The Get Started Show – Ep 3: How Frettable's Greg Burlet Unlocks Music with AI

Ben Truong:  Hello! My name is Benjamin Truong and I’m the Community Coordinator at Startup Edmonton and welcome to The Get Started Show  – a show where we talk about getting started with people who got started. And to kick the day off, we’re having some delightful morning treats from B&A bakery in Northeast Edmonton, just off of 82nd street with Greg Burlet the founder of Frettable. Greg, how’s it going? Welcome to the show!

Greg Burlet: Hey, thanks for having me! Appreciate it.

Ben Truong: So Greg, for our listeners today, could you give us a quick overview and intro about yourself as well as your company?

 Greg Burlet: Sure. My background is in Computing Science and Data Science specifically entangled with music. So we do, basically artificial intelligence, machine learning applications on music. So we have, two products: the first one is called Frettable, and Frettable takes audio recordings of musicians, so -guitarists and pianists playing music, and will write out sheet music and a file called MIDI, which is important for music production for people to share online. Really important, in these pandemic days. And our second product is called AI music lessons. And that product is essentially teaching guitars and piano players. How to play their instrument right from the very beginning. And we do that, listening to them with AI and the AI gives them feedback and select songs for them to play and all of that.

Ben Truong: Awesome, thank you. Well I haven’t eaten anything today, so maybe we can jump straight into the food portion of the show.

 Greg Burlet: That’s a lie. I had one of these donuts earlier.

Ben Truong: Oh, really! Okay, this is the first time I’m having B&A bakery.

 Awesome. Yeah, I’ll grab a- I’ll actually rip a piece so that I’m not taking a huge mouthful. 

Greg Burlet: Oh, I’m just going in.

Ben Truong: All right. Cheers!

Greg Burlet: Cheers! Donuts are so good.

Ben Truong: I should probably not be so close to the mic. I wanted to start off with something savory, these German pretzels are really good!

 I think I’ll be a returning customer at B&A bakery.

Greg Burlet: Nice!  This is my cat –  he apparently likes donuts as well!

Ben Truong: That’s awesome! So we’ll jump straight into the questions, the first one being: In university, as you mentioned, you studied both music and data science, then with Fretable, you added entrepreneurship on top of that.

So how did your background prepare you to start a business, whether that’s direct school experience or non schooling related experience?

Greg Burlet: Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty tough question because I don’t think anything fully prepares you for what, what challenges entrepreneurship- what it really brings to the table.

 I think that a lot of elements from school are transferrable being in a tech stream with comp science and data science that I guess really prepared me for the technical challenges, but didn’t fully prepare me for all the other challenges of running a business and I think, one of the greatest skills that an entrepreneur can have is just being a lifelong learner and understanding that in your journey, you’re just constantly learning just because you have to wear so many hats and, and do different things in the company.

Just continuing along with learning, even after you’re out of school, I think is just the most important thing. When I was a kid I was always into graphic design and web design and you know, making websites for people to kind of pay bills and college and buy PlayStations and stuff like that when I was a kid.

That certainly helped, and that was just a hobby and it just so happened that I use that every in my job. So that certainly helped out a lot. And this was back in the early days of the internet, we’re talking Angelfire sites, Flat Games sites, lots of Marquee animations-

Ben Truong: FlamingText?

Greg Burlet: Yeah FlamingText, absolutely!

So maybe that stuff isn’t transferrable to today, but certainly a lot of that kind of stuff. And then, just in school, what’s really different is: you have constant mentorship in school. Like you have a teacher or you have peers that you’re with.

But in entrepreneurship  you’re really on your own. You might have a small mentorship team, like for example, I’m part of University of Alberta’s VMS program, which gives entrepreneurs some mentorship. And you might have investors who are business people, giving you advice and reorienting you.

But I think the greatest thing that I learned is that your customers are your mentors. They let you know when you’re doing well and when you’re doing poorly and what you need to change. So I think that’s maybe the differences between what I learned in school and how that transferred over to to entrepreneurship.

Ben Truong: Awesome, thank you. So now that you’re a couple of years in with Frettable, what is the challenge that you now face or you came across that you didn’t expect when you first started?

Greg Burlet: Yeah, also tough questions! I think one thing I didn’t really foresee was: I always knew that I would have employees and be responsible for those people, but I don’t think that you truly understand what it means to take care of your employees until you actually have them.

And you really do feel like you’re responsible for them and like you’re paying your bills and, they depend on you. And you spend a large amount of time with these people, like 8 to 10 hours a day. So just making sure that they’re happy and doing pulse checks and especially now when everything’s remote, there’s obviously a lot of other stressors in life on top of normal work stress, right? Just feeling like you have to take care of them. It’s kind of like a fatherly role almost. And I just, I never really expected that when I started. I think also, more of like a psychological / emotional toll of being an entrepreneur, I never really expected that either.

 I guess a lot of the soft skills and less business, less technical kind of stuff is what I expected going in and just dealing with all of the  social and emotional components being an entrepreneur. And I think any founder will say that it’s like being on an emotional roller coaster.

And it’s one that you just can’t, you can’t get off. You can’t go to your investors and say, I’ve had a really bad week or month. And I’m done. You just, can’t like locked in you step in, you buckle up and you’re on that roller coaster. And the highest are really high and the lows are really low  and you just, you can’t turn it off.

There’s no off switch your mind. Doesn’t turn off. You’re constantly thinking of it. So that’s definitely what I what I did not expect.

Awesome. So what is something that you would do differently if you were to start all over again?

Hey, hindsight, my friend, many  things. I would say, and every company is different because they get access to capital at different points.

And we had capital  pretty early, through seed  investment. And, and even then just because. I could do a lot of different things. So I had like a design background, doing web design, so sure. I’ll do the web design and I’ll design some aspects of certain things. I have the comp-sci background.

I have the data science background thinking in the early days that I could tackle all the business stuff with no experience. My point being is that just because you can put on a hat and emulate the role of somebody else. Doesn’t mean you’re going to do the same, quality of work as someone, if you were to hire them and they’ll probably do it better and they’ll free up your time to, to step more holistically in the company and look like trajectory, where do I need to go?

What do I need to do to free up your time to take on that CEO role? I would have hired earlier to move, move a lot faster. We’re a data science company, need a bunch of data to start training and learning, and there’s no immediately available data sets to us for us to just use. So we spent a large portion of time just collecting data and annotating it and paying people to annotate it through, crowdsource services and what have you.

So that just burned a lot of time before we could even have a minimum viable product. And just hiring a bunch of people earlier on would’ve just quickened things up a lot. So that’s probably one thing I would have done differently for sure.

Ben Truong: Perfect. Thank you. So that kind of wraps up the questions, but I will throw in a bonus at the Startup Edmonton offices, your team is infamously known as the table tennis champions.

Who would you say the best ping pong player within Frettable is?

Greg Burlet: I would say, Addie. He worked with us for the summer and that guy has a killer smash. You can barely see it. Sometimes when we, and he would smash against us. We would just  turtle and, roll up into a ball and face the wall so that, if it hit it hit us in the back.

Guy’s got a crazy smash was pretty good.

Ben Truong: Awesome. Okay. We’ll jump into the different segment of the show called the social media deep dive. So this is where we’ve dug through some social content on the interwebs. And then we asked her a guest to explain what’s happening in a particular piece of content.