Following on from their funding news, MAGNiTT took the opportunity to catch up with Band Industries' Co-Founder and CEO, Hassane Slaibi to discuss their future plans, the importance of crowdfunding, any challenges they faced with user mindsets, what they were looking for from their investors beyond capital, and much more.
Q1. To start, tell us briefly about Band Industries. How does it work?
Band Industries came out of a need for its two co-founders to tune less and play more. Our company’s first product, the Roadie Tuner, was launched in 2013 and garnered worldwide attention and accolades including the TechCrunch Disrupt 2014 Audience Choice Award. Not ones to sit by when they could be innovating, we followed Roadie up with Roadie 2 in 2017 and then Roadie Bass in 2018. Bands began touring and recording using our tools which was pretty powerful to see.
Since then and while we were hard at work on Roadie 3, we have released several interesting apps for musicians: Roadie Tuner, Roadie Music Recorder, Roadie Bass Tuner, and Ukulele by Roadie. We will keep up on all these projects as we continue to evolve our hardware offerings. There is a lot coming in the future of Band Industries.
Q2. How have musicians adapted to a new digital way of tuning? Did you face any challenges with user mindsets?
When we first started shipping Roadie Tuners in 2014, we had 2,000 early adopters who backed our original Kickstarter campaign but even so, many musicians treated the new invention with hesitation. They thought that the old way of having a digital tuner or a pedal is tried and tested and some of them even like tuning by ear. They treat it as both a tuning task as well as a way to bond with their instrument.
Fast forward 6 years, with the second generation (Roadie 2) and now third generation (Roadie 3), our products have stood the test of time and won over the early skeptics. We have seen many of our customers follow us on every product launch, some passing down their Roadie Tuners to their kids when upgrading to the latest release. It feels great to see generations of Roadies assisting generations of musicians in their craft and Roadie proving to be an essential tool for any musician of any level.
Another shift in mindset that helped us modify and improve the product is a renewed focus on people learning how to tune. When designing Roadie 3, we focused intently on the screen being visible at all times while tuning. While this proved to be a great challenge, we managed to accomplish it. Now beginner musicians can see, hear, and receive visual information about how their tuning is happening while at the same time training their ears to listen to a perfectly tuned guitar. This critical tool of having a tuning 'teacher' present with a new musician at all times eliminates a lot of the stress of starting off and gives them the confidence they need to enjoy playing.
Q3. It is quite extraordinary that you managed to raise this round with the current crisis. Was this in the works from much earlier?
Yes, we definitely started working on the round pre-COVID-19 and I think the resilience of the company is what pushed the investors to close the round in these uncertain times. Our future premise is that as music education and practice evolve, musicians will undoubtedly include assisting technologies like Roadie Tuner and some other groundbreaking hardware that we are working on now and plan to launch in 2021. I cannot share more but we are all super excited for the time when we can share this with the world.
Q4. It’s safe to assume that after this round, you're going to have some exciting growth plans. Can you share some of Band Industries' short-term plans for expansion with us?
Please check the earlier answer. However, I'll add that building great products cannot happen without a great team. We are currently 20 strong and actively recruiting both technical talent and product managers. We have an impressive onboarding program that we put a lot of effort into and strive for excellence in everything we do. Musicians practice a lot of patience and repetition in order to perfect their craft, and this is the least they expect from the tools they count on in their journey.
Q4. What were you looking for from your investors, beyond capital?
We frequently run important decisions by our investors and board, so we see it important to work with like-minded people who understand our business and passion and can contribute positively to those discussions.
Q6. How important is crowdfunding to you? And do you think it’s a tool that should be used more often in the region?
A brand like Roadie with products already in the market can still greatly benefit from a Kickstarter launch. The most important thing we get from being on Kickstarter is the user feedback that we receive from this community of curious, passionate, and progressive musicians. When we share our designs, features, and progress with the Kickstarter backers we get perspective far greater than the sum of our own. This is the best way we have found to create something that will be impactful for a great many musicians. When we first started off, there were so many tuners out there, and getting the word out seemed as hard as inventing Roadie. We truly do not believe we would have gotten this far without the support and close communication of our Kickstarter backers.
Q7. You are innovating at the intersection of music, EdTech, and AI. Have you faced any challenges? And how have you overcome them?
One challenge when starting anything new is to balance two ingredients that are essential to the success of a product: technology and product. In our case technology is the voice of the engineer speaking and answering the question: what can we build? The product perspective is that of the customer, the musician in us and our community answering the question: what is it that will have the greatest impact? Keeping both voices in harmony while not allowing one to overpower the other is essential in building a complex product that involves education and advanced technology.
Q8. What do you foresee as the largest challenges to scaling Band Industries in MENA / beyond?
We started from day one as an international company, embracing global trends like e-commerce, the new industrial revolution and rapid prototyping, social media, and crowdfunding. Music is a language with no boundaries and this is how we like to view both the world around us and that of business. Our users are in over 150 countries, many of which we only reach through e-commerce. Some important challenges in selling hardware products come when navigating topics like import regulations, product certification, and distribution in different countries and cultures. As the company grows, we will expect the challenges in these areas to grow as well.
Q9. What is your big-picture vision for the future of Band Industries?
Music is one of the oldest human activities and yet it continues to be reinvented in the most unexpected ways. This shows the power of this art form and the size of the responsibility and ambition we took upon our company to give future musicians the tools that will facilitate their experience throughout their journey. We strive to be this trusted brand of quality, next-level tools for musicians.
Q10. Finally, what advice would you give to yourself five years ago?
Dream big and be ready for an awesome ride. As an entrepreneur, I continuously look at the next milestone for the company, and once achieved I always realize that there is the next big thing to go for. It is essential to enjoy the process and be very comfortable with all the unknowns along the path.
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2019 was a productive year for EdTech in MENA, as the industry witnessed more deals (29) and total funding ($20M) than any previous year. Access more data and trends in our new 2019 MENA Education Venture Investment Report.