An interview with Kamil Laszuk, the creator of Musicon


I’ve met Kamil Laszuk during the Hardware Massive Conference in Warsaw. It was an event during which several dozen of startups producing various types of equipment were showing their products.

However, what inspired me the most, was Musicon which due to its size and also its unusual looks was drawing attention of almost everybody. I approached Ida, Kamil and Kuba a few times in order to talk about their road and experiences.

But what inspired me the most was the fact that people promoting a musical instrument appeared on a startup event . What’s more, they had designed , built, and advertised it on their own, and started selling it all over the world. I decided to interview Kamil.

Because it’s a blog about startups, I’d like to ask you, Kamil, a few questions about the more business side of this project. But we should start with explaining what Musicon is.

It’s difficult to compare Musicon to anything but I suppose that the best analogy would be a large musical box or barrel organ but with the difference that chilren using Musicon can compose music on their own and program it on line. Musicon is a fairly large drum equipped with 720 buttons which children can easily push and pull and thus begin their adventure with music.

What’s the main purpose of this device? You’ve mentioned music but also programming.

Yes, it’s hard to classify it. We call it a musical instrument, but you can also call it an educational device or even a toy, though we avoid calling it this way. It is a high-quality musical instrument, which can be safely used by children.

First of all, Musicon lets you develop your creativity. Children think that they’re just having fun, that they’re just playing, but at the same time they are doing lots of hard work . They are composing music and programming it – buttons on the drum are a simple biniary language, because each button has the value of either 1 or 0 .Using the device they also count even though unconsciously, so the are learning mathematics and physics. At the same time, they are learning cooperation, because Musicon is designed not only for individual child, but for groups of children. It’s a development of manual skills, because children keep on pushing and pulling the buttons. Music, on the other hand, can be a reward that children are looking for.

At the time when you started designing this device, you rather weren’t thinking about business, were you?

Yes, the story is quite interesting. I didn’t think I would produce this device at all, because I created it as a diploma at the Academy of Fine Arts where I was studying industrial design. At the same time, I was a musician and I was doing a degree on double-bass at music school. Musicon is a combination of those two passions. It quickly began to win awards in competitions. A year after my defence I had Red Dota and Core77. These two recognizable awards brought attention and I started getting information from people all over the world, who said that they would like to have Musicon in their nursery school in Singapore or in their theatre in New York. It was at that time that I started thinking about producing it and wondering how to start up a business.

So the idea of production came from other people who wanted to buy the device?

Yes, I think that it was also giving me courage. Being a student, I only kept on hearing that it was a brilliant idea, but it was too big, too expensive, and too complicated to start the production. I rather heard that it was a project you can boast of and show how great ideas you had, but it was better to take up something easier. That’s why I thought that Musicon would never be created, but it appears that it’s worth following your intuition. Designing Musicon, I was sure that it was a good solution and that it should appear in every nursery school in the world. Now I have a confirmation of that thanks to children who play on the Musicon and their parents who laugh looking at them. But also therapists and teachers who are taken aback seeing how much work the children do and how much it gives them.

Now that the device has already been created, it’s easier for you to talk about following your intuition. When you finished the university, you had only the design of the device. What made you decide to become a businessman?

I think that it was ingrown that you have to do your thing and follow what you believe in. I had a huge support in my family. My parents made a decision to sell their house and that’s where the first funds to build the first prototype came from. I think that the trust from my family has helped me a lot.

But it could also bring pressure?

It probably could, but we had clear assumptions from the start that we had to try and do our best, and if it didn’t work out, we would be happy that we tried.

It also wasn’t a duck dive or the madness of my parents – we had awards and recognition, conversations with investors. It was clear that we had a chance to set up a profitable business. But it was hard to find an investor who would invest in such a complicated and highly risky business. The idea was only on paper then. To tell you the truth, I knew that it would work – I had been building prototypes in my garage from a barrel and plywood and testing them with children.

I had also been carrying out tests with my double-bass in nursery schools in order to check how musical education looks like and how children react to music. I had done a lot of research before I started designing the Musicon, so I knew that music had power and that there was a need for such a product. I knew that there was a shortage of products which use music for children’s comprehensive development. Music is really unappreciated and not used in the educational process.

It’s true that children may approach your idea and the prototype with enthusiasm, but they won’t tell you if they are going to buy your product in the future. Besides, they won’t be spending money on it. How did you verify Musicon’s business chances?

Until somebody spends money on your product, it is hard to say if he will really buy it. People say A and do B – the declaration that they are able to spend 5 or 10 thousand on it doesn’t guarantee anything. Until we sold our first products, we de facto hadn’t had another way to estimate the price.

What is its price?

On Kickstarter, the price of Musicon started at 2500 dollars.

The awards and recognition of other people allow you to look optimistically at your own product, but later business shows that expressing opinions costs nothing and when the customers have to pay for the purchase, they aren’t so eager to do it.

