Transcript 105 – Neylan McBaine on How Music Teacher’s Helper Became Duet Partner

Transcript: 105 – Neylan McBaine on How Music Teacher’s Helper Became Duet Partner

Transcript for 105 – Neylan McBaine on How Music Teacher’s Helper Became Duet Partner

 

[00:00:00] Andrea: Hey, it’s Andrea with Music Studio Startup, the podcast about the business of teaching music. Learn from the startup stories of music teachers who are doing incredible things with their studios. Be inspired by creating musicians who are branching out and thriving as entrepreneurs. Be empowered by the insights of experts who will help you grow your own studio.

 

Let’s get started.

 

If you’ve been a music teacher for a while, you’re probably familiar with the most common studio management systems out there, and you may have noticed in the last year or so that one of these platforms got a makeover and a new. Music Teachers Helper, and its counterpart for multi teacher studios, Studio Helper, have become Duet Partner. Behind the name change and rebrand there’s also a new owner and CEO. Today I have the privilege of talking to Neylan McBaine about how she came to buy the business. Teaser. That story wasn’t at all what I was expecting. And how she has navigated her first 18 months as ceo. Here’s my conversation with Neylan.

 

Hi, Neylan welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here today.

 

[00:01:19] Neylan McBaine: Thanks for having me, Andrea.

 

[00:01:20] Andrea: Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do ?

 

[00:01:25] Neylan McBaine: Yes, so my name is Neylan and I’m currently the CEO of Duet Partner, which was formerly known as Music Teachers Helper. I come to this position from a background in brand strategy, which is sort of the very early stages of a marketing plan for a company. I’ve, I’ve worked in at agencies, I’ve worked in house, I’ve run two of my own nonprofits.

 

So I’ve had a lot of experience in sort of building brands around community. So I’m now, I’m doing the same thing for music teachers and it’s been a lot of fun.

 

[00:01:56] Andrea: Okay, that makes sense. I didn’t know that detail, but as I’ve seen the Duet brand refresh and everything happen, that makes a lot of sense that you would have that background.

 

So today we get to dig into the story of how you became the CEO of Duet partner. I used Music Teachers Helper. It was the first studio management system I used when I had my multi teacher studio, and I know lots of our listeners are familiar with it. So yeah. How did that opportunity come up?

 

[00:02:22] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, so you really have to go back to my earliest childhood, so I’ll take you all the way back there. I grew up in New York City on the upper west side of Manhattan. My mother actually sang at the Metropolitan Opera. She was a mezzo soprano and she’s sang there for 18 years while I was growing up. And so as a singer, I was her only child, and she very strategically put me in piano lessons at a young age so that I could become her accompanist.

 

[00:02:49] Andrea: Oh, sorry.

 

[00:02:49] Neylan McBaine: Yes, exactly. And I did, I, I grew up as a pianist and I grew up accompanying her. I went to Julliard’s pre-college program as a solo pianist. I then studied at Yale for college where I started the Yale College Opera Company, and I was the music critic for the Yale Daily News, and I accompanied lots of student recitals for the School of Music students. And I absolutely loved accompanying and ensemble work, and I was less of a soloist. I didn’t really, I, I got too nervous. I, I didn’t like solo performing, but I did love the whole environment and I love opera and I love chamber music, and I love symphonic music. And just, you know, as, as totally engrossed in the classical performing arts as a New York City kid could be.

 

That was me, and so I kind of always assumed that I was going to work in the music industry. I ended up graduating with an English degree from Yale. I also was very much into writing. , but I moved to San Francisco out of school and I had family there and it seemed like a natural kind of place to go after living in New York. Uh, you know, staying in New York wasn’t very exciting anymore. At that age, I wanted to leave, so I went to San Francisco and I kind of was really naive and thought I was just going to get a job in arts management at San Francisco Opera, or the Symphony, or one of their performing arts groups.

 

And I just couldn’t get hired and, you know, I, I went about it for about a year right out of college. I think I applied for 16 jobs at San Francisco Opera. And there were two factors. First one was, um, I think, you know, working in performing arts, and some of your listeners may know this. I was coming out of a liberal arts school with an English degree. I had zero experience. And I think those kinds of jobs require that you put in your time at the Fresno Phil Harmonic or you know, some, regional company, or that you have an arts management degree. And so I just wasn’t qualified and I, I just couldn’t figure that out. I thought, why don’t they want me?

 

And then the second factor was because it was the first “dot com” boom and there were, you know, people were basically like on the street handing out jobs at dot coms. So that’s what I ended up doing. I, I went into public relations at one of the, you know, sort of standard dot coms of the time, and then got swept up into working for walmart.com, which was the largest e-commerce retailer at the time.

 

And it ended up being just a fabulous education for me in just the early stages of an online business. I didn’t even know what Walmart was. I thought it was Walgreens. I had, you know, I had never been in a Walmart before being a New York City kid, but it was an amazing, amazing education. And I was there for seven years working for walmart.com in San Francisco.

 

After that I did stints at a small children’s clothing company where I launched their e-commerce division. After that, I worked at an advertising agency. I had another role as a CMO at at an educational technology company. So really a variety of different positions. But the point is that none of them was actually in music.

