Jonny May began playing piano when he was four years old. As a member of a musical family, his bass-playing father would often take a young May and his siblings out to watch his jazz gigs.
“I would just sit there for hours listening to live jazz,” May said.
At 29, May is a student of the Cal State Fullerton entrepreneurship program and has managed to turn his passion into a thriving business by providing online piano lessons. The business, Piano with Jonny, began as a side project when May was working as a pianist at Disneyland.
May became the youngest pianist to perform at the park at 18. During a seven hour shift, May played a half hour on then a half hour off of ragtime for guests throughout the day, which was no small feat.
“Four hours of ragtime requires incredible physical strength,” May said.
When he wasn’t performing at Disneyland, May taught private lessons to 25 students. But as time went on, teaching began to bore May. It seemed to become more repetitious than rewarding.
“I would teach a lesson and the next guy would come in and I would teach the same lesson,” May said.
Yannick Lambrecht, May’s brother-in-law, later approached him to suggest that he start putting some of his lessons online. What began as a small side project quickly began to grow.
“As it became more successful, we started putting more time into it,” May said. “One day I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this could be a million dollar business.’”
May’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to leave Disneyland to pursue a degree so he could learn how to conduct business formally. He found Cal State Fullerton’s entrepreneurship program to be the perfect fit. It was in the entrepreneurship program where he met his mentors John Bradley Jackson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, and Travis Lindsay, entrepreneur in residence.
After Jackson familiarized himself with May’s pitch for Piano with Jonny, he happily extended an invitation to May to become a resident at the CSUF Startup Incubator in Placentia, where he received a scholarship and access to the program’s wealth of professional knowledge.
The CSUF Startup Incubator is an extension of the entrepreneurship program where select students are granted the unique opportunity of receiving direct guidance from entrepreneurial professionals.
“I kind of got out of his way,” Jackson said. “When someone’s heading down the right track, that’s what you do.”
May was extremely willing to receive help and criticism in order to continue taking his business to the next level of success.
“If it’s somebody like Jonny, it’s great because he’s receptive to being coached,” Lindsay said.
Piano with Jonny has expanded by uploading performance videos to YouTube, with the channel boasting over 95,000 subscribers and millions of views.
May showcased his business at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Orange County and won. He will move on to present his business in the semi-finals in March for a chance to compete in the global finals in Germany, for the grand prize of $20,000.
May remains immensely grateful for the program and to his mentors for helping him find a way to bring together his two greatest loves of business and music.
“The program has drenched me in opportunity,” May said.