Ann Chao
Ann Chao
Home Region

Mahwah, NJ

Undergrad Education

Harvard College, Social Science, 2009

Previous Experience

Roland Berger Strategy Consultants; HBS

HBS Activities

Christian Fellowship co-leader 2012-13, Entertainment Media Club, Asia Business Club

“Launching a start-up is like running a marathon with zombies chasing you.”

In her previous HBS profile, Ann Chao, MBA 2013 said she hoped to be one of those people who "can bridge the gap between creativity and business." She didn’t waste time. "After graduation," she says, "I didn’t apply for anything—I went straight for the start-up."

A pianist since age five, Ann had kept her artistic passion burning while pursuing her MBA. "I want to merge my love of music with business," she says. "It was about accomplishing a mission—making beautiful experiences in arts and music accessible to more people." During her EC year, she entertained three entrepreneurial possibilities—testing them in an independent study with Entrepreneurial Management Professor Shikhar Ghosh—before committing to one full time.

Bringing the social joy of music to individual practice

Ann noticed something about music. Although picking up an instrument is popular, ninety percent of all players quit by age fifteen. "In sports," Ann observes, "the social connectivity helps people stay. But in music, that social aspect isn't as accessible. We don't get that bigger picture, the interactivity. Playing alone is like playing tennis with a machine."

If you cannot bring everyone to the concert hall, why not bring the concert hall to all people? Ann emailed every university with a music and technology program to find partners for her application idea; her search led her to two collaborators, both professionally trained musicians. Together, they founded a startup, Sonation, and developed its first product: an application that allows practicing musicians to play with an orchestra "wherever and whenever they want."

In the second semester of her EC year, the founders met in Boston and agreed to enter the Dean's Challenge for Cultural Entrepreneurship—which was just one week ahead. They made the deadline and although they didn't win, they were among the finalists rewarded with cash and a one-year i-lab residency. "Our year at the i-lab was an incredible experience," says Ann. "The community was awesome. We found a law firm. We got great advice on strategy and financing. I really value the mentorship we received." After a year of incubation, Sonation came out with its first iPad product. "My HBS classmates have helped tremendously," Ann says. "Launching a startup is like running a marathon with zombies chasing you. You need people to train with; you need people at your side. You're all competing, but you're also running together. We have lots of common issues, and we stay in touch all the time to learn from each other."

While Sonation started off with "more of an educational bent," the company has designs to have "greater impact on musicians in all styles of music." Sonation just launched an app for Star Wars fans, Millennium Trumpet, where users can play that catchy main theme and the Imperial March with full orchestra. Ann sees the growth as a natural progression. "One of our engineers decided to join us because, in his own words: 'You're one of the rare companies that designs products the way musicians would want them.' We want to create apps that fit into what musicians are already doing."

See original student profile.

Fall 2015