Chordify: the road from startup to scale-up

Around 8 million monthly users and steady, organic growth with unicorn potential. Chordify made it to the finals of the Young Business Award a few weeks back, the biggest scale-up competition of the Netherlands. So what’s next on the horizon? Co-founder Dion ten Heggeler talks about scaling up, a new chatbot/virtual music teacher and working towards their big hairy audacious goal.

Chordify is an online music service, made for and by music enthusiasts, that transforms music from YouTube, Deezer, SoundCloud, or your private collection into chords. The service automatically recognizes chords from the audio signal, and aligns them to the music in a simple and intuitive player for guitar, piano, and ukulele. They’ve also developed a tuning app and recently launched Gituru, a virtual guitar teacher for iOS. 

Scaling up

The Chordify web app has been up and running since January 2013. Since then, the Groningen and Utrecht based company has grown steadily and organically into one of the biggest websites worldwide, with 8 million monthly users, who collectively spend 40,000 hours playing music every day.

Chordify raised around €215K through crowdfunding in late 2016, but otherwise has been completely self funded and has been growing steadily and organically ever since. “We’ve grown into a team of more than 50 people and we’re expecting to hire a lot more people in the coming years”, Dion says. “That’s not something we saw coming when we started the company almost ten years ago.”

So what was the biggest lesson in scaling up? “We actually took a really great founder course about scaling up not too long ago, so we’ve had many lessons!” Dion laughs. “But one thing that was particularly eye opening is how, as a founder, you can get in the way of your own growth if you don’t learn to delegate and trust your team to do your job better than you can. We all had our roles as founders and when you’re scaling up, you need to learn to let go of that a little.” 


Chordify also has their own version of a holacracy. “We’ve always been very informal as a company, but now we’ve formalized it as a company structure, which we’ve dubbed Chortonomy”, Dion continues. “Everyone does what they know and do best, but they also get all the freedom and responsibility to try new things or contribute with cool ideas. We now have our very own music stage at our office in Utrecht for example, because someone came up with the cool idea of jamming together after work.”

Gituru and the Big Hairy Audacious Goal

Chordify also launched Gituru, a responsive and intuitive Chatbot that talks you through simple and short lessons that cover all basic guitar know-how. “Gituru allows you to learn at your own pace, and you can repeat every lesson and exercise as many times as it takes for you to master it. It also recognizes what you play, can repeat it back to you and even give you feedback, just like a real guitar instructor. The goal is to make the bar for learning an instrument as low as possible. Which is something we already did with our Chordify app, but Gituru will also help people who’ve never picked up a guitar. It will tell you how to hold your guitar, pluck strings and play your first simple chords and melodies.”

“Whether it’s the original app, Karang, our multi-string guitar tuner app or Gituru,” Dion continues, “we want to cover all the different learning stages with the things we develop, from super novice to shredding rockstar. That’s always been our philosophy and with that, also our Big Hairy Audacious Goal for 2030: 10 million premium users in all stages of musicianship.”

Young Business Award

Chordify made it to the finals of the Young Business, eyeing the prize money of a €1 million investment. Unfortunately, Bots was declared the winner, even though the judges stated all of the finalists had unicorn potential. “I guess you could unofficially say we came in second. The judges said they had a really hard time deciding on the winner, so the prize ultimately went to the company that could reach unicorn status the fastest”, Dion explains. “Oscar Knepper, one of the judges, later posted that Chordify transcends the banality of money and economics and is much more about fraternization and creativity. And that we’ve shown a great inner conviction that making and sharing music brings great value to this world. That’s really awesome to hear!”

“All in all, it was a really cool experience and it’s great to see such diverse companies make it to the finals”, Dion continues. “And even though we didn’t win, we still got a lot out of it, so I’d really recommend signing up for the competition.”