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At just 24, Kayla Caruso oversees a bigger organisation than many people will during their whole working life.
With more than 500 students, 160 staff and operations that encompass every capital city in the country, Music Lessons Australia is shaping up to be a major force in the next generation of music students.
But as with many businesses, the origins were a little more...low-key.
In fact, it would be a simple piano lesson in 2003 that got the ball rolling.
Aged just 5 years old at the time, Kayla didn't realise how much the instrument would shape her personal and professional life for the next 20+ years when she sat down at the stool.
"At the time I was just another kid taking piano lessons," Kayla laughs. "But it turns out I had a knack for it. As I got older and hit uni, I had a lot of parents asking me to give their kids lessons, or help them prepare for exams."
It was a natural fit for her, too.
"I adore teaching," she says. "It's wonderful seeing students grow and become more confident in their own abilities."
The requests kept growing and after a while, a few trusted friends were brought on board to help her manage some of the teaching load.
"I'd probably say that was the genesis of Music Lessons Australia," she explains. "I set up a really straightforward, single-page website in 2019 – and very quickly I realised that this could be a national business."
Today, Music Lessons Australia has more than 500 students and 160 tutors around Australia and across 12 different instruments – a remarkable achievement in less than 4 years.
"The next step is international," she says. "We're in the process of building a presence in New Zealand, the UK and the USA, and I'm really looking forward to seeing where the next few years take us."
Spotting a gap in the market and choosing a distinctly modern approach to reaching students have been key – more on that in a moment, too. But of course, the journey to success is never entirely linear.
Part of what's made this ongoing expansion possible – and tackling roadblocks as they arise – is having simple access to finance when Kayla needed it. This led her to choosing the American Express Business Explorer Credit Card.
Freeing up finance and cash flow
Every business that's in the process off the ground needs to have resources available, and Kayla's was no exception.
"I think anyone who's started their own business will tell you how important cash flow is," she says.
"We've been working with American Express for about 3 years now. Having the American Express Business Explorer Credit Card handy has really enabled us to tackle a range of expenses that would have involved a lot of convoluted finance processes without it."
Kayla points to digital investment as being a key focus for the business, supported by the card. The website has been upgraded quite a bit since the early days of the business, of course!
But even more important has been the ability to secure software for both admin and teaching purposes.
"We rely heavily on a number of different SaaS subscriptions for the business. Having to juggle all of that manually just gets out of hand as the company grows," she says.
"Having financial tools like the American Express Business Explorer Credit Card really enables you to free up a ton of time – you just set up the automatic payments and it's ready to go."
It has also enabled Music Lessons Australia to invest into digital marketing. Most of the focus has been on social media – capturing the attention of digital natives via their favoured channels. Many other music teachers and teaching schools are still oriented around more traditional marketing. Letterbox fliers and print advertising have their place, but it's not necessarily the most effective way to reach students.
Music Lessons Australia has also taken a similarly new-tech approach to the curriculum, too.
Kayla sees both of these factors as significant in helping the company expand so quickly.
"There are a few points that separate us from some of the more traditional teaching schools out there," she says. "Part of it's the curriculum – we attract students who enjoy playing music but don't necessarily enjoy the formality that comes with classical training."
There isn't any one key factor that's driven the business in this direction; rather, Kayla sees it as a combination of reasons.
"Part of that comes from being younger myself, I think," Kayla says. "But it's also fuelled by the tutors we hire – a lot of them are still uni students or recent graduates, so they've got their finger on the pulse of what students want to learn and how we can best reach them."
Managing travel expenses
Travel was another key driver for using American Express.
"Our teachers and students hold concerts and recitals all over the country," Kayla says. "So it's really important that we have a card that works well with managing travel expenses."
The American Express Business Explorer Credit Card features the ability to earn Membership Rewards points. In turn, these can be redeemed to cover other travel expenses.
"Given all the travelling me and my team do, we definitely get a lot of usage out of it," she says.
Business Class and mentorship
In December 2022, Kayla also won a competition with American Express that featured a $10,000 cash prize and access to the American Express Business Class. The American Express Business Class includes a range of benefits for participants, such as networking events, editorial content, virtual masterclasses and more.
Part of the American Express Business Class is a 12-month mentorship program with diversity and inclusion organisation Rare Birds.
As a young female entrepreneur, Kayla felt that Rare Birds was uniquely placed to help her with the next steps in her career.
Rare Birds offers a range of mentoring services for small businesses and large corporations, with an emphasis on creating inclusive cultures. Mentees are paired with a mentor that will help them meet the unique challenges of their business, and help them grow not only into successful business people but valuable members of the wider community.
Kayla notes that her first mentors were her parents, and it's something she's benefitted from throughout the process of starting and running Music Lessons Australia.
"Dad is very entrepreneurial," she says. "He's very much about getting out there and giving it a go. Mum is a bit more focused on education, and encouraging people to hit goals at their own pace. So it's been good having them provide a balance of viewpoints."
She added that being able to work with Rare Birds as part of the American Express Business Class is an obvious extension of her prior mentorship experiences.
"I think it's something that will really help both myself and the business get to the next level," she says. "Winning the competition was such a fantastic opportunity, and I can't wait to see where it helps take Music Lessons Australia next."
From a university side hustle to a national business with global ambitions, Music Lessons Australia has become a business success story in a remarkably short space of time.
But this kind of growth isn't possible without the right support. Friends, family an financial tools have all played a key role.
Being equipped with tools like the American Express Business Explorer Credit Card, Kayla has been able to hit heights that many people her age can only dream of.
So whether you're starting a business for the first time or looking to expand an established company, make sure that you've got the right support at hand.