Q&A: A fresh approach to teaching music leads to a harmonious business

This week we talk to Kayla Caruso, the founder of Music Lessons Academy – a network of young and enthusiastic university students providing private music lessons to students looking to learn music for pure enjoyment and/or as a creative outlet. Using teachers who university students themselves makes more relatable, friendly and exciting to learn from, helping Kayla disrupt the “staid” model designed just to prepare music students to sit their exams every year, pass, and then study for the next grade.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you founding Music Lessons Academy?

KC: When I started university, I began teaching piano to my music teachers’ niece and nephew. I set up a simple website to find new students to teach and quickly booked myself out. As the enquiries kept rolling in, I asked a few of my university friends to teach alongside me.

Our point of difference that struck a chord (pun intended) was that we were young, enthusiastic music teachers offering lessons in a traditionally staid industry, full of mature-aged teachers with their old-school methods. The traditional program many musicians go through is to sit exams every year, pass, then study for the next exam. No disrespect to my old piano teachers, but my experience being a student in this system was not enjoyable, and I thought about quitting piano lessons many times.

Finding a market where students want to treat music as a creative outlet and enjoy their practice, I’ve found a way to disrupt the music education industry. Music Lessons Academy is built upon a network of university students teaching music in homes across Australia and New Zealand. We train all our teachers through our comprehensive online training program, preparing them to teach with our “Creativity Comes First” method.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in launching the business, and how did you overcome it?

KC: I built my first company, Piano Lessons Australia, at 19 years old with no business experience and no systems in place. I had hired five university friends to work with me, but I quickly realised that it is impossible to scale a company without systems.

The business was in shambles. I eventually let all those teachers and students go and returned to being a sole operator with just my students. I was determined to make this succeed, so I dropped out of university to focus on building an improved business model with solid systems.

In 2019, I took the new Music Lessons Academy to market and have since scaled the business to over 550 students learning weekly from over 170 teachers across Australia & New Zealand.

ISB: And how did you achieve and manage to scale the business from a one-city operation with 75 students in 2019 to a national one with 550+ students in 2021??

KC: At the start, I was a solopreneur, juggling all aspects of the business with my 35 students to teach. But, during this time, I was working hard in the background – establishing a fresh curriculum, business systems, and purposeful operating procedures that would allow us to grow.

In 2019, I was hiring teachers again, but in 2020, I started building an administrational team, and that’s when MLA began to grow. The systems and processes I had developed made it a controlled growth this time. During this period, we expanded into 12 other instrument disciplines across five capital cities across Australia.

ISB: What is your vision for the development of the enterprise in the next couple of years?

KC: I am a big fan of the SaaS model. Even though we are a bootstrapped start-up, we are building our software in modules to automate many of our processes. Our five-year goal is to teach over 2500+ students weekly and expand into the UK and US markets. We have the systems and processes in place to do so.

We will be able to achieve this through several avenues, including a franchise model that has just launched, and by acquiring existing music schools to grow the Music Lessons Academy brand and approach.

ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey to date you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

KC: My father drums into me (yes, another pun), “you should work ON your business, not IN it.” When you start your business, build sound systems and procedures so you can move out of the day-to-day activities and focus on growing the business.