For someone who is a Grade 8 violinist, it seems unlikely that one would hate music theory.
Despite attaining a Grade 5 in music theory, 25-year-old Jonathan Ng recalled his strong dislike for the subject.
“Back then, I did not enjoy music theory at all. I didn’t understand why I had to learn it, besides the fact that it was compulsory,” he wrote in his Medium post.
He added that the violin exams were stressing him out because he wasn’t a great violinist although he enjoyed playing the instrument.
“Add track and field training and a 14-year-old’s addiction to video games to the menu, and you get a music-theory-hating teenager.”
Ironically, his dispassion for music theory became the impetus for creating Lord of the Chords, a music theory card game filled with puns.
Together with his friends, he started a Kickstarter campaign – which achieved 100% funding in just 75 minutes!
Importance Of Good Accompaniment
Five years after Jon passed his Grade 5 music theory exam, he started taking jazz guitar lessons at a local music school.
Under his teacher’s tutoring, which he described as “punny, geeky” and likened it to a game of “musical ping pong”, Jon’s perspective on music theory went eight octaves better.
I finally understood that music theory wasn’t a set of pedantic rules you wasted precious practice time on to learn.Jon Ng, co-founder of Lord of the Chords
He shared his newfound knowledge with his neighbour and longtime friend, Phang Jun Yu (25), who was taking the ABRSM Grade 8 Piano exam for the third time, then.
Like Jon, Jun Yu used to hate learning music theory.
But after learning from Jon, he found music theory “super cool” and proposed to find a way to share this experience with others.
Jon is taking his degree in Engineering Product Development at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) while Jun Yu is taking a major in computer science under the National Technological University’s (NTU) renaissance engineering programme.
Combining their mutual love for music and games, Jon’s product design skills, and Jun Yu’s background in visual art, they quickly created some prototypes on blank name cards.
They had “major fun” and just the prototype game had amplified their knowledge in a way studying music theory couldn’t, Jon said.
It was stimulating and challenging enough to get hooked on the game, and it was all achieved with “just a minor amount of effort”.
They spent another three more months expanding on that initial pack but then put further development of the game on hold for three years.
In that three years, when Jun Yu went to university and then to Silicon Valley for an internship, Jon toted the expanded prototype of Lord of the Chords with him everywhere he went and played with any willing party.
At the same time, Jon was creating other products in his course of study at SUTD and became interested in the the fields of education and pedagogy.
He also witnessed the great popularity of Kickstarter projects like Potato Pirates and TheoryBoard.
It was also at SUTD where he met Keith Teo (24), his classmate, who is taking an engineering degree specialising in Engineering Systems Design (ESD).
They did an internship together in 2017 under SUTD’s Design Odyssey programme at a local design consultancy company.
“We became close friends in the process, and began a series of long conversations about how we could make a huge impact on society by applying our design thinking skills in the domain of education,” Jon told us.
They started a project in 2018, called, Extreme Education, where they interviewed a teacher, or principal, or student, or parent at least once a week to find design opportunities in the education space.
It went on for six months before they concluded that they needed to be successful entrepreneurs to make a bigger impact.
Jon then explained to Keith what Lord of the Chords is and played the game with him, and Keith found the game enjoyable.
With Jon’s introduction, the three of them met on the day Jun Yu returned from Silicon Valley and they all became fast friends.
They agreed that if they were to take the development of the game seriously, they’d need an extra hand on board.
With the help of Keith’s father’s printing solutions business, KenCreate, where he had helped out since he was 16, they printed the bulk of their initial batch of cards.
All three of them are currently on a leave of absence from their studies to concentrate on Lord of the Chords.
Finding Their Bach-ers
Choosing to crowdfund on and doing well on Kickstarter “makes for great social proof”, he shared.
The crowfunding platform’s algorithm sends free traffic their way for free, which means they get free and great organic revenue.
Kickstarter backers are also proactive in giving feedback for improvement; they are able to assess product-market fit; and raise the capital for their first minimum order quantity (MOQ) of 1,000 units in a risk-free fashion.
“Everyone creating a new product should try to crowdfund it for these reasons, if their product is a good fit for Kickstarter or Indiegogo’s audience,” Jon encouraged.
Personally, they have also always wanted to put up a product on Kickstarter.
While he was studying at SUTD, Aditya Batura, founder of Codomo and co-founder of Potato Pirates, was his friend and mentor.
“I got a front row seat to his whole Kickstarter journey and became more and more eager to do my own Kickstarter project as a result,” Jon said.
“Mandy Chan (founder of BOW) is also a great friend of ours, so her journey and success inspired us too.”
The trio started marketing Lord of the Chords on Keith’s birthday in December 2018, then launched their Kickstarter campaign on Jon’s birthday in February this year.
Their initial goal of $15,000 was achieved in just 75 minutes and when the campaign ended on Jun Yu’s birthday in March, they raised a total of $313,494.
When asked how they felt when they found out they achieved their funding goal in that short time, Jon answered, “It was absolutely amazing.”
