The launch of the free tuning app Pro Guitar Tuner addressed a need among guitarists worldwide. The two founders of Pro Guitar, Johannes Larsson, and Rickard Östergård, have proven to have a keen ear for the needs of customers. Today, their business offers several music-related services and products – elevating beginners and professionals alike to the next level! Upcoming next is their powerful new tool Songally, already available as an alpha release.
It all started in 2011. The two founders of Pro Guitar, Johannes Larsson, and Rickard Östergård, tell us how they developed the first version of the guitar tuner application as a joint passion project to combine their great interest in music and technology. They are both engineers and besides playing the guitar daily, Johannes also builds his own custom guitars.
- The application allowed the user to tune the instrument through an internet browser and the computer’s built-in microphone, says Johannes. Our app was the first of its kind. We had seen, and felt, the need for a simple and accessible solution and the response was great. In fact, it was so great that we quickly realized that we should start a business around it.
Pro Guitar Tuner is free and works for both acoustic and electric guitars, as well as several other string instruments. The response to the initial solution was overwhelmingly positive and the user base quickly grew onto the international scene. But there was a problem – musicians don’t always have access to a computer when they want to tune their instrument. The duo soon realized that they needed to offer the functionality on mobile devices as well.
- When we improved the web version and developed the application for the mobile platforms, we also took the step to invest full time in the company, says Rickard. 2017 marked the official start for Pro Guitar.
In 2017, Pro Guitar pitched their business idea during LEAD’s Venture Arena event. During the same year, the company was also supported by LEAD’s business coaches Stefan Asplund and Gunilla Åberg. With their coaching, Pro Guitar continued to refine the business idea and expand their network to new customer groups.
- Presently, we have 3 million active users in 195 countries, says Johannes. The user base is growing exponentially and is close to 8 million unique users per year. Who counts as an active user depends on how you define activity – some use the application daily, others occasionally, and some as infrequently as once a year.
Gaining early international engagement, the tuner application often came up to discussion in various networking contexts. One such occasion was at a guitar festival in Uppsala back in 2014, when they first met Pro Guitar’s third lead – the artist Emil Ernebro.
Emil complements the ensemble
Johannes exhibited his latest custom build at the event and when Emil came by the stand and tried out the guitar, they also started talking. Among other things, the tuner application that Johannes and Rickard were developing came to mention.
- Johannes was humble, but reading between the lines I could see his conviction that the digital tool was top-of-the-line, says Emil. When I used the application later that day, I couldn’t agree more.
Johannes and Emil continued to keep in touch over the years. When Pro Guitar was about to start a discussion forum for guitarists, Emil’s name came up. That contact also led to the development of the educational portal with video lessons for musicians of all levels.
- I’m a professional guitarist and musician, says Emil. And I have many followers on social channels, where I actively work to create new content. I had just started posting guitar lessons when the request came to join the Pro Guitar team.
- With Emil, we gained a public face, a spokesperson with a direct contact with our customers, says Johannes. It was clear to us that Emil possessed a skill that Rickard and I lacked; a visibility and relevance in social channels and an ability to transform music theory into easily accessible content for our customer group.
- Our collective skills are something that we truly prize, Emil fills in. My strong profile on the music scene and in social channels, Johannes and Rickard’s technical expertise and our shared passion for music.
Swedish Scaleups helps us zoom out
With the educational portal and discussion forums established, it was time to take the next step. In 2022, Pro Guitar applied to the accelerator program Swedish Scaleups. They were accepted and matched with coach Johan Lyreborn, former CEO, and founder of the Linköping company Configura.
- We have worked on our growth plan and undergone a so-called Mini-MBA, says Johannes. The most rewarding thing, however, has been the discussions with our coach. Johan’s personality complements us very well; He has a straightforward demeanor and is sternly realistic about the future, strategies, and our roles.
- It has been valuable to get support from Johan’s knowledge in growing companies and his experience from handling personnel, says Emil. With an outside expert comes the opportunity to zoom out to an overall perspective.
- When we were enabled to see the big picture, we could set the long-term strategies to maintain a common vision in the company – so that when we grow, we strive in the same direction, says Rickard.
The goal is to grow rapidly, and the company is about to recruit its first employees this autumn. To do that they need to bring in external capital. With the support of Swedish Scaleups, discussions are now being held with potential investors.
- Previously, we have chosen to grow the business organically and even if it is going well for us, it is not enough for the next steps, says Rickard. Our current lack of personnel means that we spend much of our time putting out fires and navigating red tape. When you get engrossed in the administration, there is no time to think big and make long-term strategies. To gain more momentum, we need more employees in a wide range of expertise; development, sales, and marketing to name a few.
- We are three dedicated people with a great passion for what we do, says Emil. But as fathers of young children, it is sometimes challenging to manage a growth plan when life’s puzzle must also be put together. This autumn we are all back from parental leave and the timing to scale up is right.
The near-future agenda also includes the launch of the company’s powerful, new service, Songally. The application is designed to help people learn and play their favorite songs on any instrument, in perfect harmony. It is packed with smart features and powerful resources that improve your creative process, no matter if you’re beginner or a professional musician. An alpha prototype is already being shared with a selection of users and the feedback is resoundingly positive. To put it simply; it’s exciting times ahead for Pro Guitar.
- As a b2c company in a world focused on b2b, we see the advantage in being able to stand out more easily with our offer, concludes Johannes. We have been able to participate in Swedish Scaleups and benefit from the fact that the competition for talent is less than it would have been with another focus or in another, larger region. The proximity to Linköping University, which is also located in Norrköping, also makes it easy to get in touch with new talents. We are all looking forward to strengthening the workforce and getting even closer to realizing our visions for Pro Guitar.
Do you want to try out Songally?
Sign up here for early access: https://songally.proguitar.com/register?release=closed-alpha
Quick questions for Pro Guitar
What are your main drivers?
- We believe in building and expanding our team with strong competencies that complement each other and help us to broaden our offer and our target group.
What impression will Pro Guitar make?
- We believe that music is for everyone, and we’re committed to making it easier than ever to learn and play instruments. By continuing to be responsive and have an open dialogue with our customers, we will help them reach their best potential.
Throughts on Linköping and East Sweden?
- It is a good region for entrepreneurship, with extensive support systems such as LEAD, Almi, the research parks and Swedish Scaleups. With the large university located in both Linköping and Norrköping, you can easily get in contact with new talents.
Facts Pro Guitar
Product: Tuner application for string instruments, online classes for musicians and several discussion boards for guitarists
Turnover: SEK 3 million, 2021
Location: Head office in Norrköping, work locations also include Gothenburg and Växjö