Building Apple’s Tuniversity with Kiko Doran

Sponsored by:

Kiko Doran is a veteran, developer, musician, teacher, and so much more! In this incredibly interesting interview, Kiko and I talk about how he created the iBook, Learn Pharrell Williams’ Happy for Apple’s new Tuniversity project. We talk about how the innovative new idea evolved, what it was like working on this high-profile project, breaking the music down, learning iBooks Author, and so much more in these 24 minutes. Make sure to check out the extended, 17-minute interview that’s for Patreon backers only!

Show Notes


Joe Casabona: This episode of How I Built It, is brought to you by two great sponsors. The first, is our season-long sponsor. Liquid Web has been best known as a managed hosting company with tons of options. It’s also designed a managed WordPress offering that is perfect for mission-critical sites. If you’re looking for improved performance, maximized uptimes, and incredible support, Liquid web is the partner you’ve been looking for. Every liquid web managed WordPress customer has ithemes synced integrated into their managed portal allowing them to update several sites with a single touch. Liquid web hosts all of my critical websites and I couldn’t be happier with them. If you Sign up today, using the discount code ‘howibuiltit33’, you get 33% off for the next six months. Visit to get started. That’s 

It’s also brought to you by WP Site Care. WP Site Care is the premier support and maintenance service for high profile bloggers and small businesses. They get technology out of your way so you can focus on doing the things you love with custom packages built to meet your specific needs. Their team learns what you need to prosper in your online business and then they get to work to help you be successful. WP Site Care loves working with creative and advertising agencies to fill in the gaps for technology and WordPress expertise. Share the offer code ‘built’ with your friends and clients to save 20% on their protect or professional packages. Or if you need something more specialized contact them at anytime at and they’re happy to help. They offer code ‘built’ for 20% off any annual plan and they’ve got two, so if you’ve got a blog or small business site that you need to protect, head over to build for their protect plan or if you need something a little more advanced.

Now I’m really excited for today’s guest, Kiko Doran who’s a veteran, a developer, a musician, a teacher and so much more. In this incredibly interesting interview, Kiko and I talk all about how he created the ibook ‘Learn Pharell Williams’ Happy for Tuniversity. We talk about this innovative new idea and how it evolved, what it was like working on this high profile project with people like Apple and Pharrell, breaking the music down, learning iBooks author, and so much more. So make sure to check this episode out. We also did an extended 17 minute interview for Patreon backers only. So if you want to listen to that head over to And now, on with the show.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks “How did you build that?” Today, I’m very excited to talk to Kiko Doran who helped develop or maybe mostly developed a book called Tuniversity on iBooks. So we’re going to be talking about that today. But Kiko, first why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with that project.

Kiko Doran: Little about myself. I consider myself kind of a lifetime learner. I think that people when they ask me what I do for a living I would say that’s like one of the hardest questions you can ask me. But I like to take things apart and put them back together, and help people, you know, meet strategic goals for their business. I come from a military background but I was a strategic war planner and I really understand strategy and tactical implementations of strategy very well. Went on to get an MBA and have been running my own consulting business for ten years now, just over ten years.

Joe Casabona: Well that’s incredible. So you were a strategic, can you repeat that one more time what you did in the military?

Kiko Doran: I was a strategic war planner.

Joe Casabona: Nice, so yeah. So what did that entail and how do you think that’s helped you in running your business as much as you can talk about?

Kiko Doran: Well I didn’t, yeah. I mean it entails like we would I was an air to ground targeter so I would pick targets but we would look at national level objectives. So I mean it’s great planning, it’s great training for running a business because if you don’t, if it doesn’t fit in objectives then you can’t create a tactical implementation. You don’t blow up a building if it doesn’t fit an objective above that. So it really was great training for, you know, how to develop strategy and how to make sure that everything that you do fits into that strategy and make sure that you hit the objectives that you’re setting out for.

