Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Joe Elliott, Co-Owner of Fretboard Biology, located in Apple Valley, MN, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Fretboard Biology is a comprehensive, self-paced, college-level, online guitar program designed for intermediate to advanced guitar players who want to move beyond what they've learned teaching themselves. It's highly structured and designed to methodically and logically work through how to become a semi-pro or pro guitarist. This is accomplished through a highly organized group of recorded video classes (with PDFs or optional hard copy books) in subjects like Music Theory, Fretboard Logic, Technique, Improvisation, Rhythm Guitar, Chart Reading, Chart Writing, and other ancillary classes that appear in the appropriate places in the timeline. The program is especially attractive to the guitarist who would like to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, or other college guitar programs but either can't afford it or can't enroll at one of those schools because of geography, family obligations or other real-life circumstances. The content is written based on my experience of teaching at top contemporary music schools for 30+ years and a career as a professional guitarist for 45 years. The production is excellent, and the website is designed for maximum ease for the student.

Tell us about yourself

I began playing guitar professionally in high school and attended a couple of music schools. I taught guitar at the acclaimed contemporary music college Musicians Institute in Los Angeles for 23 years. I also served as the Guitar Department head and ultimately as Vice President of Education. Through these years, I developed, wrote, and edited curricula and designed programs. After leaving Musicians Institute, I developed, wrote, and edited curriculum and designed programs at McNally Smith College of Music in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

I have always felt driven to help elevate the overall musical literacy among guitar players. I have witnessed first-hand how musical knowledge can transform a person's experience with their instrument. One of my goals with Fretboard Biology is to help guitar players become better players through education.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

It's hard to say what our biggest accomplishment has been. There have been several. I think the first is that we were able to identify an underserved market niche and develop a product that meets the needs of that market segment. That has allowed us to stake our claim as the first in the category of affordable self-paced, professional-level guitar education. Another accomplishment has been the development of the curriculum. The amount of information in our program is massive. In fact, when all eight levels of the course are published, there will be more than 2,000 printed pages of text, roughly 600 video classes, and hundreds of quizzes, musical tracks, exercises, and other ancillary resources. Creating all of this content has been a massive undertaking and accomplishment.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

The biggest challenge has been breaking through the deafening noise of the competition that occupies a similar space in the market with a very limited marketing budget. There are some well-funded competitors in the music education marketplace. Although our program is unique and a step above other guitar education products, getting enough exposure to reach a meaningful segment of our target market is very challenging. The other thing is working with no income from the business for an extended period of time.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Make sure your passion for the work is in the right proportion to the tasks that lie ahead.
  2. Be realistic about how much time each stage will take.
  3. Factor the inevitable delays and problems into your planning.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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