 

I got to a point in early 2001 where I had, was wrapping up an opportunity and really had this rare chance to sort of pick what I wanted to do next, and I had four criteria. It had to be in something that I loved and specifically I, at that point, I decided it had to be in music. I had to create my own opportunity to work in the music industry.

 

It had to be somewhat flexible. I had to be able to be my own boss and it had to have some sort of revenue stream because I had been working in philanthropy and just before then, and I was tired of trying to raise money. So my husband and I actually, my husband works in in tech as well, and he and I were talking and we just thought, you know what we’d really love to be able to do with a technology product for musicians is bottle up our daughter’s cello teacher and put her in a software and allow all of her wonderful studio management techniques and all of her wonderful ways of working with parents and all of her studio policies and her boundaries around payments and scheduling and. How could we bottle that up and put it in a software so that other teachers could run their studios as effectively and warmly and with as much sort of love and and care as she does.

 

Two of my three children are very advanced musicians. I’ve been in a number of exceptionally run studios as a studio parent. And we just thought, yeah, you know, if we could get, if we could bottle up Britney and a studio management software that allows music teachers to run their small businesses just as effectively, what a great product that would be.

 

And we started doing some research and lo and behold, you know, it already existed. And there was, there are several of companies that, that do this obviously, and we approached several of them and the founder of Music Teachers Helper, Brandon, responded to our inquiry. And Brandon had started Music Teacher’s Helper actually 17 years ago, which is an eon when it comes to the internet age, and he was ready to move on and do something else with his life.

 

And so I offered a purchase price and I took out an SBA loan, a small business association loan, to make the acquisition. And in May of 2021, we had the dramatic handing over of the keys as you do for a software company, which is basically just handing over the passwords, right?

 

[00:08:26] Andrea: So domain name and, yep.

 

[00:08:28] Neylan McBaine: Exactly the domain name. That was the, that was the great handing over. There was no, uh, there was no ceremony. It was just, here’s the password, so yeah. That’s, that’s the story.

 

[00:08:37] Andrea: Wow. Okay. So 2020-2021 is when you were having this epiphany and wanting to find some opportunity that met these criteria for yourself.

 

[00:08:45] Neylan McBaine: Yes. Yep. So it’s been, um, almost 18 months now.

 

[00:08:48] Andrea: Okay. But in just that short time, you found the opportunity, negotiated it, closed it.

 

[00:08:54] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, so I would say that that whole process took about six months. We reached out to Brandon probably at the end of 2020, and we closed in May of 2021. And I will say, you know, if any of your listeners are familiar with the process of a small business acquisition, that is a very unusual story. Most best practices will recommend that you set aside a year. Do a search for a company to acquire that you plan to spend, you know, it, it could potentially be a full-time job to cold call companies, see if they’re interested in being acquired, negotiate a price. You know, I just read all sorts of horror stories that I was going to have to call a hundred companies and to get one, and we ended up calling four companies. So it, it really was unusual. It happened very quickly and it felt like it was really meant to be.

 

[00:09:40] Andrea: Mm-hmm. Sounds like there’s a lot of alignment there and just Brandon being ready and right place, right time. That’s that’s awesome. So it was a cold email to Brandon?

 

[00:09:51] Neylan McBaine: Yes, it was. And ironically it ended up that he is from my neighborhood that I currently live in, of all of the small world coincidences. He grew up in the neighborhood that I currently live in. So I guess we kind of bonded over that very quickly.

 

[00:10:05] Andrea: Wow. Wow. That’s neat. Okay, so you found these four companies. Was that. , you’re Googling. You look at things that look like the, the kind of size you’re looking for.

 

[00:10:16] Neylan McBaine: Yeah. I mean, some are larger than others. I think Music Teachers Helper was probably, it is the smallest company that we looked at. One thing that I loved about Music Teachers Helper is that it really was focused exclusively on music teachers, you know. And it really was the industry leader for about the first 10 years of its existence.

 

Brandon was a piano teacher, and he was a developer, and so he built the product from scratch with his own skills and with the insight he had into what it took to run a business. And since he did that, there have been some competitors that have come up and they shall not be named. But we feel that there’s really nobody out there that’s exclusively dedicated to music teachers in the way that we are.

 

You know, there are some that are part of larger software companies that are appointment-based tools. They’re re-skinned for different industries. We really are here solely for music teachers and, and when we rebranded as Duet Partner shortly after I took over, that’s something that’s remained as part of our commitment.

 

[00:11:15] Andrea: I’ve noticed that in our conversations too. I, I value that a lot. So what was your due diligence process when, so Brandon responded, yes, he’s interested. What did the conversations look like from there? What are you trying to, what questions are you trying to answer about the business? How are you determining how you’re going to make that offer?

 

[00:11:35] Neylan McBaine: Yeah. I mean, you’re, you’re interested in finances and I know, you know, this is something that you, in particular might be interested in. But essentially, you know, you might, you need to do a calculation and come up with a price based on the ebitda, which is a acronym that basically means that you’re looking at a multiple of the annual revenue.

 

So usually it’s three to five times ebitda. So what is the annual revenue? And then your offer price will be three to five times that amount. And you’re looking at things like, you know, the number of existing customers, what’s the average subscription rate, how many customers leave, what’s the churn, the cancel rate, cancellation rate, how long do you subscribers stay with the product?