Exactly, the first sale on Kickstarter was such a test. Kickstarter is aimed mainly at private customers and our main customers are institutions. That’s why it was quite a risky project. However, actually most of the Musicons sold so far have gone to private customers who bought them for their children to their homes. So it was our first test. As for the price calculations, I had originally assumed that it could cost less. We focused on high quality, however, which was essential for this product. We didn’t want to give a plastic Chinese toy. Now we can see that our approach was right, after a year of intensive tests with over 1000 children, there are no exploitation marks on the device. During designing of the device I realized a terrible fact and I understood how this area is regarded. When I was looking for ingots for our bells, it turned out that very few of them were even tuned. In the warehouse, I tested all of them and none of them tuned. A surprised owner looked at me and said: “It’s only a toy for children”. It’s a bit like giving children wormy apples. By creating instruments which shape childern’s sensitivity, we should put on the sound quality, thus supporting their sensitivity development.

Did you have any experience in running a business and designing instruments at that time?

Yes, I did. When it comes to designing, I was least afraid of it because I had been good at it for years. This project was well-developed even at the concept stage. When it comes to business experience, my parents had a stained glass studio, and my father had a motorcycle service centre for 30 years, so for many years we have counted on ourselves and I think that this courage was ingrown.

You’ve mentioned that you have carried out lots of tests with pupils. How did it help you design the instrument and would you be able to bring Musicon to this stage without those tests?

Tests are very important. If it goes about designing instruments, what helped me a lot was my musical knowledge, which I have thanks to an education in a music school and playing in various bands. I travelled a lot with various bands and orchestras and this music experience contributed a lot to the Musicon project for sure. At the time when it was still just a concept, I already knew how it would work and how children would respond to it, but you always have to check that. I could, of course, be sure about that, but until the creation of a prototype which could be brought to a group of children, their reaction was a big mystery.

Maybe it can sound a bit immodestly but I was sure it would work, it was harder for me to convince the people around me. Having a prototype, it became easier. Without testing and exploring the subject it’s hard to talk about designing, because it’s strictly connected. Now after a year of tests, we know what we still want to improve before strating production. The tests have also brought us lots of new ideas for the use of Musicon.

Those tests have also taught us a lot about what to say about the instrument. Musicon is something which is hard to compare to anything. These days, people have to know if they want to keep on listening within two seconds, if they don’t, they will just “scroll” through. How to tell people about Musicon which has 20 different functions and how to choose the most important one?

Then how did you decide what to choose?

I suppose that it is still going on. Musicon has already gone a long way, we had the premiere at the National Audiovisual Institute in June last year, so in a moment it’ll be the first anniversary since Musicon saw the light of the day. Since that day, we have been constantly learning and what we say about Musicon still evolves.

Musicon turned out to be e.g. a great therapeutic tool, not just an educational one. How to say at the same time that Musicon is for children playing in the nursery school and for children in need of therapy? When a parent hears about a therapy, he stops listening – he thinks that his child is all right.

And in the meantime programming also appeared.

Yes, it is also a really large area and we are thinking if we should focus on it now. Musicon allows to program music, because apart from the drum where you can push and pull the buttons, there are also musical plates which can be changed. How to talk about a project which is so elaborate and complicated? This needs testing in order to check what works best in practice.

Preparing for this conversation I was following your Facebook profile and I saw that you contacted people who could support your product. I also saw that Kayah posted information about Musicon on her profile. I wonder if these activities were intended by you or maybe they were just random events?

When Musicon appeared in the media, lots of people heard about our project and we bagan to get lots of messages from various sides. People like Musicon, it is liked by everybody and this is its biggest strength – it carries an interesting and good idea. Various people have engaged themselves in talking about Musicon . Kayah herself made the post which was very pleasant for us and let us access many new groups of people.

For example, we have never tried to access Asia because the challenge was too big for us, but we have even had a few cases of Musicon purchase in Asia on Kickstarter. People write to us that they want to buy it all the time. Lots of media from all over the world have written about Musicon although we have never asked for that.

How did you prepare for a campaign on Kickstarter? Did you focus more on Polish or offshore media?

We knew that Poland was too small market for our product, so we decided to focus on the foreign market from the beginning. That’s also why we have chosen Kickstarter. However it’s far more difficult when you are here in Poland. We got a really huge recognition on TV, on the radio, on the Internet and in the newspapers. However, getting to American media was harder and we didn’t achieve a great success, but after all, we were also written about there, which helped our campaign. Half of the money on Kickstarter was earned in Poland and the other half was earned abroad, which in my opinion is a really good result.

What is your advice on appearing in the media? What mistakes did you make?

