As ROLI ends, what happens next?

When ROLI filed for administration on September 3, 2021, the news did not come as a huge shock to industry watchers.

London-based developer of Seaboard MIDI keyboards, Blocks, and more recently the creator of the LUMI consumer keyboard and app, was struggling financially. His most recent accounts, filed in 2019, show pre-tax losses of £ 34.1million on income of £ 11.4million.

It was well known that the company had been very effective in raising venture capital, and anyone who had seen ROLI’s booths at various trade shows could attest to the fact that there seemed to be a lot of cash on hand. What was less clear was whether the company could provide sufficient returns to its investors for the money they had invested.

So what went wrong?

The clearest indication comes from founder Roland Lamb himself, in an interview with Business intern. He said: “In the end what happened was the pro-focused products that we initially developed, although successful in their market, the market was not large enough given our business trajectory. We had our eyes on hypergrowth, and it turned out to be difficult. “

Trying to grow too far and too quickly has resulted in the downfall of many businesses. In general, music technology companies tend to build new customers slowly rather than aiming for “hypergrowth”. In an attempt to broaden its visibility with the general public, ROLI has negotiated the sale of some of its material through the official Apple Store, which is rare for a professional audio company. While some have suggested it was as much a brand awareness move as it was a sales plan, this was refuted by Sarah Yule, former sales manager at ROLI.

“The launch of the Apple Store was a very important and important business,” she wrote on LinkedIn. “Apparently we have sold all of the other music creation products that have been listed historically quite significantly. The long hours spent by the team to make it happen… meant that it certainly offered more than just an investor game.

Nonetheless, the company filed for administration. In its place is a new company, Luminary, which retains around 70 ROLI employees and focuses on ROLI’s existing LUMI system, a beginner-friendly combination of a 24-key keyboard and an app that helps users. to learn to play. Luminary said existing ROLI software will continue to be supported. But some of the company’s main software engineers, including its former head of software architecture Julian Storer, have left ROLI in the past two years.

The LUMI system is aimed at a totally different audience than ROLI’s advanced Seaboard hardware, or the various software synthesizers the company acquired when purchasing FXPansion in 2016.

LUMI hardware costs $ 299, which is arguably the top end of what you can pay for a small keyboard, and the app requires a subscription of $ 9.99 per month or $ 79.99 per year, discounted. at $ 29 for the first year.

Luminary’s bet is therefore that there is a larger market for beginners eager to learn than for professionals wanting advanced music creation products. While LUMI is undoubtedly one of the most advanced systems of its kind, it is not the only one. In 2018, for example, Apple made GarageBand’s Learn To Play lessons free to all users.

There is also the thorny issue of software subscriptions, which is still divided. While investors like the idea of ​​continuous income streams even after a user has purchased a product, the consumer does not always benefit from it. If you subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, for example, you’ll most likely be using software like Photoshop or Premiere to work on multiple projects over time. The subscription gives you access to new versions as soon as they are available.

With learning the piano, on the other hand, if you do it right, there comes a point – perhaps after a relatively short time – when you move beyond the fairly straightforward lessons based on LUMI’s apps and 24 keys. . It’s modular, so you can add a second keyboard, but that involves spending money again. That being the case, it is questionable whether anyone would still want to pay for it two or three years down the road.

We are also being asked to subscribe to more and more services in our digital lives (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify), which are not all of equal importance to a given user. By targeting a much larger customer base, Luminary is arguably now competing with services like these for your attention and your money. While few of them are too expensive individually, they add up and people will choose which ones they want to keep.

When professional audio companies aim to enter larger, more consumer-oriented markets, they typically do so by introducing entry-level products while maintaining their professional line. Luminary seems to focus heavily on the beginner demographics, and that’s a gamble. No matter how effective the LUMI platform is, as a package it seems expensive compared to the alternatives.


And the question of whether the identified market is, in fact, large enough to justify the new company’s $ 50 million valuation, also remains to be resolved. The professional market was too small to satisfy ROLI’s thirst for hypergrowth, but the mainstream market could prove to be just as difficult in its own way. Marketing and retaining a large customer base is not easy.

It’s also not clear that a music learning system – if that’s what LUMI remains – has enough longevity to support this subscription model. That’s not to say that Luminary won’t expand and adapt the system – its library of professional software products is impressive. But making it more advanced by adding DAW integrations or other professional features would likely dilute its current focus. Hardware and software bindings and subscriptions are popular with developers, but only time will tell if Luminary can make this one work.

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