 

You’re looking at all sorts of things like that. I would say the biggest blind spot for me is that I just am not a developer. Right? And the product, of course, is what’s called a SaaS product. A software as a service product. Everybody uses SaaS products all day long, whether we know it or not. You know, Gmail is a SaaS product, right? An email provider. So I brought on a friend who is a developer to really look at the code as much as possible before the acquisition. And I will say that, you know that, that’s always a tricky thing because unless you’ve acquired the company already, the seller doesn’t want to open up all their secrets to you, you know?

 

 And so there’s a bit of a balance between being honest and telling you what is really going on behind the scenes and still making it attractive to the buyer, right? And I think the biggest challenge in the acquisition was the condition of the code. Once we actually closed the deal and got in there and really looked at it and we quickly realized that we were going to have to rebuild the product.

 

And that was a sobering realization when you’ve just, you know, completed this acquisition, you’re excited to serve the customers, you’re excited to make things better for them, you’re excited to delve in there and add new features and improve things and get to know your customers and grow and advertise, and all of that kind of comes to a screeching halt for a while.

 

[00:13:43] Andrea: Mm-hmm. So you brought on that person. Were, were they the software developer as a full-time employee or were they just an advisor in the purchase process or?

 

[00:13:51] Neylan McBaine: Exactly. Just an advisor in the purchase process. But he’s been with us since the acquisition, so he’s been with us for 15 months and he’s the one who really at the end of the day said, you know what? We, we have to start over here. And he’s been overseeing the migration process from Brandon’s custom framework that he built the code on originally 17 years ago, over to the new code base that we’re working off of for the migrated product.

 

[00:14:18] Andrea: So, so you’re building like completely parallel products.

 

[00:14:22] Neylan McBaine: By the way, a year ago, I didn’t know what half those words meant. So I, I’m sorry if that’s like, doesn’t make any sense to some of your listeners.

 

[00:14:29] Andrea: You have to be a little naive to be an entrepreneur. I think otherwise, like you never take the risk .

 

[00:14:33] Neylan McBaine: You would never take the risk. It’s so true. It’s so true.

 

[00:14:36] Andrea: So that was a surprise. Were there any other risks or things that you were weighing as you made that decision?

 

[00:14:43] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, this year has really been about maintaining the trust of our existing customers and making sure that the product that we have is continuing to meet their needs. Cause the vast majority of our customers, you know, were ones that I acquired, they’ve been existing customers. And letting them know the good things are happening.

 

I think a lot of it has just been the communication. Keeping, for instance, our newsletters, our email newsletters, really fresh and engaging. Keeping our Facebook group active and lively. Making sure that we’re making enough changes to the product, small changes that don’t interrupt the migration, the product rebuild, but small changes that show our customers that we’re here, that we’re working on things to be patient with us and that we’ve got their needs in mind.

 

[00:15:31] Andrea: You said you took on an SBA loan to fund it. Was that your primary way of funding or did you also raise money from anyone else or?

 

[00:15:38] Neylan McBaine: No, I, and that was a really interesting part of the process. You know, I mean, the small business association exists to help foster business acquisition in the United States.

 

And it’s a wonderful tool. I mean, banks also will do loans for acquisitions, and I think the thing that surprised me most about the process is that there is a whole market out there for these micro-businesses. We are a micro-business. I mean, we’re not, we’re very small. So, you know, I think we read in the news a lot about Time Warner buying Verizon or what, you know? Elon Musk buying Twitter and all this stuff with the, you know, there’s like billions and billions of dollars around it. But, but there is an entire other market for companies that really are just very small amounts. And so I think that was a really interesting part because there are whole marketplace is out there where you can find businesses for sale in this very sort of micro niche area.

 

And a lot of times they’re the unglamorous businesses. It’s like the HVAC business or the window cleaning business, you know, or the accounting office. And those can be really great projects for the right entrepreneur who wants to come in and make it their own and improve it and grow.

 

[00:16:50] Andrea: And what did you learn through the S B A loan process? What kinds of things did they ask for in that?

 

[00:16:58] Neylan McBaine: Oh, the government knows everything about me now. they already know everything. They own me. Yeah. I mean, yeah, it’s a very labor intensive process. I mean, you know, some people will fund a new company development or an acquisition, you know, through a friends and family round.

 

You know, there’s lots of ways to raise money. You know, a common way is to go to your friends and your family and say, Hey, I need, you know, X amount of money to buy this or build this, and if you give me that money I will give you a percentage of the ownership of my company. Right. And a lot of companies get started that way, especially software startups, right? That’s called a Friends and Family Round. But you know, I wasn’t trying to start something new. I really wanted to keep a hundred percent ownership and be able to do what I wanted with the company and, and improve it the way I wanted to. So that’s why I chose to go this different route of getting an S B A loan.

 

[00:17:54] Andrea: And did you consider the bank route also, or just sba?

 

[00:17:59] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, I did consider the bank route. I mean, the S B A is willing to look at the entire value of the company and be the primary funder. Banks tend to have a limit, a cap and the loans that they’ll give out. And so you typically, to buy a company would need to cobble together several bank loans. So that’s partly why the SBA is attractive and the SBA has low rates because of course they’re working, you know, directly as a government entity. They often have lower rates than the banks.

