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Photo: Einar Aslaksen

Scholarship article

Learning lessons

Johan Brand is one of the founders of the hugely successful online learning tool Kahoot! He is mentoring the team behind Flare and says that even though the app is free, there is much to capitalize on.

Although he’s not a swaggering type by nature, it doesn’t take long to notice Johan Brand has entered the room. His unmistakable presence is discernible because he gets to the meat of challenges by asking the right questions.

“Even though I’ve been involved in classic entrepreneurship for over 20 years, Kahoot has naturally attracted the greatest attention,” Brand says.

Kahoot is a game-based learning platform, used in schools and other educational institutions. It has become one of the fastest growing online companies in Norway and now has over 70 million unique users each month in over 200 countries.

Brand was one of the founders of the company and was part of the executive management team from the launch in 2013 until he resigned in 2017 as, so he said, being an executive manager was not his style – he is more at home breaking down barriers and developing new things.

“For me, building a brand is the kind of work I like. In the case of Kahoot, our aim was simple: we wanted to make learning fun again, which we managed to do,” Brand says. “Since I left Kahoot, I’ve spent much of my time on value-based entrepreneurship via EntrepreneurShip.One. This involves building a platform that does its best to promote Norwegian technology.

“For a long time, I’ve been impressed with everything we develop here in the Nordic countries, whether its Volvo’s fantastic car seats or the user experience you get with SAS. Even though we’re talented at developing good products and services, as often as not, it’s big foreign investors that are able to capitalize on our good content. And this in particular is something I want to do something about.” 

Brand met Flare co-founder Stian Sandø at an event where they were both due to give a lecture. “He very quickly struck me as a person who had the qualities I think you need to succeed, and that also piqued my interest in the product itself,” says Brand.

Photo: Einar Aslaksen

“Firstly, he has an inexhaustible can-do spirit that clearly shows he’s genuinely interested in proving something. Plus, he’s naturally media savvy, which is always an advantage. As for his personality, I also like the fact he never blows his own trumpet. You can see this when Stian talks about Flare, it’s always on behalf of the team. That alone is incredibly important, as you are never better than the people who actually choose to work with you.”

Flare’s biggest challenge, according to Brand, is the fact that it is a free app. “Sooner or later you reach the point where you have to decide that you have to capitalize, and what you should capitalize on,” he says.

“Here, we can use Kahoot as an example. We didn’t have an app at all to begin with and the service was free. What made Kahoot and the app a success when we started to charge for it was that Kahoot was already a success in the hands of students, teachers and the enterprise sector. Customers were then also willing to pay for it.”

Brand acknowledges that it is slightly different in the case of Flare. “Their starting point has been a social problem that can be resolved by using the Flare app. Here, you play the role of a social actor. At the same time, it’s not certain that that’s where they will be, or want to be, in a year or so. For instance, they can continue to be an independent business, but they can also become a security company that supplies this service as a feature to other companies.

“In other words, there are many opportunities. My role is to ask the questions that help take them further. And then they must also ensure the user data is secure and that the service is actually used. Other than that, the only thing we can probably say is what we decide to do today is bound to change tomorrow. And it is exactly this that explains why working with Stian and the rest of the Flare gang is so exciting.”

Brand adds that Flare will learn a lot through traveling and experiencing new environments.
“That is the key to gaining a broader perspective on what’s possible,” he adds. “You cannot put too high a price on these kinds of lessons. I would actually go as far as to say that the success we enjoyed with Kahoot wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t traveled as much. Our trips to the US meant we were plunged into the playfulness you find in Americans, and that we Norwegians lack.

“As a general rule, we Norwegians are skeptical about new ideas, and here it’s worth remembering how critical we all were when the Swede Jan Boklöv introduced the V style in ski jumping. All this means prayers alone won’t get Flare anywhere. If they want to grow and develop, they’ll have to get out in the world to find new ideas.”

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