At Sonation we’ve been working all summer toward product launch day, and the day has finally come!

Last week I went to Michigan with my cofounder Paul to demo the app at Interlochen, one of the premier summer arts camps in the US. Of all the things entrepreneurs do, user testing is definitely my favorite! The night before demo day, though, we got an email from Apple saying the app was rejected. So we had to fix a bunch of issues as we got ready for the students, and exchanged a flurry of emails within the team to find the quickest solution. Then we waited.

At 8 AM we set up a concerto station at a central location on campus where we thought a lot of students would pass by. We even set up a green screen on the wall behind us with a bunch of bright green posterboard so students could take pictures of themselves playing at Carnegie Hall. But a few hours passed and it was apparent we were in the wrong location. We were next to the piano and percussion building, and unfortunately those instruments aren’t available on Cadenza yet, so all the students we were meeting ended up walking away with sighs of resignation (and free candy). Cardinal rule of business - always go to where your users are!

We moved our station to main camp, an open area near the performance stages and the coffee stand. The coffee stand alone should have been enough to justify our move - there were always people there! Pretty soon a violin student and his friends dropped by and tried a concerto. The open space around us was filled with the sound of his playing combined with the orchestra coming out of the speakers, and we started attracting an audience.

Throughout the day we saw a lot of fun reactions. One of the best parts of user testing is when people surprise you, thinking up inventive ways to use your product that you hadn’t imagined before.

  • Four violinists tackling the Bach double violin concerto simultaneously.
  • Interpretive dance to the Strauss horn concerto.
  • A student playing Massenet: Meditation from Thais, originally a violin piece, on a mandolin. Cadenza still followed him perfectly.
  • Several students trying to trick Cadenza into losing them by playing outlandishly fast or slow.

But the common theme tying everyone together was the pure enjoyment of leading an orchestra, something most of them haven’t been able to do yet even at their level of talent. We saw it in their expressions and body language as they were fully “in the zone,” engrossed in the music and imagining a real orchestra behind them. One student said she honestly felt like she was in Carnegie Hall. Some came back multiple times to try as many different pieces as they could, and had their friends record them to show their families. And we saw how the students encouraged each other with the fact that this was a judgment-free zone. People could try any piece they wanted, even sightread something really difficult, without the pressure of being graded or criticized for not being good enough. This is the spirit that we wanted to establish from the beginning, in our company vision.

Beyond their excitement about using the app for the first time, the students all asked us a common question: “so when can we get it?”

The answer is today! We got approval from Apple. Treat yourself and your instrument to a Carnegie Hall experience, and have fun!

Ann Chao, MBA 2013