUVAL: Sure. So in it’s most basic form. So, first of all we have technologies which make it possible to give you feedback on what you are playing, when you are playing any instruments. So any acoustic musical instruments like piano, saxophone, guitar, harmonica, any instruments at all, we will listen through the microphone of an ipad, iphone, or other devices, and give you feedback on what you are playing. The second layer is a pedagogy and gamification player which makes it fun for you. Our leading app is piano maestro; it takes you on a journey from one single note to playing with both hands and then complete melodies. It has about 2000 songs and exercises inside. We are working with publishers, Universal and others, and it has roughly around 4.5 million users. We are the primary tool used by piano teachers in the US, so we kind of compliment what they are doing, get kids to practice, no more arguments between kids and parents over practicing.
IDAN: So basically you don’t see yourself as a replacement for teachers but instead as a supplementary tool or supplementary product for those teachers.
YUVAL: I would say even more than that. Our relationship with teachers is like full partnerships. We work with them to allow them to use technology to improve music education.
IDAN: Okay, so this is the right moment to ask you, how was the idea for JoyTunes born?
YUVAL: It was just after my studies. I was doing my Masters at Weizmann Institute. I had a lot of free time and I spent it by playing video games. I played it with one of my nephews and we were playing Wii tennis game. He was ridiculously good at the game without knowing English and without anything. So I was obviously spending a lot of time doing that. Then his mom comes in, they start arguing over him practicing the piano and then I remembered that I had the same thing. You look there is a huge difference. I’m sitting on the couch in the livingroom and I just saw him play this game and it was so much of fun. He could browse the menu even without knowing the language. But he wouldn’t touch the piano. His stomach hurts. I will do it over the weekend and so on. And that got me really curious and interested to see what was going on and what was possible. I was shocked to see what is missing. The closest family of video games i.e. Rock band guitar your own song which could just gives you the feeling as if you are playing.
IDAN: But they don’t teach you anything?
YUVAL: No, they don’t teach you anything. No, they do. They teach you how to click very fast on 4 colored buttons. But that’s it. They don’t teach you how to play real music and admittedly, that’s their goal. That’s what they are set out to do. We are pleased to have one of the founder of Harmonix, the makers of Rockband. He is an advisor to Joytunes.
IDAN: Interesting. So, I want to hear more on how you got him to join the board but before that I want to hear about your new app launching called Metronome.
YUVAL: So there are many Metronome apps in the app store. There is a difference in this app is that it’s not for musicians. One part is making very simple and very elegant and making it easy to use like cutting down features but also adding features which don’t apply to musician like the ability to just tap the beat that you want. I don’t know how many MBPs I need but I know I want something going on like this or listening to something like Youtube, the analyze what the beat needs to be and then keeping that beat. I guess what’s the most exciting about it for us, internally, was that it was a result of a Ninja Week. It was done by two people a designer and a developer in three days and that’s it.
IDAN: This sounds very interesting. How does the concept of Ninja Week work?
YUVAL: So once in the first few months we have a week where everyone in the company including the office manager, marketing, musicians and the developers, research everyone works on whatever they want. No KPI’s, no goals, nothing at all. You just say something you are passionate about; you want to learn something or something that really needs to go in the product and there’s no time, some marketing stunt that you want to do, anything like that, you just do it. No criticism, no one gets in your way of doing it, just do it. Besides being a lot of fun, it has resulted in some of our coolest features today in our app. So a whole new app for the Apple Watch, a funny video that we did for April fool’s day about JoyTunes’s gloves that play for you. All these features and new innovative ideas come from that Ninja Week.
IDAN: So, this sounds like a great way to inspire play activity. Now take us back to the beginning. What was your first step to start Joytunes?
YUVAL: The first thing is to find the people that I want to do this with. I was very fortunate to have 2 amazing co founders. One is my friend from the army, Roey, and Yigal, my brother. Roey is the smartest guy I have ever met and I was very happy that he was passionate. I told him about the idea. I had a few ideas. I pitched him 3 ideas. and he chose the first one and he immediately left his job and started working on it the next day.
