Dr Ben Schögler is CEO and Co-Founder of Edinburgh-based music tech business Skoogmusic.
Having raised £2 million to date the company turnover increased by 400% in 2017 over the 2016 figures and 2018 is shaping up to be their busiest year to date.
What does Skoogmusic do?
We make technology that lets anyone make music. Our flagship product is the Skoog – a groundbreaking electronic musical instrument that allows children of all abilities to enjoy making music.
What do you do there / what is your role?
I am the CEO and Co-Founder of the business. I spend much of my time driving the commercial side of the business and taking the Skoog message around the world – from music festivals in Europe to Apple events in the US and Ted X talks in the UK.
What was the aha moment that led to the company founding?
In 2007 I was leading an educational research project at Edinburgh University alongside my colleague and Co-Founder Dr David Skulina. The project aimed to address the fact that there were no musical instruments designed for children with physical or learning disabilities. It was a participatory design process which meant lots of hands-on testing with potential users. Once we saw how children responded to the tactile technology we were developing, we knew we had something amazing. This led to our first invention – a squishy musical instrument named Skoog.
Why did you launch the company?
Both David and myself are firm believers in the transformative power of technology and in particular how it can nurture, connect and engage children. That's why we felt that there was a real need to bring the product to market and build a business that makes the benefits of making music accessible to all. We launched the company in a bid to inspire everyone, regardless of age, physical or musical ability to enjoy music: making it, listening to it, sharing it, learning it, celebrating with it but most of all having fun with it!
The two fundamental principles that lie at the heart of our business are fun and inclusion. We want to enable people, especially children, to have fun and take part, and to do this we chose to build a global brand that is bold, ambitious and above all vocal on why fun and play are at the centre of effective learning.
Where did you get assistance when you started?
With the help of LINC Scotland and the University of Edinburgh we completed a successful first funding round in 2010 which allowed the company to begin manufacturing Skoog at our workshop in Leith. The investment was led by Barwell plc with support from Scottish enterprise and a group of Edinburgh angel investors.
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company
After launching Skoog 1.0 in 2010 our inclusive agenda put us on the map with Apple and in 2013, Skoog 1.0 launched online with the Apple store across the EU. We learned a lot and with the support of our investors we were able to keep innovating and developing our product and brand. A crowdfunding campaign in 2015 supported the development and launch of the current Skoog 2.0 – a wireless model for iOS devices which now retails globally online with Apple.com and in select Apple retail stores.
Skoog is also part of Apple’s inspiring multi-sensory Field Trips – creative learning workshops hosted for teachers and students in stores around the world. We also work closely with Apple Distinguished Educators, who showcase how technology can transform education.
In 2017 we launched our own dedicated Swift Playground for Skoog as part of Apple’s connected devices for Swift playgrounds – Apple’s educational coding app Swift Playgrounds which offers a new way to learn to code using robots, drones and Skoog. Today Skoog has developed from an education and disability-led invention into ‘a musical instrument that anyone can play’.
Have you taken any external funding? If so from who and when?
Our investors have continued to support the company throughout our journey.
In December 2017, we announced our largest funding round to date – with £560,000 secured from the Scottish Investment Bank (the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise), Old College Capital (the investment arm of the University of Edinburgh) and a number of existing and new private investors.
The new investment means that Skoogmusic has raised £2m to date. We have also been successful on the pioneering tech crowdfunding site Indiegogo, where we raised more than £50,000 in pre-sales for Skoog 2.0.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
We have invested in building our team in Scotland, on both the technical and commercial sides of the business. We now have nine full-time employees and a number of part time Skoogers. Our turnover in 2017 increased by 400% on 2016 and 2018 is shaping up to be our busiest year to date.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
When we started there wasn’t really much about. Creative technology for kids is opening up, and is a really exciting place to be right now, especially where there is a cross over with the liberal arts. New products, new opportunities and a real sense that this is an area for growth and investment.
What is your target market – who is buying your product / service?
Do you like music? If the answer is yes then you are a potential Skooger! From our roots in education we have a lot of schools and educators using Skoog. For example Skoog is currently being used in approximately a third of the UK’s special education needs schools. However our biggest market is general consumers in the UK, Europe, the US and increasingly in APAC regions.
What is your background?
I am a musician and a developmental psychologist by trade. My research has always centered on how we do music and how we can help kids. When the opportunity came along to actually create a musical instrument for children that was really the perfect opportunity to take things to the next level and make something. I am passionate about getting more people making music and technology can help us achieve that.
What are your goals for your business?
Our ambition for Skoog is huge. Skoog technology in every home. Exploring ideas, novel technology and developing new products that can improve quality of life. For example we are launching a new product this year so that more people can access Skoog technology (watch this space). Alongside our hardware we continue to evolve and develop our range of apps across coding, accessibility and creative music making. Music is universal and there are opportunities in new territories (Skoog is already available in eight languages and we are keen to add more). There are also wider opportunities for our technology in HCI, gaming, augmented reality and VR – but our focus is on making music easy and fun.
What are your biggest current challenges?
Our biggest challenge at the moment is awareness. Once people find out about Skoog they love it! We need to let the world know. With Support from Scottish enterprise and PUNK creative (an Edinburgh based agency) we have been able to create some awesome video resources to help us introduce Skooging to the world – Check them out on our Youtube Channel
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
We are all about the ‘touchy feely’ element of technology, making the interaction as tactile and rewarding as possible. Working with these kinds of materials is really challenging, and has required some pretty lateral thinking at times as well as a lot of hard work. I think learning how to work with these materials in terms of manufacturing and production has been one of the biggest challenges we have faced, and more importantly overcome.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
Don’t be scared to say you don’t know. And invest in people. Your team is everything, you can’t do it alone.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
Be passionate, enjoy what you do and have fun!
Where do you see the company in five years?
A global technology brand supporting customers in their day to day relationship with music. For Skooging to become a verb synonymous with having fun with music.
“He’s just away to his pals to Skoog for an hour or two.”
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
The startup landscape has come a long way in the last 10 years and it is such an exciting place to be right now. But we must not rest on our laurels. The scene needs to be more ambitious and forward looking in terms of time, funding, scale and runway. We need to be bolder, less conservative and aim higher. Scottish inventions are famous all over the world so let’s keep it that way!
Dr Ben Schögler, CEO and Co-Founder of Skoogmusic
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