Synyster Gates talked with Inc. about The Synyster Gates School and why he wanted it to be free, how he generates revenue, how he views the first 8-10 months of the school, why he stresses the community aspect of it, what his long-term goals are for it, and what he looks for in startups that he invests in.
Learning to play guitar is an inherently lonely pursuit. Is that why you’re stressing the community collaboration aspect?
I’m fairly introverted. When I was growing up, having a community like this at my fingertips would have been really good for me.
If we take a step back for a second, I feel there is a loss of nuance in most video tutorials. Yet nuance, even for a beginner, is everything. B.B. King could make two notes sound incredible. That’s why we’re closing in on 200 videos so far; 40 or 50 videos can’t even scratch the surface of the subtleties you can introduce into your playing.
Then add in the community. People provide these little eureka moments to other people. And what’s really cool is they’re teaching people how to learn: Making comments, telling people to try doing something a little differently, telling them to take something a little farther. Getting that ongoing feedback helps add nuance to your playing.
I was surprised by how many people, even beginners, are willing to post videos showing what they’ve learned. There’s no way I would have the guts to do that.
The community helps build confidence. There are people who would be paralyzed with fright at the thought of playing in front of other people, but they feel safe squeaking out a few lines on video.
And then the community pounces on it in a really positive way. The amount of support the community provides is incredible.
I have a zero-tolerance policy: No trolling, no denigration — first-time infractions will be immediately removed. But I haven’t had to remove one person.
It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. Guitar players are notoriously catty. But our community isn’t. It’s really cool.
What are your longer-term goals for the guitar school?
I recently met a cool guy who used to work at a huge tech company, and he said, “They’re extremely successful, but they don’t have a north star.”
I’ve found a really bright north start with the guitar school. I want to put guitars and education in the hands of lots of people.
But what I’m also really excited about is if — and this is the real magic if I can make it happen — I can help our members be able to monetize the school. That would be a glorious day: Beginners paying other beginners for lessons, spotlighting star pupils at any level, letting people help other people, and making a little money from doing it. Allowing these kids’ intellectual property to create a financial model for them.
If people can learn, and meet people, and also make money as well… that would be an absolute game-changer and truly be the epitome of an ecosystem.
Of course the site would still be free. But if you want a one-on-one lesson, if you want to go outside of the forum and into somebody’s living room, physically or virtually… that should be worth something. People shouldn’t’ be afraid to monetize their expertise.
You invest in startups, and I feel sure people pitch you simply because of who you are. What do you look for?
I look for new and exciting technology… but if the investment is about money, money, money then I’m looking at team, team, team.
As for being pitched, that was flattering at first. What’s funny, though, is that my portfolio includes a lot of high-risk startups… but now that I’ve put money into myself with this school, it’s kind of bewildering that I didn’t do that before now.
If I’m going to make a high-risk investment, why not make a high-risk investment in myself?
But that seemed too narcissistic. Or maybe I didn’t have enough confidence. Or maybe I was just too shy. But I believe in what I’m doing and the happiness of the community is incredibly rewarding, especially with the beginners and what they’re gaining from it…
So yeah: If you’re going to take a risk, take a risk on yourself. No one will care as much as you do.
And it’s a lot more fun.