IDAN: Wow, that’s intense.
YUVAL: Yeah, he was really psyched about this and started working on it. We had a prototype in about 2 weeks. A very basic one which mostly he developed. And Igal, who is, what we call, our musical soul. He is a professional musician. He plays with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, he sings, he does it all with music. So this combination was very strong. People often say how lonely it is to be a CEO. It is. For me it is not as lonely as people sometimes describe because I feel I have a lot of confidence in my partners that I can share things with them and I can share my weakness, which is very important
IDAN: So you had an idea, you had a founding team, you had the basic product and now it was time to raise money for this venture. Could you tell us about this process?
YUVAL: When we went for our first round raising for our consumer company in Israel, that’s hard. Now add to that education. I actually had one of the top investors in Israel tell me, “I am ready to donate money for education but I would not invest a dime in education.” That’s actually a sentence I got. At the same time in the valley started throwing money on education because that’s when they understood that it’s a disruptive market. It is a market which can be really changed. So for education and then add to that music, kids, stuff that people don’t know about and can’t relate. That’s a very difficult situation especially when our competitor company in Israel raised six months before us and took every single angel investor in Israel who has some passion to music. I had to raise in a difficult ecosystem where my domain was against me. I had to prove numbers, prove team quality, everything which goes beyond even more than others maybe because they perceived the domain to be more risky. In the early stages, it’s more about psychology. So you need to play the psychology. I like to think of it like I am hitting on girls and it’s very much like that. I want to create a sense of how successful I am. There is a lot of psychology in the process because I can’t lie since I am dating someone that might be my wife. So I am not looking for a one night stand, I am looking for a relationship. So I need to show my good side but I can’t fake sides that I don’t have. Then goes some other tricks. For example, I would get someone who is interested and then every single email I would send this person in this process, I would add, “by the way, here’s a good update…” and even had an occasion where we had a very good week, we won some awards from the UN and others, and we got some really good feedback from someone or something like that I would not update on it. I would keep it because I don’t know if next week when I am going to send him the next email if I am going to have something on the same scale. Sending three good things doesn’t have the cost effective measure and it doesn’t add much value. So I would send just one or two updates and save the other things for the week after and make sure that every single email goes with something good and have people hear about you from many different sources. People trust their friends. So you need to know what is their support network and find them. And have portfolio companies recommend you. I don’t believe in cold calls for investors unless your numbers blows their mind, then sure it is the most important things. Cold calls or coming to an investor after he speaks at a conference I don’t get that. I want a friend of his to make an intro or a portfolio company of his to come in and make a warm introduction. That’s the best. Its takes so much time. It’s very frustrating because it feels like a waste of time because it takes so much time as you are not working on your company but you are. Actually the first one we turned down because it felt wrong. We turned it down, put money of our own and went to an accelerator program in the United States and that was amazing and I would recommend that for everyone.
IDAN: Can you tell us a little about the accelerator program you went to?
YUVAL: We went through MassChallenge. It’s a very big program, they accept around 100 companies for a few months in the states. It’s very clean. No equity. It’s like a huge buffet. Israeli’s love buffet. So it has a lot of sessions, they give mentors; they give you a working space and a lot of stuff. You learn a lot here. At some point, I ate too much and I didn’t leave anything for dessert. All of a sudden I had a nervous breakdown working 18-20 hours a day for a couple of months. Then I had to cut it down a little bit. That’s a tip for people who go for MassChallenge. I say leave room for dessert
IDAN: What were the main things that you learnt there?
YUVAL: An advisory boardroom that became very important for me after MassChallenge. I knew that it existed. I knew that I needed to learn about it. So I learnt and then I started to adding really cool advisors to our advisors board
IDAN: So, now let’s talk about your advisory board. Maybe you can share us some stories about how you got them to join your advisory team
YUVAL: I will share two.
