Ricardo Tavares: SwA

SwA was an online platform for music educators to deliver preplanned and on-demand music lessons to after school programs, daycare centers, and public and private schools (grades K-12).

The Challenge

This web app had initially been built as a scheduling platform (at the time, there were virtually no apps on digital devices), but it was not being used because the product-market fit was off. This forced the initial creator to teach one-on-one music lessons to children at their homes for a minimal rate. 

Concurrently, music education budgets were being cut across the United States. I was aware of the enormous benefits of learning music, with many studies showing that it improves brain growth, language and math skills, memory, attention and concentration, among other attributes. 

I saw an opportunity to scale the business and provide opportunities for more students to have music lessons by expanding this app to learning organizations/institutions. The critical challenges were to develop a business model, attract clients (schools), build a team of music teachers and develop a quality curriculum. The advantage we had was that school budgets for music classes traditionally held during the school day were being cut and schools were looking for other options to fill the gap. 

My Role

Co-founder, Co-CEO & COO

I was the cofounder/CEO of SwA, a music education company conceptualized with my partner.  My overall responsibilities were to create and execute operations, strategy and marketing. In addition to building the company organically from inception to exit, I attracted more than 250 enterprise customers over the three-year lifetime of the business.

The Work

After assessing the product and market fit, I developed a critical action plan to build the business, which included the following: 

  • Identified the target market and created a go-to-market strategy, then implemented a product roadmap for the necessary changes required by the market segment and validated those changes through various sales initiatives. 
  • Developed and built a three-month curriculum plus recital program model, offering 49 different instruments, to groups of students during in-school and after-school programs, across all age ranges.
  • Onboarded and managed an initial team of 43 music educators and kicked off a specific sales strategy to engage learning organizations to interact with the web app. After bringing in more than a dozen clients, I hired a sales team and implemented an educator referral program to onboard more supply.
  • Developed and promoted the best educators to become regional quality managers. Continued to grow the sales team and bring on more educators, ending up with a staff of 112 that included sales and marketing, finance, operations and music educators. 

  • Hired a COO/CFO and a team of regional managers and implemented a strong operational infrastructure that led to an employee retention rate of more than 95 percent.
The Outcome

As the co-founder of a start-up, I bootstrapped the company from a dead start, growing the business organically with no outside funding. We received great traction in a short amount of time. In less than three years, we grew from zero to 112 employees with 250 clients and experienced a 4,000 percent growth rate. In 2016, the business was sold to my largest client at the time.

There are thousands of good ideas, but the most crucial part of succeeding in going-to-market with a new idea is picking the right partner. Making music lessons accessible to students was incredibly meaningful. As our students began learning and improving, I could literally see them gaining more self-confidence in themselves. It was an honor to be a part of the process of positive growth for young people.

––Ricardo Tavares, Co-Founder, Co-CEO & COO