 

[00:18:29] Andrea: So you’ve acquired this company, what does day one look like when you got the password? Did you know what to do that day?

 

[00:18:38] Neylan McBaine: I didn’t really, honestly, I’m trying to think back. Like I inherited several employees. So I inherited about five developers who were mostly based in India that Brandon had had used over the years, and I also inherited our customer service lead, ken. If anybody’s ever worked with Music Teacher’s Helper or Duet Partner, you probably know Ken. He’s fantastic. He’s been with the company for 12 years and he knows everything. So I inherited him in the acquisition. I also inherited Tiara who does our monthly marketing newsletter. She’s the one that creates those wonderful worksheets that go out in our newsletter on the first Monday of every month.

 

People love her Tiara’s worksheets, and she’s delightful. She’s up in Canada and she’s a piano teacher with three kids, and I just just love her. And so I kind of mostly started, you know, trying to get to know them and really, you know, I’d set up test accounts and really tried to become familiar with the product and worked with Tom, you know, to do this initial assessment of the product.

 

I knew before the acquisition that I wanted to rebrand. And as I mentioned, my, my professional background has really mostly been in branding and sort of large community building and so that felt like a really natural and fun place for me to start. And I had the name. I knew I wanted Duet Partner. It just, you know, I think when Brandon started Music Teacher’s Helper 17 years ago, you know, I think we can probably think of a couple of other companies, you know, from that era of the internet that were just very practically named, right? This is what we do. And so I think it, the name served it well in its early days. But today, you know, with naming practices where we have things like the. Twilio and Uber and you know, just, it needed to be more evocative. It needed to have more of a vibe than like a very practical description. And I really love Duet Partner because I felt like it had a vibe, but it also had a practical description. Like we really want to be a music teacher’s partner in running her or or his music studio. And I love the image of us, you know, really sitting down with the music teacher and being, we’ll take the bass part. We’ll definitely be the secondo part, not the primo part. The teacher’s always the melody , but we’ll be, we’ll be their partner in running the tasks of, of managing a small business. So I, I really like the name and I have a lot of designer, you know, contacts from my various jobs. And so I think day one was really about going about setting about the rebranding.

 

[00:21:26] Andrea: And then how did you set those initial priorities? Did you have a list of things you wanted to do in the first year and back it out to quarters? How did that work?

 

[00:21:37] Neylan McBaine: Unfortunately, I wasn’t that organized. I think really because we had this wrench thrown in our plans of needing to rebuild the code base, my two goals for the first year were rebuild the code and rebrand the product and really build up, you know, our community’s trust in us and get, get the community to engage a little bit more.

 

One of the things I really wanted to do from a competitive standpoint was to provide continuing education resources for our teachers. Because as you know, as well as anybody else, better than anybody else, you know, teachers. are on their own when it comes to figuring out how to run their businesses and what the best practices are and the sort of tips and, and so, uh, I felt strongly about initially launching our webinar series, which we do the first Wednesday of every month, and those are open to the public. The recordings are made available to Duet subscribers, but that whole resources section in the Duet app is new. And that’s something that I felt strongly that I wanted to get out right away. You know, another big project that we took on this year, sort of in that spirit of really building the trust of our community was to launch online studio.

 

So we kind of interrupted the migration this past summer. We, we pressed pause on, on the rebuilding of the product and we launched a video conferencing platform that is integrated into the Duet experience and it’s called Online Studio. And it has a really great setting for mute, what we call music mode, which really opens up the audio pipeline so that the sound waves can, can flow freely and the music can sound much more vibrant and alive instead of on zoom, where it’s, you know, the echo cancellation technology makes everything sound kind of dull and wonky. So, yeah. We’ve been very proud of this, the launch of online studio, that was a big, big win for us.

 

[00:23:39] Andrea: All right, so the complete migration is still in progress. Like you’ve built the new platform, but entirely migrating everyone over is still in progress.

 

[00:23:48] Neylan McBaine: It is. It’s still in progress. Yep. Yes, so, so yes, exactly. We interrupted it briefly over the summer to launch online studio, but then we went back to the migration. And I don’t know when this podcast will publish. And so it will be a great test of my honesty here, to myself and to others. But right now it’s looking like, um, January of 2023, we will be able to have our, our refreshed product available to our customers.

 

[00:24:17] Andrea: Okay. So right now you’ve got customers on two platforms. Is that essentially?

 

[00:24:20] Neylan McBaine: No, they’re all still on the old platform.

 

[00:24:22] Andrea: All still on the old, okay.

 

[00:24:24] Neylan McBaine: Yep, yep. Everybody’s still on their old.

 

[00:24:27] Andrea: Okay. Keep the nightmare Limited.

 

[00:24:28] Neylan McBaine: Exactly, yes. And you know, the idea is that one day that we just flip the switch and all of our current customers get migrated over to the new code. We do have a new user interface, a new look and feel that’s going to be accompanying the rebuilt product. The actual changes to the product are going to be pretty minimal because we literally just wanted to take the existing product, move it over. But you know, the framework that we’re moving it on to is going to make future improvements and future adjustments much easier. So, you know, our teachers who have been sharing their ideas with us for how we can improve the product, you know, we’ve been collecting all of those ideas for a year now, and I’m really looking forward to the day that we can create a strategy for incorporating all of those great ideas that our teachers have.

