Wired In: Samuel Walder

Wired In: Samuel Walder

Each week, staff writer Paul Wood chats with a high-tech entrepreneur. This week, meet recent University of Illinois graduate and Trala founder SAMUEL WALDER, whose app helps violin and viola players learn music faster and make fewer errors by tracking practice time and providing instant feedback. It took home the top $15,000 prize among startups on the non-university tech track at the 17th annual Cozad New Venture Competition.

You're working on the startup full time after earning a degree in computer engineering? Sounds like a challenge.

It was an easy decision. We've had amazing support from the university startup ecosystem, and we also had zero interest in normal jobs.

Who else is on the team?

My co-founder and CTO is my sophomore year roommate, Vishnu Indukuri, a computer science grad wise beyond his years. Then there's Jason Yue, a documentary filmmaker who is briefly taking a detour as a chief marketing office and Lauren Solberg, a UIUC senior triple-majoring in architecture, economics and Spanish and also running our user experience division — no big deal! Our team has the power, beauty, and diversity of a solar system. We show up, we put in 12 hours, then we go home and shoot film, write books and read arcane econ texts.

And musicians?

We also work closely with professional musicians (like Stefan Milenkovich and Rudolf Haken). Without them, we wouldn't know how to develop the best educational tool in the world for musicians.

How does Trala do what it does?

Trala shows you sheet music and listens to you play your real instrument, then gives you instant feedback on your mistakes. It walks you through a practice session so you can progress rapidly by practicing 20 minutes a day. If you try and do it on your own, you're going to waste 90 percent of your practice time. Trala makes sure you use your time effectively.

In a test with a violin teacher, students who used Trala learned a song in two weeks, compared to the five weeks it took for student who didn't use the app. Is this mostly for younger students?

Trala is for anyone who is looking to make rapid progress. Our current users are kids and adults alike of all skill levels. It works well for anyone who has the drive to put in their 20 minutes.

How do you explain the concept to young people?

Seeing is believing. I always carry my violin around so I can whip out a demo.

Will this app be extended to other instruments?

Yep. Keep an eye out and sign up for our mailing list on www.tralaapp.com to stay updated!

Your digital signal processing tech can accurately understand chords and notes at any speed, and early traction. How do you achieve this?

Vish and I spent seven months coding and reading Nietzsche. We also had the support of an amazing mentor, Lippold Haken.

How much does Trala cost per month?

Trala costs $12 per month. You can grab a free copy for the next two weeks on the app store right now.

Did you ever make any mistakes in your early years?

Funny story — we showed up unannounced at this company's office next to a highway in Missouri because we wanted to partner with them. We thought it'd be cool to do something different, so we woke up at 4 a.m. and drove five hours to see the company's president. We get to the office, and an employee comes out to see us and says the president isn't showing up today. Crap. But it doesn't end there—we made an educated guess and found the president's phone number. We texted him, and he responded! The employee was trying to protect the president's valuable time — he actually was in the office! He met with us for 15 minutes, and we thought the meeting went great. Then a couple days later we got a hard no from them. Lesson learned — don't scare away the people you want to be friends with by showing up unannounced.

TECH TIDBITS ... with SAMUEL WALDER

Twitter handle, or Facebook: Trala on Facebook.

Favorite app: Trala.

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? "Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass," by Bruno Schulz; "Fathers and Sons" by Ivan Turgenev.

Do you have an entrepreneur hero? My co-founder, Vishnu.