It’s certainly a hard job to get to media and you can’t be discouraged at the beginning. When starting, you’ll have to push your way through, but once you break the ice, it’s far easier. A huge motivation for media is that others want to write about us but what’s also important is how the story is told to others. In our case in Poland, a family story worked out well – I was developing the project with my sister, our brother is also in the team (he writes music for the project), my parents have sold their house, I was building the prototype in a garage. This was really noticeable in the media, it wasn’t seen only as the promotion of the product. We were talking about what was happening around the project. We were telling a genuine story, we didn’t make that up.

The fact that Musicon carries an important idea, that there is a will to create a new quality in education is very important. If it’s not just a simple product , but it is rather a breakthrough, it’s certainly far more easier to get to the media.

You’ve earned 56 thousand dollars on Kickstarter. Was it the result that you had been expecting or maybe it somehow surprised you, one way or another?

We set the minimum at 50 thousand, at this amount of money our project was profitable. Somebody can say that collecting 56 thousand dollars isn’t a great success, because there are campaigns which have collected several hundred thousands or even several million of dollars. But we knew that the aim was quite ambitious regarding the fact that it was our first campaign and that we started from Poland. Money is only one value of the campaign, but apart from that we’ve gained publicity and we have learned how much Musicon is needed in the world. This is probably the most valuable quality of the campaign.

This transferred to selling about 20 instruments, right?

Over a dozen– maybe it isn’t a breathtaking number, but we have to remember that when going for Kickstarter, we knew that Musicon isn’t an ideal product for mass sale and that it wouldn’t be an easy job. Musicon is relatively expensive for such campaigns.

As I mentioned before the musicon on Kickstarter started at 2500 dollars . We had two versions of the product – Musicon One for 2500 and the basic price for 2800. The higher version of Musicon started at 3300 dollars, which is quite a big amount for crowdfunding and there are few projects which try to sell such products. So looking at it from this side, we can say that it was a big success.

Your idea was created in 2010 and a fully functional prototype was created in 2016. Taking into account the world of startups it’s a lot of time – weren’t you afraid that somebody could outgo you or that some other obstacles would make the realization impossible?

Maybe lots of time went by, but the idea appeared on multiple competitions around the world. We started the strict work on the prototype about 2,5 years ago. We were building the prototype for 1,5 years, so we started spending money at the beginning of 2015. Building a prototype for 1,5 years is quite common. You think that you’ll realize your plans in 3-4 months, but it turns out that when you need a laser-cut metal plate, the company that makes it in thousands of pieces doesn’t want to release a single different one for your needs. We wanted to design Musicon in such a way that it would be as close to the mass-production as possible. A year of tests brought ideas for improving some of the elements, so we know how to improve them, but today Musicon is a complete product produced in a single copy.

What were your biggest concerns during the realization of this project, what were the biggest mistakes you made and what would you do differently?

There were lots of mistakes that we couldn’t avoid, but if we hadn’t made them, we wouldn’t have learned from them. For example, preparing for a campaign on Kickstarter, you can talk with several dozen of people who have already gone through that , but until you start your own campaign and get in the middle of it, you won’t be able to understand what is going on .

I think that we could prepare a bit better for the campaign, but we know it now, we don’t regret trying and experiencing that. We would certainly cope better with the second or the third campaign. Maybe we would simplify our message. There were voices that we had a great product, that we had put lots of work into it, but at the same time we were suggested that it would be worth simplifying the messages appearing in the media.

I was the designer and the musician and I suddenly had to learn how to be a businessman. It’s already been 3 years of such a real business and we have learned a lot throughout that time. Without this road, without those mistakes, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

But you don’t regret it?

No, it’s very good, we can see a great prospect ahead of us. We’re getting a great feedback all the time and every meeting is another step forward.

Listening about your project, what comes to my mind is that it isn’t necessarily a startup. Startups usually solve a global problem that affects a great number of people . You have sold over a dozen instruments. Do you regard yourselves as a startup and if so, why?

Startup is a high risk business. You can be a 10 year-old company on the market and still be a startup, because there is a high risk involved. Musicon is certainly a risky business and you have to be brave to go with it into the world, but on the other hand we have lots of arguments confirming that it is the right way. We sold over a dozen instruments on Kickstarter, but since the end of the campaign we have already got a several dozen of people willing to buy it. Now we are completely redesigning our sales model. We focus more on the model of selling the knowledge of the Musicon, the knowledge which has been developing and emerging since the first tests and workshops. We want to keep on selling Musicons to individual customers, but we offer the Musicon with a complete educational system, lessons, substantive support, and service to the institutions as well. Startup should be properly scaled so that it gives you a chance to build a huge company. I think that in the case of Musicon it is fairly possible in the nearest future.

Thank you very much, Kamil, for this conversation. You’ve given lots of interesting clues and information which can be useful for people running a business. I wish you all the best in your future.

Thank you for the conversation. If anybody wants to contact me, you can visit my website

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