YUVAL: So one is with Eran Egozy from Harmonix it was while we were with MassChallenge. Now
Harmonix is based in Boston, where the MassChallenge is. So, I found someone to do the intro. It was a cold intro. It didn’t work that well. But I started to be nice and polite, but persistent. I then found out his schedule and found out that he was going to speak in front of students in some college. I found the Israeli students studying in that college who could get me in and I had something to pitch. So I wrote to him that I am going to the talk today, maybe we can spend 10 minutes after the talk. I knew it fit his schedule and that he would have like 10 minutes left after for travel. That got him impressed. I learned that from MassChallenge. I was thinking a little bit out of the box in terms of boundaries, like not accepting boundaries. Second one is the CEO of Steinway, who came by inbound, which was a big difference. I got an email via email@example.com. I got an email that said “My 6 year old daughter loves your apps. She is doing an amazing job with them. I really like the concept and I have interest in this field because I am the CEO of Steinway.” And it took me a day to make sure that I’m not getting fooled by my team so I had to quickly validate and convert that email into advisory role, like getting him on phone, getting excited and he has no relation to Israel. For him it’s just risky.
IDAN: So, you couldn’t use the Jewish card?
YUVAL: No Jewish card, nothing like that. So he became an advisor and later he became an investor as well. Like shortly after he also invested.
IDAN: That’s a cool story. So, in the beginning you mentioned how difficult it is get investment in the space you are in but yet you managed to get funded by Aleph, one of the leading VC’s in Israel. Was there anything in particular about them that put them over the top?
YUVAL: My lead investor at that time and now, Eden Shochat. He was a genesis. I love him very much and he is also our mentor of ours. He likes to say that what got him excited was that we didn’t have any boundaries in terms of ego and shame like we were very aggressive, getting what we wanted. One particular thing we had a product for a recorder which is a lot silly but a lot of people play with a recorder specifically kids. We wanted to see what people think so we want to malls, just had a booth in a mall, paid some money and had a booth and stood there. The founders played records and got everyone in the mall crazy. The shop owners around us were screaming by the end of every day. Then we were needed to move. So we switched rooms a little bit. We had our recorder, a big screen, a microphone and we would play and we had a game which was attached to it. You activate the game by playing a recorder. What we sold was a web game. But people want something tangible so we sold boxes with a CD on it of 1kb files which has a link to open the website and a code that opens it up for you. We sold it for an expensive price and we had a very big learning curve. A Very fast one. We sold 5 units in the first day and then 25 in the second day. We were profitable. So yeah, we perfected the pitch, we learned, you meet people you know, you don’t feel embarrassed, you want to get responses and that what really comes and stands. That’s what Eden said that’s what got him convinced. And I have to say that he was very unique in that because many investors were laughed us out of the room. Not many but some.
YUVAL: It was an embarrassing thing that we did. Eden doesn’t care, he is no bullshit, get results, get it done and for him it was a great example of getting things done
IDAN: Excellent, that’s a great story. We are actually going to have Eden in the room next week so I can’t wait to hear what is his take on this story. So, last question before we move to the second part of the interview. Are you hiring?
YUVAL: Right now, we are looking for developers of various types like mobile and web. We are always expanding. We are a fun and a very strong team looking for other passionate people about music in what we do
IDAN: Great. Now it’s time for The Camel Race. So I am going to ask you few quick questions, you are going to give short but insightful answers. Are you ready for this?
IDAN: First question. Please give us a glimpse into your tool box. Please share with us one business tool or app you think our listeners should know about.
YUVAL: I use a tool called Yesware which lets you see if people open your emails even you are on Google, Gmail, etc. I use it often and it’s very good for sales, business development. It helps you to know investors of they have actually read your emails.
IDAN: Okay. Excellent!! What is the best tip you have ever received before a presentation or meeting with an investor?