Joe Casabona: Man, that’s wild. That’s incredibly interesting. So, and as we’re going to find out more, you have a pretty diverse background in a bunch of things from that to the project today which is working on a project called to Tuniversity, right? And this is not something you came up with but it’s something that you were kind of brought onto to do. Is that right?

Kiko Doran: Yeah, well initially I was actually brought on to do the web page about almost two years ago. So it was a different product at that point. It was a plugin when I built it with a friend of mine named Brent Paschke, we went to music school together 25 years ago in Minneapolis. And I’ve always been sort of a recreational musician but I have a lot of friends that have gone on to do great things in music. But I loved music and it was really the first place that I found a passion for learning both on my own when I was in high school learning to play guitar on my own and tearing apart songs. And after high school going to music school is the first time that I was really like eager to learn and go to school every day and try to pull things apart. Although I didn’t really want to be a musician for a career I still, you know, I have tons of friends to do it at different varying times in my life. I’ve played in bands that played 75 times a year and you know, a bunch of different stuff but the music part of it like it’s always been there for me.

And another job I had in the military was creating curriculum. So it was a real natural blend to bring kind of some of my background and the programming stuff from the WordPress world to bring all that together into an ibook. So when I first told my mom I was gonna go to music school she said, “What kind of F and job are you gonna get with that? So then when I started working on this project I called my mom and told her about it and she was like “Oh my God it’s crazy.” But without music school I wouldn’t have done this. So…

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right because as we’re going to find out like the book is the book called to Tuniversity?

Kiko Doran: The book is called ‘Learn Pharrell Williams’ Happy

Joe Casabona: OK, OK cool.

Kiko Doran: Tuniversity is the brand that will create many books.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So this is the first of many that was something else I’m going to ask. So, and in it, you in this first book in the series you actually break down the song ‘Happy’, how it’s put together the background, melodies, choosing the lyrics, and stuff like that, and then you rebuild it in GarageBand, is that right?

Kiko Doran: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. We break the book into three sections. So the first section we like to call, ‘Inside the Mind of the Creator’. So we have videos with Pharrell where he talks about his inspiration for the song, how he wrote the lyrics for the song, and then the creative starting point which I think is something that’s super important no matter whether you’re writing music or writing a term paper in college, right? Like what’s the first thing you put on the paper, like how do you get started and then it all kind of flows from there but just picking an idea and moving forward. So I just figured like what are the things that I want to know from an artist about the song that they create? And I think those are three super valid things. The inspiration, you know, can come from anywhere. The lyrics can come from anywhere as well but that creative starting point, it could be a poem, it could be, you know, some guitar chords or piano chords or in Pharrell’s case it’s the beat. He starts everything with the beat pretty much. but definitely happy.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, and I mean that’s exactly, right? Even on projects where I know generally what I need to do, right? I have the end goal in mind. I always have a hard time starting somewhere, right? Like what I do first, I like get the plugin boilerplate or do I like to mock it up in Photoshop or whatever. So it’s very cool seeing that process broken down. So with that and I think you touched on this a little bit, it was something that started off as a 2 year project and you worked with Pharell primarily. But what kind of research did you do for the project ?

Kiko Doran: All the research. I mean people ask when the project started and I was choked. The project started when I was 14 years old. And I learned how to play smoke on the water on the guitar because it’s really a big thing. So we first, when we first started this we worked with an author who was like going to be, you know, one of the thought leaders in music education and he’s been a, you know, publisher for guitar magazines and understands music better than I do. But the problem I think we found, we hired him and he should take problem. It’s just that we had kind of a vision for doing things differently and to just teach music the same way in an ibook wasn’t really what we wanted to do. So we hired somebody to write it and it really, like it built up to be this like monstrosity of a book where we wanted a template. But where there’s so much music theory sprinkled into it that like to teach you know, the snare drum which we do it like on one page with probably like 25 words on the page to teach that basic thing like you need to like chapters of information to understand what meter was and understand what quarter notes were and beats per minute and all the stuff that isn’t really the exciting part for somebody who says I want to learn music. They don’t really want to learn music theory, they want to learn music and they just want to be able to make music and that’s the way I learned how to play guitar. So I just took that and brought that back to now instead of it being an instrument like a guitar. We just took it and made GarageBand the instrument because GarageBand has all these instruments in there. So I mean to teach this, to teach music you need the instruction, you need an instrument, and you need a way to record that instrument to teach production of music and GarageBand gave it or the iPad gave us all of that with iBooks author, GarageBand and just the iPad itself. So all we had to do is create the instruction around it but it was more of a whittling away of things.

