Accelerace recently invested in pianini, an edutainment app that teaches kids between the ages of four and seven how to play the piano in a simple, playful and empowering way. pianini is a graduate of our Soundtech Accelerator.
We had a (virtual) sit-down with Maia Wiest, CEO and co-founder, to discuss her backstory as a composer and musical director that led her to co-found pianini, why joining the Soundtech Accelerator was a smart strategic move, and how an investment from Accelerace is a “big Danish stamp of approval”.
Where did the idea for pianini come from?
I have played the piano for most of my life and worked as a composer and musical director in Germany and Cuba. When I opened my Kids Music Academy in Shanghai in 2014, I searched for a piano method to use but I could not find one that I deemed sufficient. As a result, I decided to develop my own method. Parents were surprised when their child suddenly had no problem concentrating, was excited about the songs, and at the end of the lesson asked: “What, already?”
However, the problem that remained was that the children’s home practice was not going as well as in the classroom. One reason was that parents (understandably) did not have the time, energy, or musical knowledge to support their children. So, I decided to develop a tool that would accompany children while practicing at home, and that would also let them play the same fun musical games as we did in class.
In 2018, we began creating a complete musical universe for children, with piano plus rhythm, music theory, and ear training, all in one app. When I say ‘we’, I mean an international team of developers, technology engineers, illustration artists, and designers. The pianini app introduces children to the art of mastering music through play. It is, in other words, a children’s tool for high-quality classical piano learning. The technology supports an individualized learning process with personalized feedback, meaning that pianini enables children to practice music independently, which minimizes frustration and discomfort.
You relocated from Germany to Denmark midway through the Soundtech Accelerator to maximize the experience. Why?
In 2019, our founding team of two covered mainly the areas Tech/Product and International Business Development/Relations. Neither of us had ever written a proper business plan, built a strategy to attract investors, or decided on a beachhead. With my background in music and product development, I had managed my own company and projects before pianini, but I had never developed and scaled an app from scratch.
At first, I believed that the Soundtech Accelerator would only provide us with a bit of input and perhaps help us find an investor. I mean, who says no to a few days of proper training and advice? However, during the first camp, I realized how much more we would be getting. I immediately wanted to stick as close as possible to this amazing collection of people, who seemed to know exactly what we needed, what should be next, and who covered the knowledge that we lacked. The advice was given in such a humble way, and with a genuine interest in our business, that it was clear: instead of hiring the wrong people to fill in the areas that we could not cover, we wanted to move into Sound Hub Denmark in Struer, and be on the ground.
We went through the three camps and learned about everything startup-related. During that time, we found our first (Danish) investors, founded a Danish company and were able to expand our developer team. Having completely miscalculated the time it takes to develop our app, we kept our energy high and positive not least due to the support by Accelerace and Sound Hub Denmark.
Since we arrived in Struer and completed the Soundtech Accelerator, we have grown into a real business. We might have done that without the support, who knows, but I strongly feel that I would not want to have done it without it because now we are going in the right direction.
What makes Accelerace a good investor for pianini?
Ideally, an investor is someone who knows more than you do in some important areas, not only someone who has a lot of money, and who cares deeply about your business, not only thinking about when the money will double itself. Luckily for us, both Accelerace and our private Danish investors tick both boxes.
Getting a company like Accelerace to invest in us gives us a lot of confidence because you know what you are doing. You see so many founders, business plans, and product ideas on a daily basis, and if you believe that we can do it – then we are going in the right direction. The fact that we can show that an entity like Accelerace believes in us, I strongly believe that other investors (both in Denmark and abroad) will feel like having done a big part of the “due diligence”. We just got a big Danish stamp of approval for pianini’s idea and our company – and are humbled and thankful for that.
What’s the plan going forward?
We want to be the learning material of choice for parents, teachers, and, most importantly, the little learners. In Denmark, we would like to see the B2B version in preschools and primary schools, and we would like afternoon schooling and music schools to use pianini with their groups. A class of up to 30 students may practice rhythm, music theory, ear training.. all at once with the teacher having time to look at who needs help.
With Accelerace’s investment, we are able to pay full-time developers, record sounds, design and create artwork.. and to get the B2C version into the App Store by spring 2021. After we have launched and got the stamp of approval from Danish and German users, which are the two markets that we are launching in first, we will translate and adjust our app for the Chinese audience. Right from the start, pianini was actually developed with Chinese children in the back of our minds. During the years of my Kids Music Academy in Shanghai, I noticed how much effort Chinese parents put into giving their little ones a good piano education, and how the quality of the piano classes was often lower than what the children deserved. It is a huge market with masses of eager little learners – and with tech-loving parents.
Step by step we want to reach every corner of the world, every house where there is, or is not, a piano (even with a smartphone little learners can enjoy most of the games in the app) and to get music learning back on the agenda to where it belongs. In times like these, where the classical ways of teaching face-to-face are not always possible, we want to make a contribution on behalf of the children and last not least – on behalf of music learning.
Since 2008, Accelerace has helped accelerate 800+ Danish and international startups, including Trustpilot and Templafy, of which over 80% are still active. Accelerace has made 65+ pre-seed investments in startups, who have been through the accelerator program and have started partnerships with industry-leading companies such as the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Arla and Elia. Accelerace is also responsible for the management of NOME (Nordic Mentor Network for Entrepreneurship), an elite Mentoring Network for startups within therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics, digital health and industrial biotech.
About the Soundtech Accelerator:
The Soundtech Accelerator in Struer (aka the City of Sound) is run by Accelerace in collaboration with Sound Hub Denmark. By providing startups with free access to state-of-the-art facilities, acoustics laboratories and makerspace for the development of their product, the six-months equity-free program attracts startups from all over the world (e.g. Australia, the United States and Poland).