 

[00:25:19] Andrea: I’m sure you’re looking forward to that day more than anyone else. Can you tell me more about the resources and community that you’re building?

 

[00:25:26] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, so one thing I’m particularly excited about, so I, I mentioned that for our subscribers in their Duet accounts, we have a new section called resources. It has access to our webinars, access to worksheets, access to our podcast, which you were on recently. And I really love the webinars. One of the things that we’ve added just this month is the first episode of a 12 episode course called Setting Up Your Independent Music Teaching Studio. And I mentioned earlier that my daughter’s cello teacher was kind of our inspiration for wanting to get into this business.

 

And so I’ve been able to recruit her to create this 12 episode course for us. And episode one just arrived in the resources section for the month of November, and we’re going to be launching one episode every month from there for the next year. And Brittany actually is going to have open office hours each month where people who are watching her episodes can come in and talk with her.

 

And she’s just a master of things like , you know, what values do you want to be representing in your studio? What traditions are important to you to pass on to your students in your studio? You know, the interpersonal skills needed to interact with parents, you know, so she’s not looking at your finances or what to charge for your tuition, et cetera.

 

She just has a very sort of philosophical approach on like, why she’s a music teacher. You know, why you might be a music teacher, how to run your studio so that it’s filled with inspiration and warmth and as well as organization and just professionalism. So we’re excited about that and, and I, I just think that’s been particularly fun for me because it does kind of come full circle to what really inspired me to do this in the first place.

 

[00:27:15] Andrea: Bottling her up. That’s awesome.

 

[00:27:16] Neylan McBaine: Yep.

 

[00:27:18] Andrea: So talk about how you manage the transition with the existing team. How did you get to know them, learn to work with them, let them do what they’ve already been doing and migrate to new things.

 

[00:27:29] Neylan McBaine: I really let Tom lead the way with the developers and he has his own people that he likes to work with. And so after an evaluation of the handful of developers that I inherited with the acquisition, we really reorganized the development team. We kept two people, we brought in two new people. So Tom really, really led that. And yeah, I mean, I, I think everybody’s very comfortable and familiar with this idea of a virtual team now, and we do.

 

We have, even just in our small team, we’ve got six countries represented. So we use all of the online digital tools that have become so familiar to all of us, and we have regularly scheduled meetings and we have, I implemented a company meeting once a month where we all come together. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or late at night, depending on where, where you are in the world.

 

We, we try to get to know each other and share some fun things about each other and, and share the, the wins and the successes together.

 

[00:28:32] Andrea: How did you manage the transition with the existing customers? Like what was your communication like there? What’s, what have you learned in that?

 

[00:28:39] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, I, I mean, I love our, our customers so much because so many of them have been with us so long. We have customers that have been with us since, you know, 2010, 2009. Really, some of our earliest users, our earliest adopters are still with us, and that’s such an incredible testament to the power of a product like this to make people’s lives easier and really help them feel supported in their, in their job.

 

And so it’s been really great to get to know them. You know, I sent out a couple of emails initially introducing myself. I invited people to write back to me. I have an open link on my email to set up a time to meet with me. I periodically will send out specific invitations to talk about particular things like when we were building online studio, we did, we talked to a lot of customers about their experience teaching online.

 

So I feel like I’ve met, you know, A wide range of our existing customers, and we have some very tech savvy people, and we have some people who really, you know, this is maybe the only software that they use in their daily lives. So it’s a range of people. We have some people who have been teaching for 20, 30 year, 40 years, and we have a new teacher program that offers 50% discount for the first year of using Duet Partner.

 

If you just graduated from a music education program or just opened your studio. There’s some documentation that we ask for, but we’re attracting some really great new teachers that way with that offering. And so yeah, we have customers on sort of both ends of the spectrum, brand new customers and then teachers that have been teaching with us for almost our whole time of existence.

 

So it’s been really wonderful for me to, to meet so many people that are so dedicated to what they do and love it so much because that’s, it’s a, it’s a passionate audience. As you know, people don’t just kind of stumble into being a music teacher. So that’s been absolutely the best part of the past year for me.

 

[00:30:45] Andrea: And what have been your takeaways both on like the internal relationships with the existing team and the external customer relationships. What have you learned, like what are your general takeaways from that on how you would do it differently in the future or what really worked well?

 

[00:31:01] Neylan McBaine: Hmm. That’s a good question. I mean, one thing that I think, you know, everybody can trust about our existing team is that we are all passionate musicians. And I think no matter what happens going forward, as we grow our team, as people come and go, hopefully just come. You know, I think, I think hanging on to that principle of having everybody that works for Duet be mission driven.

 

Be devoted to not just music, but to music teachers and almost everybody on our team also has their own studio. As I mentioned, Ken teaches guitar. Tierra teaches piano. Each of us is, is involved in our own ways and so we, it was really easy to bond as I came in over that, right? Because we’re all here because we just love music and we want to pass that on to another generation.

 

We want our kids and our students to love music too. And I think one of the reasons I feel so passionate about this particular industry is that I think we need to reevaluate the role of a music education in the lives of the next generation. I think with the coming of ai, for instance, an AI generated composition. The idea of making music is going to take on a little bit of a different connotation than it has in the past.