The first book that we had, the first book that somebody might have said was like a complete book was like 13 chapters long and I said this one is down to three chapters. I loaded the first one with the inside mind.

And then the second one we do deconstruction of the song first. Vertically we deconstruct the parts of the song and then we start deconstructing the percussion elements separately and then we deconstruct the melodic elements separately.

And then in the third chapter is the reconstruction where you put all these things back together in GarageBand but it’s very very simple. You have to see it to understand it because there’s never been anything like it. Music being taught in the past through words is not very logical, something that you listen to or perform and we’re trying to explain it with words. It’s like trying to define emotions through words and it’s really hard to connect on that.

Joe Casabona: Yeah and that’s a great point. And I can totally empathize with that ’cause I’m a mostly self taught drummer. I would say I’m not very good probably but I love playing and I can’t even really read music, right? I would, I have a basic understanding of it but I would listen to songs, I would listen to the drumbeats, and I would mimic that, right? And so I understand as I’ve gotten older ’cause I started playing when I was like 10 or whatever, as I’ve gotten older like I I’ve come to understand some of the music theory behind it and the importance of like syncopation and stuff. But when I first started learning I just wanted to get in there and bang around, right? So then that’s exactly what this book does. I said I think before we started the interview I started looking through the book today and it’s awesome like when you got to the drum part I was just kind of playing with the drums and like kicking up the tempo all the way and trying things like that. And it’s really cool the way you’ve broken it down. But before we get to that I wanna ask, you know, I’m in a couple of mastermind groups and I know that you’ve probably worked with a relatively big group on this project. So as much as you can like what was the group dynamic like? What was it like to work with people pretty remotely or did you do things on site things like that? Well, what was it like working through features with a group like this?

Kiko Doran: We did kind of a fair share of both, honestly. The person I built the product with Brent Paschke, he lives in Los Angeles, Pharell’s also in Los Angeles, and you know, Pharell’s group and I am other. They helped us a lot so with that group I tended to do a lot more in person stuff with. So I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles in the last year and a half. But then developers and things we’ve used people remotely. We worked with Modern tribe on the design elements of the book and with the web page. I forget to check out the web page but it’s pretty awesome and so there’s a little bit of both. And Modern Tribe is sort of set up to be a remote group so it was pretty easy to work with them in that environment. And I mean it really was just the two of us. Brent and I and Pharell were there for a lot of actually networking stuff. He helped us with a lot, and you know we had a lot of support from Apple to help us make sure that the book worked right and that everything that it needed to do, you know, super helpful. We found a lot of, we pushed the iBooks author to the limits really so there are a lot of things we had to figure out and Apple was very helpful in getting us through that.

Joe Casabona: Cool, very cool. And that’s a great segway into the title question which is how did you build this? So this was the book that was built in ibooks author?

Kiko Doran: Yeah, the book was completely built in iBooks author. I don’t know that there’s another way to I think you can probably import things in but the book iBooks author is really the only place we could release this book. Being a WordPress guy, you know, through and through I definitely want to make things that are accessible to everyone. And the web would be the logical place to teach, you know, something that you want everyone to be able to get at. But the problem is that reconstruction piece trying to put this thing back together and teach the production side you really need to have GarageBand and there’s just GarageBand is so far ahead of everyone else in that niche that there is just nowhere else we could do it. In iBooks the author gives us like you know, in a perfect world I would bring all of this instruction to the web but what I books author let you do it let’s you bring the web to the instruction because you can bring in these HTML5 widgets. So it lets you do multimedia what you do, you know, video, audio. But the HTML widgets are really the game changer and those are the things in the book that like when you use me like “Oh my God this is great!”

