CS Graduate Indukuri Using $1.29M In Venture Backing From LinkedIn CEO And Others To Fine Tune Trala
Three years ago when Vishnu Indukuri and his co-founders started Trala, they had an app they believed would make violinists better, a plan to market it to music teachers, and the hope that others would find it and pay for it, too.
“That didn’t really work out,” said Indukuri, Trala’s chief technical officer and an Illinois Computer Science graduate (BS CS ’16). “Looking back, it was essentially door-to-door sales with an app, which isn’t the most scalable way of building a tech company.”
But Indukuri and the rest of the Trala team followed a path familiar to successful startups: make mistakes, identify mistakes, correct mistakes, and ultimately move in the right direction.
Chicago-based Trala took a big step in December, landing $1.29 million in seed funding from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, several executives from the language app Duolingo, Origin Ventures, and Techstars Ventures.
That money will allow Trala to take a couple of other big steps: First, the company plans to significantly upgrade its marketing by buying ads on YouTube and elsewhere, Indukuri said.
And then Trala needs to add content, and a lot of it, he said.
“We built about 40 lessons that get you to playing your first couple of songs in anticipation of people taking a couple of weeks to do it. But it turns out that the average user completes (that) in about 14 hours.”
Initially, Indukuri and fellow University of Illinois student Samuel Walder (BS Computer Engineering, ’17, and Trala’s CEO), launched their app as a way for people who play violin to get feedback. The app made use of algorithms to listen to the music being played and, for example, tell the musician if they had proper pitch.
“Our secret sauce is our proprietary audio digital signal processing algorithms,” Indukuri said. “We spent six months in our basement filtering and fine tuning until it worked just right for the violin.”
But while not many people downloaded the app, some of those who did asked a simple question that both made clear the potential customer base wasn’t people who already play the violin and changed the course of the company: “Can you teach us from scratch?”
“We thought, surely it’s not possible,” Indukuri said. “In fact, you can actually teach people from scratch, all the way from never having held a violin. … I was the very first guinea pig.”
Trala was chosen as one of 10 companies for the 2018 Techstars Chicago accelerator program, where Indukuri and his colleagues honed their plan and sharpened skills he recalled first picking up at HackIllinois and other hackathons at Illinois.
“The key to winning is to be able to pitch and demo correctly. We started winning these hackathons in part because we could pitch (projects) to judges,” he said.
Trala’s pitches at Techstars generated backing by big-name investors such as LinkedIn CEO Weiner and the group from Duolingo.
And now, Indukuri said, Trala is hiring, “looking for smart engineers to come on board and help build product.”