Win Kahoots!

As the revolutionary game-based learning app Kahoot! scoops the Oslo Innovation Award, at this year's Oslo Innovation Week, we take a look back at our interview with co-founder and CEO Johan Brand on his visions for the future...

This article was originally published on our sister publication, The City Tribune, in December 2014.
Published —
10.17.16
Writer —
Movement —
It’s fair to say Kahoot! has made a decisive impact on global education. Why has the response been so positive?

I think people recognise that we’re filling a huge void in the education system that has gone too long without being addressed. The modern school system hasn’t evolved in centuries, but the way students are learning about their world has changed fundamentally, especially over the last decade or so. The biggest challenge today isn’t evolving the curriculum – it’s transforming the learning experience; particularly in classroom environments. For this reason, Kahoot! uses behavioural design to transform classrooms into a fundamentally more engaging, relevant, playful, powerful & effective experience. This is obviously an exciting experience for educators and students alike, and that’s why our product has been so welcome.

Kahoot is a pretty radical approach to learning, and seems bound to ruffle a few feathers somewhere down the line. Have you met with a lot of resistance to the project?

There have been one or two dissenting voices, as you might expect – memorably, we were once called the ‘antichrist of education’, but most of the response we receive is overwhelmingly positive. The negativity we do get is, for the most part, the opinions of individuals, rather than on an institutional level. Schools and universities have generally been very receptive. Actually, some Universities were initially concerned not because they doubted the approach, but because they thought that their students may find the Kahoot experience a little silly or ineffective, but more often than not it has been very well-received by the students. It’s understandable that educators were initially apprehensive, having done things another way for so long. It varies from country to country as well. We’ve had a huge level of adoption in the USA, which can probably be attributed to their ‘sharing’ culture and love for social media. It’s in the more conservative European countries, such as Germany, that we have struggled somewhat.

Your business is based across London and Oslo. Given that you are a company with global ambition, why did you choose these locations to operate from? Why not Silicon Valley, for example?

Well, the Oslo side of things was a pretty natural choice for us, as most of us are from Oslo or nearby. We know the city, and crucially, the powers-that-be are very supportive of independent businesses. It’s easier to get started up, and there’s not as much red tape as there would be in the states or some other parts of Europe. London, on the other hand, is simply unparalleled in terms of the connectivity of our industry. Across all fields, the best of the best come to work here, and having that contact base and being part of the business community here is absolutely instrumental. It’s a real centre of gravity for the global economy. Being based in two different cities has its advantages, too. We’re very keen for the Nordic countries to connect with London, to encourage more business and cultural interaction between those two worlds. Being part of both worlds makes that a lot easier.

What’s one piece of business advice that you’ve been given that has stayed with you?

Someone once said to me “You’d better start a business someday, because you’re just not employable”. On the surface, that may sound like an insult, but it was said with affection and positivity, and it encouraged me to focus in the positives in my natural personality. While I may lack certain qualities that employers traditionally find desirable, some of my other qualities, such as my passion and sense of purpose, were very conducive to starting a business. This gave me the confidence that I needed to go my own way.

Your office space in London is located in the famous Trampery complex, and your Oslo base is found in Oslo’s Mesh complex. Both are places with a lot of different creative startups working under the same roof – is this advantageous to your business?

In this sector, co-operation with other businesses and individuals is absolutely critical. Not only is it great for morale to feel like part of a business community, but the range of skill sets are so wide that it makes your goals much easier to achieve. In the same building, you might find someone who is a behavioural expert, someone. Having access to this cross-disciplinary expertise is absolutely invaluable to any business. People who start their own businesses are usually quite independent in their nature, and it can be tempting or even comforting to operate as a ‘lone wolf’, but once you’re around the creative community that sentiment dissipates very quickly. Cooperation is a very natural process in these kind of environments.

What does the next ten years hold for you and your business? Are there other projects on the horizon, or is Kahoot! set to take up all your focus?

Personally speaking, Kahoot has my full, undivided attention. There are no other irons in the fire, so to speak. We’re so passionate about what we do, and so eager to succeed and to change the world for the better, that there simply wouldn’t be time for any other major projects. We are delighted with the level of success we’ve had so far, but we are certainly hungry for more. We have reached 12 million individual students to date. Our plan is to carry that into the hundreds of millions, while learning and adapting as necessary along the way. I am very much looking forward to the challenge.