Joe Casabona: Yeah. So I notice that you know, you have videos, you have clips of Pharrell talking through this stuff. The first chapter covers you have these interactive images where you can press on a thing and it’ll bring up a little model on how part of the two player works and then you have it’s called toon player is that right?

Kiko Doran: I might get ‘Toonie player’, we call it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, so, and then you have…

Kiko Doran: It’s like GIF and JIF. You never say it, you just write it in the book, you know.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly.

Kiko Doran: How do you say this?

Joe Casabona: What is that? So and then you have that which is this interactive thing where you can play through different tempos for the snare drum and the bass drum and then clapping and things like that. So is that, it’s not a flash thing obviously. Is that like a HTML5 like canvas thing?

Kiko Doran: No, it’s all JavaScript HTML5, it’s web audio stuff. But it’s complicated like it sounds simple like oh we’ll just play it at different tempos but the problem is that when you take like so you take the snare drum and the songs at 160 beats per minute and you just use web audio to reduce the tempo by 50% it doesn’t sound very pleasant. You get all these weird like artifacts and the audio and you don’t even have to change it more than about 10% before it really sounds awful. So what we had to do is we had to dissect that all into little tiny bites of audio. And then in JavaScript like through code you have to then keep track and trigger these things at the same time so that the light blinks at the same time that the sound comes and that it all lines up. So you have to create a sort of I don’t know it’s like an assembly line and you just fill things into that assembly line but you have to do it in tiny little pieces. And that was the part that eluded us. At first, you know, first go at it and we figured it out and now every no matter what temple you play it at, it sounds awesome.

Joe Casabona: Yeah and that’s I mean It’s a great little piece of software just right within that. Because you can turn off like the counting or turn it back on and I know that syncs up. And what you are you have you know parts where you can bring in like the harmonies and just listen to the harmonies at certain points. And when you switch from page to page you can kind of I think within a two page range, you can keep parts of the player on. It’s what I noticed this morning so I don’t know if that’s a bug or what.

Kiko Doran: No. it’s the way now. It’s the way ibooks authors, the way HTML5 widgets work. I don’t know why they chose to do that. And that’s definitely some feedback will have for them but I think that it should stop as soon as you flip the page. But the way they stop is you have to flip 2 pages and on the second page it stops it. But it seems like it should be something that sort of variable but it’s not a variable in software so he just kind of stuck with that default two page motion. But…

Joe Casabona: Gotcha, gotcha.

Kiko Doran: But usually most people we find hit pause before they move on but that’s kind of the best practice. Just stop it and then move to the next page.

Joe Casabona: Nice and so…

Kiko Doran: I don’t know if you got the mess with the last widget. The last widget is the one really that I’m most proud of and that’s the keyboard. I don’t know if you saw that one but it’s like basically a player. It’s like a piano player essentially and it teaches you the base part. It’s in chapter 3 and it will show you, it will light up the key and it plays it in time the same way as the tuning player does and it will, you know, you’ll hear the click track and then I’ll play the part for you in time. But then there’s a switch on it where you can switch it to step mode and then you can just trigger the next note so it’ll highlight the next note in yellow and you just finger it and then you can practice like how to play this part on the piano.

Joe Casabona: Oh man that’s…

Kiko Doran: Pretty cool.

Joe Casabona: That’s really cool. I want to check that out ’cause I got distracted by the drum part like I played with the job. So I mean and that’s really fantastic. And then you know, you switch between the book and GarageBand and so the book provides you with some assets like the loops and the whole song kind of being put together and it walks you through. This is how it’s done and this is how you do it yourself.

Kiko Doran: Yep.

Joe Casabona: Cool.