YUVAL: To have fun, to really enjoy it and not imagine people naked. Just have fun.
IDAN: Do you have a role model or mentor?
YUVAL: I don’t have any single mentors. I have many whom I love very much, Eden, for one, and many others. I like different qualities in different people. The closest one would be the founders who are running big companies in Israel. The obvious one being CheckPoint in Israel. So these would be the closest to a role model.
IDAN: Are you a reader? If so, what is your favorite book?
YUVAL: So from professional books, I am finishing “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.”I found it to be extremely inspiring
IDAN: What is the most important lesson you took from this book?
YUVAL: To toughen up
IDAN: Okay. What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
YUVAL: Persistency and knowing that you time is precious so work on stuff that matters and not
on stupid things.
IDAN: Okay. All right!! Which companies in the Israeli startup scene would you recommend us to pay special attention to?
YUVAL: I am biased a little bit. I am very much in love with Aleph’s portfolio. I think they have very very cool companies. Meerkat. Not everyone knows them but I think they were super even in the Yellow days
IDAN: I totally agree. I had Ben in the previous episode. I think he is a totally amazing guy. Now for your last question, what do you do for fun when you are not working in your company?
YUVAL: Sometimes, I play Team Fortress at night. It’s a great game.
IDAN: Okay, I want to thank you Yuval for joining us today for this great interview. Please tell our listeners how should they should reach you and then we will say good bye.
YUVAL: So if you have questions, enquiries about jobs or anything at all, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
IDAN: Thank you Yuval again and thank you guys for listening to this episode of startup camel. If you want to know Yuval, Joytunes or about Israeli startup please check our website at startupcamel.com. Next week’s episode is interviewing Edin from Aleph VC, we are going to hear from him the do’s and don’ts of securing an investment for your start up from the investor’s side. You are not gonna miss this one, so do join us next week and remember you can hear us on Stitcher, Soundcloud and soon on Itunes. So please subscribe and hope to see you next week. Till then I am Idan Hershko signing up. Goodbye!!
Top 3 insights in this episode
- How to transform your employees into ninjas 06:09
- How dating can help you raise capital 08:56
- How to succeed against all odds as an entrepreneur 15:54
About Yuval Kaminka
As the co-founder and CEO of JoyTunes, Yuval Kaminka is responsible for the musical education of more than four million future musicians. If that wasn’t impressive enough, wait until you realize how he pulled this off without any musical background.
Instead, Kaminka relied on his vast experience in mathematical research (including s a 3 year stint as a researcher at the prestigious Weizmann institute), and his gift for spotting human insights. These traits would soon pay off as he transformed an idea he had while observing his nephew, into a product that forever changed the way people of all ages learn to play music.
With his company’s rapid success, Yuval has quickly become a sought out guest speaker and mentor in the start up world.
Four and a half million worldwide users, over 2,000 teachable songs, and the number one tool used by piano teachers in the USA are just a few of the milestones JoyTunes has achieved in their quest to turn music lessons into, well… a joy.
It all started when the startup’s co-founder, Yuval Kaminka watched his nephew refuse to practice piano but was more than excited to spend hours playing his game console. It was at that moment Yuval’s idea to fuse the gaming and music worlds together was born.
JoyTunes currently focuses on gamification apps for teaching and practicing piano, and has recently launched a professional metronome app compatible with the Apple Watch. The company has raised $7 million from angel investors and prominent VCs, and is advised by industry giants than Eran Egozy, CTO of Harmonix Music Systems (known as the original developers of Guitar Hero).
5 useful links mentioned in this episode
- Learn how to play the piano the fun way with JoyTunes
- Find out who read you mail with Yesware, Yuval’s favorite tool at work
- “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, Yuval’s current favorite book for entrepreneurs
- Air (the company behind Meerkat), the startup Yuval recommends to keep an eye on
- Aleph, the VC that took a smart gamble on JoyTunes
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