 

We may not be needed as humans to compose new music in the future, but what will never change is that sort of very innate desire to express ourselves, right? And to have music, and especially community music, creating music together, be something that simply just brings us joy as humans and is just a creative expression and a creative outlet.

 

And I think one of the reasons I want to prop up music teachers and support music education is because, you know, being able to play your own instrument and being able to sing or read music or appreciate that art form is just an innate source of joy. It, it might not be anybody’s career in the future.

 

Most of our students aren’t going to choose to make a living at it, but we need to be emphasizing at this time in history, just the sheer joy of being able to create your own music and to sit down and play your own instrument and to bring out the compositions of composers who are decades old, but also centuries old.

 

And just to be able to kind of marvel at what humans are able to do. So I see supporting music students and music teachers far less as sort of preparing the next symphony musicians or the next band players as much as it is just creating an atmosphere of healing and creativity and joy and sort of all the good things about the human experience and just really supporting that.

 

[00:33:59] Andrea: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I think I’m hearing a lot more from music teachers kind of echoing similar sentiments around their teaching. Like it’s not just about the outcome, but it’s like what is music doing for you on a daily basis in your life right now? Not just at the competition, but Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of teachers will, will relate to that.

 

Can you talk about your vision for duet?

 

[00:34:20] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, so our value proposition, what we promised the customer is that we will be a single login solution for all of a music teacher’s digital needs. And so, you know, I think when Brandon first built the product 17 years ago . You know, it was really revolutionary to have a billing system and a calendaring system, and an emailing system, and a website hosting system all in one place.

 

And I think today, you know, we’re much more accustomed to sort of cobbling together lots of different systems. I mean, I’m sure there are teachers out there listening who have QuickBooks and they have, you know, zoom and they have a Zoom account, and then maybe they have a Squarespace or a Wix account, and then they’ve got Gmail or Google Docs, right?

 

Our offering is to have a version of all of those things . You know, an admittedly probably simplified and paired down version of all of those things, but to have the tools that a music teacher needs all in a single login and all under a single subscription. And what that looks like for a music teacher is going to change over the years as new technologies emerge.

 

For instance, you know, I think the website builder when Brandon first built the product was, you know, heavily used and was really kind of unusual and one of its kind. And now I think it’s a lot easier for teachers to set up their own studios through WIC or Squarespace or WordPress. So that means that we need to look at it and say, well, how can we support that? How can we add to that? If a teacher does want to build her own studio website elsewhere, my vision is to have us be the leader in providing each one of those features and functionalities to music teachers in a way that’s specific and unique to music teachers. You know, I think that there are enough things that are specific about the music teacher experience that require us to look at each of these elements of our product and say, you know, what does a music teacher specifically need here?

 

For instance, with calendaring. You know, one thing I really excited to delve into is the self-scheduling. The idea of having a teacher be able to block off time on her calendar and have a student be able to select the time they want their lesson. I don’t think that works for every appointment-based business and not every appointment-based business owner wants to do that, but that’s something that I think with music teachers is particularly attractive.

 

Also, of course, lesson planning and assignments and all of that is, you know that those have very specific applications for music teachers that we can really delve into as we’re improving the product.

 

[00:36:57] Andrea: That vision, is that something you had clarity on when you first started, or has it kind of come into focus as you’ve learned the business over the last year and a half?

 

[00:37:08] Neylan McBaine: I think I always knew that I wanted to be the single login solution for teachers digital needs. I think what I’ve learned over the past year is how many different ways there are to run a music studio. Um, and you probably know this, right? I, I think the sheer breadth of customization that’s needed in each one of those areas to really serve our teachers so that they feel like they can run their studios just the way they want.

 

 I think that’s probably been my biggest lesson from the past year. I’ll talk to teachers and they’ll say, it would be really great if your product did this. And I’m like, I’d never even thought of that. Like, wow. That’s a, I didn’t even know teachers did that in their studios. You know? Or, you know, it’d be really great if I could do this with group classes or invoice in this way, or schedule this, or I’ve got this situation. What do I, how do I? So I think, I think that’s probably been my biggest learning over the past year. You know, how we can make a flexible and creative product for our teachers.

 

[00:38:11] Andrea: How do you use that vision? I mean, it sounds like something you’ve said many times, you know. It wasn’t a new question to you. What’s my vision? How do you use it in your daily, weekly routines to focus your work? Are you coming back to that, bringing your team back to that vision regularly?

 

[00:38:27] Neylan McBaine: Yeah, I mean, we had just a conversation this morning about looking at product development and features for next year when the migration is over, and I think having a clear vision and mission statement always, always helps focus those strategy decisions. And that’s again, kind of where my expertise is. I, I helped companies develop mission statements for years, and mission statements are not, they’re actually something very specific. They’re not just kind of what most people think of like, let’s create a sentence that sounds really great.

 

Right? A mission statement is a very specific thing, and if it’s done well, it provides a framework that we can always go back to to evaluate decisions, right? You can say, okay, is this really serving our primary audience? Is this really touching into the why of what we’re doing? Is this touching on the value proposition we’re offering our customer?

