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- Former college roommates Sam Walder and Vishnu Indukuri teamed up and co-founded Trala, an app that provides remote violin lessons.
- On Wednesday, the startup announced that it raised a fresh $3.5 million in seed funding from former LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and his under-the-radar VC firm, Next Play Ventures.
- Business Insider spoke with Trala CEO Sam Walder about building a company that makes music education more accessible to those who are often excluded from it, including older people, musicians with disabilities, and COVID-19 first responders looking for creative outlets.
- Weiner, in an email to Business Insider, said that he met Walder through angel investor Mike Gamson, who “immediately recognized” Walder’s “special talent.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As college students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Sam Walder and Vishnu Indukuri made a name for themselves by winning hackathons. In 2016, from their dorm room, the roommates started building what would become Trala, an app that provides remote violin lessons. After they graduated, the startup raised $1.3 million in funding over two rounds in 2018.
Walder, a classically trained violinist who picked up 7 more instruments, told Business Insider in an interview that he launched Trala to break “down some of the class, socioeconomic, and race barriers that are so prevalent in music education.”
Now, Trala’s plan to democratize music education has once again caught the attention of investors.
On Wednesday, the startup announced that it raised a fresh $3.5 million in seed funding to expand its operations, bringing its total funding to $4.9 million.
The latest round was led by former LinkedIn CEO (and current LinkedIn executive chairmen) Jeff Weiner and his under-the-radar VC firm, Next Play Ventures. The firm (per its website) aims to back startups that provide “equal access to opportunity.” Weiner, who also led LinkedIn through its IPO in 2011 and the Microsoft acquisition in 2016, announced he was stepping down from his CEO post earlier this year in a cryptic LinkedIn post that repeatedly used the phrase, “next play.”
Trala’s latest funding round also saw contributions from an eclectic mix of rising stars in the startup world, including Figma CEO Dylan Field, as well as Lattice co-founders Jack Altman and Eric Koslow.
Trala, which, unlike many venture-backed startups, is already profitable, will use the seed money to scale up its operations. The startup is hiring engineers, product managers, and marketers. The long-term plan is to offer lessons for every instrument in the symphony orchestra, Walder said.
Trala says it has over a quarter-million downloads, with an average rise of 15 % per month over a 20-month period.
The startup partners with artisan violin makers, and for $265, students receive a violin and a year’s worth of lessons. That’s $5 per week, down from the typical once-a-week, $40-$100-per-hour, in-person violin lesson.
Currently, Trala offers recorded tutorials from top-tier violinists like Carnegie Hall Soloist Nuné Melik.
But what also makes Trala stand out, Walder explained, is that the team spent over a year building advanced signal processing technology that provides students with instant feedback on their rhythm and pitch.
Walder said part of Trala’s mission is to bring music education to those who are often excluded from it, including older people, COVID-19 first responders looking for creative outlets, and musicians with disabilities.
One Trala user, an Iranian student who “has a disability where she can’t twist her left arm,” which is crucial for playing the violin, struggled to find a teacher in Iran, Walder said.
“Every teacher rejected her in Iran; they just wouldn’t take her,” the CEO explained. The student DIY-ed her violin—switching her strings, chin rest, and pegs — so that she could play with her right arm — and found Trala, Walder explained.
The CEO said Trala has students in over 100 countries.
Walder said his investors believe in the global impact of music education, adding that Weiner “was fundamental to helping me out in this fundraise and the strategy and execution of it.”
In an email to Business Insider, the former LinkedIn CEO said he became connected with Walder through Mike Gamson, an active angel investor in Chicago’s startup scene who “first met Sam through Techstars and immediately recognized what a special talent he was.” Techstars and Weiner were early investors in Trala, per Crunchbase.
The former LinkedIn CEO declined a request for a phone call with Business Insider, but he did provide an emailed statement about Walder and Trala: “it’s not every day you meet a dual CS/violin studies major, let alone one who developed a unique digital signal processor that can hear the way people play violin, provide real time feedback, and do so in an extremely engaging and compelling way.”