Kiko Doran: And I took a lot of elements like I remember learning I learned how to do like Photoshop years ago and the old Adobe classroom in a book. I don’t know if I ever use those but they would give you like a CD with it and it’s like does it now. It’s like you know, the end of the chapter version of the file and the beginning of the chapter for the next one. So you could jump in anywhere but you have to grab the right asset and what the first versions of the book were just built up like you had to build the whole song yourself. But it’s like OK you know, open a new track, create a new track, you are doing so much of the instruction with super super repetitive. And I think if you look at the book now you won’t find a lot of repetitive things in there. So it was really kind of thinking like a coder when we built this book too and how to better whittle it down to its least amount of essential elements.

Joe Casabona: Yeah that’s great. And I want to get more of the teaching stuff in the second half of this. So the second half will be available on Patreon. I will go a little bit deeper but that man, I’m like really loving this project ’cause it combines like coding and music, and teaching which are all passions of mine. Music to a lesser extent, I listen to a lot of music and I wish I could sing.

Kiko Doran: It’s all my passions too. I just needed to get the Yankees in box [cross talk 20.11.1]

Joe Casabona: Now you’re speaking my language, awesome. And we just lost New England. I think anybody from New England just dropped off of this but that’s OK. Now that’s fantastic. So you mentioned that this is a 2 year long project that started as a website essentially. So I mean, we know what the big transformation is but how did you get to that transformation, right? Like when did it go from like website to, oh this should really be a super interactive ibook.

Kiko Doran: I mean I was kind of involved in the project. Before I was involved in the project, Brent’s a great friend of mine and I had been helping him. He had hired me before to do a web page for the site that you know, for the project that it was working on earlier before it morphed into this. And so it, I don’t know I mean it kind of started right away like that was just the part. It’s typical that like a client doesn’t really know what they’re hiring you for, they just know that they need you and sometimes they just grasp it something like “Hey, help me with this. because they know that’s what you do a lot. But I’m gonna actually do a session in WP sessions. It’s sort of like this and the title of it is “Don’t trust your clients” and then see the idea that like your clients they think they know what their problems are. But nine times out of 10 they’re only scratching the surface. And it’s really hard I mean just look at your, like everybody look at your own, you know, your behavior is like there’s a lot of things you could fix but the things that you think to fix are just like surface level things. So sometimes you just need to dig in there and find out what the real problem is. Sometimes their problems are symptoms of a greater problem and putting a bandaid on a symptom is not gonna really be a great solution for them. So really digging into that so we’re gonna do a session on that. Set it all up with Brian’s, gonna be super fun. I’m excited to share some of that stuff.

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. And if the page is up I will definitely include that in the show notes. I’ll also include a link to Brian’s episode. I talked to Brian on the show in season one and he’s, Brian is such a great guy too, so that’s so cool. So OK, so we’re winding down the first half and there are two questions that I love to ask these questions. So again to the best of your ability, what are your plans for the future? You mentioned that this is the first of many books that are coming up for Tuniversity. Will you continue to be involved with the project or do you have other ones lined up that you can talk about or anything like that?

Kiko Doran: I will always continue to be involved with it like what level, you know, we are still working that out like really at this point it’s a project, right? Like we made one book and now turning that one book into a business that’s a whole another, whole other realm and that’s not necessarily my expertise. I really like to build things, I like to find problems and solve those problems. But then the repetitive nature of making more and more of them, I don’t know what to see, how that fits and you know, it fits into my life.

But I have some other projects coming up pretty soon. I’ve had a lot of things that have come my way over the last year and a half. I tried to do some of them on the side and you know it’s hard to do. I’ve been working on a movie for the last 2 1/2 years so I really need to get that done by next year. But the soccer story so we want to have it out before the World Cup. It’s about my hometown here and its role in American soccer history so it’s like a cool American soccer history piece that we don’t have a lot of. So we would definitely want to get that out before the World Cup. So lots of things are happening but you know, not sure exactly all the things I’ll be doing but I always get it in my hands into a lot of different things.