“We mostly felt extremely thankful to our friends family and passionate fans who supported us right at the launch of our campaign.”
“At the same time, there was this feeling of ‘it’s all going according to plan’.”
He explained that in the two months leading up to the official launch of the campaign, they ran lead generation ads and collected over 5,000 emails from people interested in it.
They assumed that 5% to 10% of people would convert into backers during the actual launch, which would equate to about $15,000.
Based on their calculations, they were sure they’d get funded within two hours.
“On this front, we felt proud of the work we put into coming up with a great plan and successfully executing it to raise the biggest Kickstarter project in Singapore for board games.”
A part of this success was probably due to how much effort they’ve put in to package their already well-designed cards.
Their first box to contain the cards took Keith one day of designing and one day to laser-cut it and assemble.
For their debut at Gamestart Asia, they made all 30 of the boxes by hand.
There were actually a few customers who bought the game just for the box without even knowing what the game was.
People have often exclaimed, “Omg! The box is damn nice,” or “I want to buy [the game] just for the box,” Jon shared.
“Getting that feedback and seeing those reactions made us decide to find a way to mass manufacture Keith’s box design for the actual product.”
They invested close to $20,000 to make a mould for mass manufacturing and they felt that their investment was “well worth it for the quality”.
Many of their backers told them that they would buy extra piano boxes without the game, so the trio started offering it as a product, and they received four orders within an hour of listing it.
Treble In Paradise
Jon shared that the main challenge he faced in the early days was getting people to believe a music theory card game was appealing.
“When the first deck of cards for the game arrived four years ago, Jun Yu and I made it just for ourselves.”
Jon continued, “We were super excited and loved the game, but we didn’t believe that anybody would want to play such a nerdy game.”
But the numerous positive reactions he got from playing with people over the years convinced him that he should turn it into a real product.
Another feedback they received about the game was that it was too difficult to remember all the rules and actions, so they included visual aids.
Some players also said that the setup time for the game was too long because of the way they designed the card drawing mechanism at the start of the game.
They then simplified the rules so all players have to do is draw three cards and play three cards every turn.
These are some of the improvements they’ve made based on user feedback over the years.
When they decided to start a Kickstarter for Lord of the Chords, they were overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and work to make a great campaign.
But with the help from Mandy, Aditya, and Lim Jia Xuan from Codomo and Potato Pirates, they managed to get up to speed on crowdfunding.
Starting up comes at a cost, of course.
To create the first iteration of cards for Gamestart Asia, the trio dipped into their savings from their army salary.
“I had won a lot of prize money from winning competitions in my first year at Uni with a different project called Wheelpower, so that helped,” said Jon.
“Jun Yu also achieved similar success with hackathons.”
“It cost us $1,500 for that first iteration, but it was worth it because we were able to find out if people would really pay for Lord of the Chords.”
For their Kickstarter campaign, the trio spent $10,000 – almost all of their remainder of savings – on their pre-launch marketing campaign comprising of digital marketing, their launch party, and PR blasts.
The three of them would also get down and dirty themselves, going to the concerts of famous musicians to show them a set of Lord of the Chords and gave them personalised cards.
They went through great lengths to personally hand them the cards, including paying for exclusive meet-and-greets and even sneaking in backstage.
So far, they’ve managed to get the attention of child prodigy, Chloe Chua; classical music duo Igudesman & Joo; and Jordan Rudess, the “greatest keyboardist of all time”.
“We showed Hyungki Joo our cards, expecting nothing, but he was completely blown away and gave us a huge reaction which helped us a lot,” Jon recalled.
Jon had paid $200 for the official meet-and-greet event before the Jordan Rudess concert but missed the email notifying him of the change in timing.
But he didn’t give up on trying to meet Rudess, even after getting caught trying to sneak in backstage.
His efforts paid off and a starstruck Jon ended up meeting him one-on-one.
“I had actually forgotten to record the interaction in my excitement to show the game and his card to him,” he gushed.
“[But] he liked it all so much that he passed his iPhone to one of the staff to record him talking about the game with me, then gave me his phone number and Airdropped me the video. That was crazy.”
Harmony To Scale
Jon shared that they will be setting up their ecommerce site here and launch a “bunch of other products for musicians of all sorts”.
“Kickstarter is exactly what its name implies – simply a way to kickstart your journey,” he explained.
“We want to serve musicians the same way Nike serves athletes,” he added.
In October, they will be fulfilling their orders and making their “board game pilgrimage” to Germany for Essen Spiel, one of the biggest board game conventions in Europe to exhibit Lord of the Chords.
The team is looking for product designers to design compression tights for hand fatigue recovery, gloves to keep performers’ hands loose and warm, equaliser, a Michelin Star guide for music schools, and more.
They are also open to helping others crowdfund their ideas and encourage potential Kickstarter entrepreneurs to reach out to them.
Jon concluded that ultimately, their goal is to amplify the creative freedom in the world.
Get a deck of Lord of the Chords here.
Featured Image Credit: Lord of the Chords