 

If it’s not, then you can feel safe in putting that new product or new feature or strategic decision at a lower priority, right? But if it does check all the boxes that you’ve established in your mission and in your vision, then you can feel confident moving forward with it. So that’s been really helpful to have a very clear vision of what we want to do, because there’s a lot, I mean, there’s so much cool technology out there that teachers could potentially use, right?

 

I mean, there’s just lots we could be doing with video. There’s lots that you could be doing with practice motivation tools. There’s lots that you could be doing with lesson assignment technology and, and so we just constantly have to ask like, what is the most important thing to our customers? And through surveys and through anecdotes, our customers want to get paid.

 

They want to get paid on time, they want to get paid in a variety of ways. They want to get paid without harassing the parents. Right? So really, and if we’re going to be the destination that helps teachers get paid, then we got to really stay laser focused on that vision.

 

[00:40:20] Andrea: You mentioned a little earlier that you use, you know, all the typical digital tools for your own team. What specifically are you enjoying right now for yourself or team management?

 

[00:40:30] Neylan McBaine: I would say we use two tools in particular. We are a Google Meet team and a Google Workplace team, and I just really love the Google suite of products that allow everybody to have a branded email address and have access to our Google Drive folders.

 

It’s, you know, I mean, when I started at, in Silicon Valley in, you know, 1999, you couldn’t send an email with an attachment over one megabyte. Right. And you had to like vPN into your company’s servers if you wanted to even leave the office and it, it was just like, and then, you know, had used your company’s hard drive.

 

I don’t, it was just like, it’s just amazing to me 25 years later that we have something that can bring a team together from all around the world. We don’t even have a Zoom account because we use Google Meet. I do everything in my Google Workspace. We do also use Asana, and I have team members that use Asana, very adeptly.

 

I’m okay with using it, but Asana is is terrific too. We don’t use Slack, for instance. Again, we do everything over Google Workspace because they have a messaging feature that kind of replaces Slack for a small company like ours. I mean, I don’t know if you want more details than that, but I’d say Asana and Google Workspace are the top priority tools that we use.

 

Oh, I will say one thing else, which we couldn’t live without, which is Canva. Oh my goodness. Any small business needs to have Canva. Yeah, it’s, it’s pretty awesome.

 

[00:42:01] Andrea: Definitely. What’s been harder than you expected?

 

[00:42:07] Neylan McBaine: Well, I didn’t expect to have to watch the developers rebuild the product for the first year plus.

 

That’s been hard. That’s been really hard because as I said, I’ve been talking to customers and I’ve been trying to say excited and give them a sense of momentum. But at the same time, I haven’t been able to, I, I can’t promise a particular date. I can’t promise that they’re going to, you know, find everything fixed and amazing and totally intuitive and streamlined and bug free.

 

So that’s, yeah, that’s been hard. It’s not something I anticipated.

 

[00:42:45] Andrea: And what’s been maybe more fun than you thought it would be?

 

[00:42:48] Neylan McBaine: Oh, I love. . I would say two things. First of all, of course, as I mentioned earlier, just meeting a lot of teachers. I love setting up our monthly webinars and I love meeting teachers. So we actually have tried something different the last month, and we’re doing it again this month where on the first Wednesday of the month we’re doing basically like a drop in hour. So we have a video link open and our teachers can drop in and ask their questions about the product or just meet each other. And we did it last month and it was really, really fun. And I loved meeting teachers and helping them with various things that they had questions about in the product.

 

So again, I think music teachers are, are my heroes. I think the amount of dedication that it takes to, and the broad skillset that it takes to be a great musician, to be good with children or students of any age, to run a business, to be organized, to work by yourself for the most part. I just have such admiration for all of those skills, so I’ve loved that.

 

And I’d say the second, the other thing that has been a real joy for me of this past year has been the creative part. Meaning like the, the brand. It’s been really fun for me to go into Canva and we, we’ve got some wonderful designers we work with, but everybody pitches in when you’re a company this size, and so I get to do a lot of the design myself, and it’s really fun to see a brand take shape and start to develop, develop a personality, and just look fresh and pretty and fun for your target audience. So that’s been really fun.

 

[00:44:22] Andrea: Did you design the logo or did you have someone else do that? I forgot to ask.

 

[00:44:26] Neylan McBaine: No, I did not. I like to boss designers around, but I, yeah, I don’t have those skills. No, I can put a Facebook post together. But no, the logo was definitely professionally designed. The brand was professionally designed.

 

[00:44:38] Andrea: And is it easier or harder to do that for your own company when it’s like…

 

[00:44:42] Neylan McBaine: Oh way harder. Way, way harder. I mean, I think about my time, like doing brand strategy. I mean, that was, you know, months of work with a company doing all sorts of workshops, doing competitive analysis, doing focus groups with customers, going through iterations of designs, naming explorations. I mean, just so much work goes into a brand and yeah, we didn’t have the time or the resources to really do that. So I kind of, we went on a very mini version of that process.

 

[00:45:17] Andrea: I find often it’s a lot hard to do things for myself when I see like every nuance of the business versus looking at someone else’s business and you’re like, oh yeah, this makes sense given what you’ve told me and more limited data set.

 

As we wrap up, is there a book or resource that has had a strong impact on you as an entrepreneur?