Joe Casabona: Yeah man. It sounds like music and web development and moviemaking and stuff like that, that sounds like you’re a Jack of all trades. But not in like the negative way.

Kiko Doran: Well, thanks!

Joe Casabona: Cool. And so the last question I asked for part one is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Kiko Doran: I don’t know. It’s a tough question because you know, I only know my perspective and you know,I see things the way I see them. And to me they seem simple to recognize things the way they are but I often find when I talk to people you know that it’s not quite that simple. I think that you know, in trade secrets I guess I would say like you know, listen to your clients. Hear where your clients have to say. I don’t know if you know Shane Perlman from Modern Tribe. She always asks this question. I think it’s a great question to ask people is what do I have to do to make this into a win for you? You know, and then I think if you understand that from people and just always keep your eye on that like what it is at the end of this project, what are you going to look back at and say this was a success if X happens. I think that you have to always keep that in mind and build everything towards that strategy and tactical implementation again. You know, make sure everything you do is helping achieve that goal of a win for your client.

Joe Casabona: Yeah I love that. That’s almost like you know, like why are they having you do this, like how can I make this so when is getting to the why of it all right? And you know you could just be hired to build something but like you said, clients are hiring you for your expertise and you’re going to be there to guide them right? You wouldn’t just go to the doctor and say “Hey, my leg hurts” so like give you know, give me

a cast for my leg. You don’t really need that, the doctors gonna help you and they diagnose you, give you actually. So…

Kiko Doran: Yeah, but we have to do that too and I think that, you know, I ran a conference for awhile called ‘Prestige conference’ and it was all kind of built around this idea of, you know, we marketed more towards WordPress developers. But it really doesn’t matter if you’re a musician or WordPress developer. You’re creative and I think that developers lose track of the fact that they’re creative and you need to come up with creative solutions for people and not just do things. You know, the way that you’ve always done that make something that fits for them and go the extra mile, make it feel like it’s theirs. Put their logo on the login page like do these little things that make it feel like their own solution. I have never really had clients that have come to me and said. “Hey, I need you to build me at WordPress site” I’m always hesitant of people that come to me with a solution like you said, like go to the doctor and say, ”Hey, I need a cast” well why do you need to cast? But when they come to you and say that I need a WordPress site, they’re sort of doing that already. And for me WordPress is a tool I’ve always said this but to Tuniversity has been a great example of me being able to showcase the fact that it doesn’t matter what the tool is. I have a lot of people that helped me on this website that you would think are WordPress developers, right? But WordPress designers or whatever but they would have never said “Hey, I’m an ibook designer or I’m curriculum designer for music” yet that’s exactly what they did. So…

Joe Casabona: Yeah. man that’s fantastic. And that is a great note to end part one on. So Kiko, thank you so much for joining me for part one. If everybody is interested, Part 2 of this interview will be over at and we’re going to get a little bit deeper.

Thanks again to Kiko so much for joining us for part one. Again if you want to hear Part 2, head over to

Otherwise, thank you to our sponsors Liquid Web and WP Site Care. Be sure to check them out and thank them.

And if you like the show, please go to Apple podcasts and give us a rating, give us a review. It helps other people discover the show. And today I want to thank Ryan Blass for giving us a five star review and he keeps the review short and sweet. He says, “Joe does a great job of asking the right questions and getting valuable information out of some of the top minds in the WordPress community.” Short and sweet, that’s all you need to do to head over to Apple podcasts and leave us a rating today. If you are so moved to do so maybe I’ll read it on the air.

Thanks again. And until next time, get out there and build something.

Free Email Course!

5 Fast Fixes to Grow Your Podcast.
Wondering why your podcast growth is stagnating (or non-existent)? You likely just need to make a few small tweaks to see growth. In this free email course, we’ll go over what they are, why they work, and how you can implement them. Sign up below to have it delivered instantly.

    One Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *