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The iPhone music maker

A Silicon Valley startup launches a major mobile hit.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- A year ago, Ge Wang didn't own an iPhone and had no plans to start a company. Today Wang, an associate music professor at Stanford, is co-founder of Smule, a startup that sells musical applications for the iPhone.

Smule's hottest program, Ocarina, is billed as the first musical instrument for the iPhone. For 99 cents, users can make flutelike music by blowing into the microphone and fingering on-screen "holes." This past November, Ocarina was the best-selling iPhone app in the U.S. and 10 other countries. Wang says the product made "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in its first month, even after the 30% cut that Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) takes on all iPhone software sold through its store.

Wang founded Smule last June with Jeff Smith, a veteran of two successful Silicon Valley startups. Smule's seven full-time employees and seven part-timers have developed four iPhone applications so far.

"You don't need to be a big development company," Wang says. "It doesn't take a lot of time to try ideas on this thing." Ocarina was built in just two weeks.

Selling via the iPhone store "can make you some serious money in a short space of time," agrees Iain Gillot, president of iGR Inc., a wireless-technology research company. "But there's a danger of becoming a one-hit wonder and not being able to sustain a company."

Wang is working on more apps, convinced that the market will grow in tough economic times. "In a downturn," he says, "people will stay home and buy $1 apps for their iPhones."  To top of page

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