 

[00:45:33] Neylan McBaine: Yes. I have listened to almost every episode of a podcast called How I Built This. Have you ever, do you, are you familiar with this?

 

[00:45:41] Andrea: Yes. Yep. I listened probably last night. .

 

[00:45:44] Neylan McBaine: Yo, my gosh, I just love it so much. Yeah. I really find it strangely inspiring of course, but also comforting and in confidence building. Like I just love how Guy Ross, who’s the host, he, he interviews the founders of, you know, name brands, recognizable name brands, um, and some that I don’t know, lots that I don’t know and that I love learning about. And you know, you always get the sense from his interviews that the things that you thought were overnight successes are really just. the product of years and years of work and experiences building on each other and a lot of learning and failure and trying again. And so I just think, you know, being on an entrepreneurial journey is, at the end of the day, a great story. And it’s the story of your life and it’s the story of the lives around of people, around you, and hopefully it ends up well and you’re able to do some good while you’re at it and serve some people and have some fun.

 

And so I just think if you’re considering the entrepreneurial journey, listening to some of those stories is a, both a encouraging and inspiring, but also like reality check place to start .

 

[00:46:57] Andrea: For sure. Have you listened to the one about Audible? Yes. Put in the plug for one episode. Shocking that yes, that product was out 10 years before it was actually technologically possible. Like the company should have died.

 

[00:47:08] Neylan McBaine: Yes. The company should have died. I mean, yes, he’s, I think one of the older founders that he’s ever interviewed. I think I read that somewhere. Yeah, he says that in the interview. I mean, yeah, I’m just thinking about what the guy was doing in the early nineties. A really amazing.

 

[00:47:24] Andrea: Yeah. It’s astounding that it’s, it’s still here today. And they, you know, pivoted and pivoted and pivoted again. Get that one a listen. We’ll link that up in the show notes, that particular episode. And where can listeners get in touch with you and follow along with Duet?

 

[00:47:37] Neylan McBaine: So we are @yourduetpartner on Instagram and Facebook.

 

I would really encourage your listeners mostly to join us on our Facebook group. It is not required to be a Duet subscriber to join our group, but we have almost daily question prompts that get great community response. For instance, I think today’s was do you perform at your own studio recitals? We also advertise all of our podcast episodes and webinars and blog posts and just continuing education pieces there, and it’s, it’s a great community. So that’s kind of where we’re focusing our community efforts right now. So we encourage you to join us there.

 

[00:48:18] Andrea: All right, we’ll link to those in the show notes as well. Well, Neylan, thank you so much. It’s always fun to talk to you, and I really appreciate you pulling back the curtain a little bit and telling us this whole story of the transition from just how you became CEO. Thank you so much.

 

[00:48:30] Neylan McBaine: Thanks for having me.

 

[00:48:37] Andrea: I loved what Neylan said about a good mission statement being a framework to revisit and help evaluate decisions. I am more convinced of this every single day. A good mission statement helps remind you what your business is about and what it’s not about. It also empowers a team like Duets to focus around a common strategic goal and operate from a shared understanding of what the top priorities are.

 

It was interesting to hear how Neylan is balancing the long-term improvements to the product, like rebuilding the entire code base, with shorter term improvements like freshening up the user interface and adding online studio that make an immediate impact for customers and demonstrate that the software is being supported and enhanced. Which I imagine is a really important thing during this ownership transition.

 

You know, Brandon Pierce, the original founder and developer of Music Teachers Helper, really pioneered music studio management software back in 2005. The stuff just didn’t exist for music teachers before. I’m excited to see Neylan take that pioneering legacy as she leads Duet Partner to the future. And if there is one thing that has come across loud and clear in every conversation we’ve had, it’s that she’s absolutely committed to serving music teachers and serving them well.

 

Switching gears to a much nerdier part of our conversation. You all know I never miss an opportunity to throw in a little finance or accounting lesson and Neylan throughout a great term early in the episode when she was talking about valuing the company. The term was ebitda. That’s E B I T D A. EBITDA stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Ebitda.

 

Okay, so the people who name finance terms aren’t the most creative bunch, but I still want you to know what this. Without getting too into the weeds, EBITDA is a measure of a company’s profitability, and it’s often used in valuations because it roughly quantifies a business’s ability to generate revenue.

 

It’s also considered a better metric for comparing the financial health of two companies within the same industry because EBITDA doesn’t include factors like taxes, which can vary based on where the companies are located. A company that has lower taxes is likely to appear more profitable by conventional measure. But that’s just a happy coincidence because of where the company happens to be located in an area with lower tax rates, not necessarily because the company has done a good job managing its revenue and expenses. EBITDA measures profitability before these expenses are taken into account, so it can be a more apples to apples comparison.

 

That’s all I’ll say on that today, but if you want to jump in the weeds on interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, and which measures of profitability might be relevant to your business, join the waiting list for my finance course. And if you really want to get into it, we can talk about why Warren Buffett doesn’t like ebitda.

 

Ooh, the drama. Thank you so much Neylan, for giving us a chance to hear about and learn from Duet Partner in your entrepreneurial journey. We’ll have links for all the resources mentioned in this episode, including the finance course, at musicstudiostartup.com/episode105. That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week.

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