Disrupting Within: Fender

(calm music) – Leo Fender once said that he believed that all artists were angels, and that his job was to
get them wings to fly. I joined the company
slightly over four years ago. The board was very interested in developing digital products. They just weren’t sure what we should do. Leo Fender, the company’s founder, he never actually played guitar himself, but he was one of the
world’s great listeners. His design thesis was
“Form follows function,” so one of our main criteria is “Only deploy technology
if it makes life easier.” – With all of our digital
tools that we’ve made, with AWS and cloud-based infrastructure, we’re all trying to answer
those problems the same way. The Fender guitar started actually as a technology tool, right? It was literally trying to solve an analog problem using technology tools. We try to approach
building digital products just the same way as our
physical products team approaches building a new guitar. You listen to players, you
respond to their needs. All the fundamentals of product design, it’s the same as it
would be for an amplifier as it is for an app. You know, the guitars we make
and we’ve made for 70 years have been second-to-none in quality. – [John] Look at that. – Check out that collar, man. – Nice. I’ve been with Fender for 32
years now, going on 33 years. (tuning guitar) All the builders get a chance to work with legendary musicians, and listening on our
end is very important. I just want everything to be perfect. – This just came in, custom shop Strat. When people think of Fender, they think of history and innovation. It’s that combination of
the past and the future that I think a lot of customers and a lot of people really get in to. – So these are all part
of my personal collection. My favorite is a 1955 Stratocaster, one of the very first. Historically, we’ve focused on
very high profile musicians, and we absolutely still do, but I think in more recent years, we’re really focused now on players picking up the instrument
for the first time. Four years ago, we conducted probably what was the most comprehensive piece
of consumer research that’s ever been done in the industry. – That was the very beginning of how Fender Digital was started. There were some big takeaways
from that market research, and for the first time, I think Fender really got to understand what’s happening out in the market. Who’s playing their instruments, and what are they doing with them? For example, 45% of the guitars that we sell every year are picked up by first-time players. 90% of them abandon the
instrument in the first year. – Guitar’s a hard instrument to play. (tuning guitar) Call it like a cheese grater, right? It’s six strings that are sharp metal, and so that first getting started moment is pretty difficult. A guitar is great, but a guitar that’s played is better. (playing guitar) – I was actually the lead singer
for an all-girl punk band, and thank God this was during
the ’80s punk-rock scene in southern California, so really, being good or professional
wasn’t what it was all about. (laughs) I’m terrible!
(strumming guitar) That’s what distortion
was made for, right? It’s not about being a shredder, it’s about having fun making music and feeling that joy of expression. I wanted to tap into
that emotional experience and bring that in to Fender Play. – Fender Play is our online subscription learning application. When we set out to build it, we talked to dozens of people. Professors on musicology,
on music education. We did a lot of testing with users, we identified what works and what doesn’t. – We believe that one of
the keys to getting people to commit to playing an instrument is to getting them to
master their first song. – So our thing was zero to first lick or first song within 26 minutes. – Fender Songs takes Fender
Play to the next level. Fender Songs allows you to play along with any song with the real audio, so you can see the chords scroll as the music plays and play along, just like that, it’s so easy. – We see subscription learning as an independently viable business, but we also see it as a way to
reduce the abandonment rate. If we reduce the abandonment
rate by just 10%, we can double the size
of the entire industry. – When I first started learning
how to play the guitar, it was really tough. With Fender Play, you just
take like half an hour and just start using it. (playing guitar) ♪ I think I gotta be honest with myself ♪ ♪ I could never be anybody else ♪ In Malaysia, being a girl
playing the guitar was very rare. I think I was one of the
first few who really did that. I didn’t really know what
I was getting myself into, I just picked up a guitar, and as soon as I learned three chords, I was writing my own songs. It was kind of like a super
power that I had discovered. ♪ People don’t get it ♪ ♪ Oh, she doesn’t smoke, she
doesn’t show us get at her ♪ ♪ She doesn’t drink with us ♪ ♪ She thinks she is- what
is that on her head? ♪ ♪ Does not make sense to me, oh ♪ The message that I’m trying
to bring is just be yourself. Play the music that you want, play the instrument that you want, and create beautiful things for the world. – I don’t think there is one kind of prototypical
type of Fender consumer. It’s basically anybody who’s
interested in playing guitar. – The role of guitar has changed, and how people use a guitar
has definitely changed. There’s much more variety in
what people are trying to do, in terms of the music they make. – What we’ve found, based
on data, is that really, the concept of genre is
almost out the window. It doesn’t really matter anymore, and that’s the magic of it. ♪ You don’t know ♪ ♪ what it’s like ♪ ♪ Hey ♪ (audience clapping) – [Yuna] Thank you. – The beautiful thing about
digital learning products, overall, is the data that
you manage to get back, from which we’ve pretty
substantially evolved the content of the product. – Every product that we ship shoots back thousands of pieces of data in real time. All that data is fed into
our AWS infrastructure, and it really let’s us refine
not only the digital products, but understand how people are using the physical products, as well. In the last 10 years, a lot has changed in terms
of how you host stuff. It was the emergence of
server list technology, where we actually didn’t have to think about servers, either. With AWS and cloud-based infrastructure, we really built up from zero
code to what we have today. – The backend experience
has been basically seamless. To be able to deliver the
product that you really want without having to worry about it has been just a remarkable experience for us at Fender Digital. – So really, what we think
about day-to-day here is not servers and
processors and load averages, it’s really about “How does
the app feel to a customer?” And it’s a very different way
of thinking about technology, because you’re thinking
from the user perspective. – We’ve been able to disrupt the entire musical instrument category by offering these digital products to every type of player
along their musical journey. This is something that nobody else has even thought of doing. – [Andy] The way I talk to
the team about it now is, we’ve been making guitars for 70 years, I believe we’ll be, now,
teaching generations of players to play guitar for the next 70 years.