changemaker Johan Brand
February 8, 2024

Johan Brand | On inclusive tech and redefining masculinity in entrepreneurship

In this episode, we talk to the co-founder of Kahoot! and We Are Human Johan Brand (he/him) about inclusive tech and what it's like to redefine masculinity as a neurodivergent leader. Tune in to learn about how Johan's experiences as a dyslexic ADHD'er have shaped his career and his advocacy work.

Team Tiimo

If you’d like to listen to or watch our interview with Johan, the episode is available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

Summary

  • Johan Brand's Journey: Discusses his experiences growing up with dyslexia and ADHD in Norway, highlighting the challenges he faced in traditional education systems and how he navigated these with creative learning strategies.
  • Advocacy for Neurodiversity: Shares insights into his advocacy for neurodiversity, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles and needs in both educational and professional settings.
  • Creation of Kahoot!: Explores the founding of Kahoot!, a global learning platform designed to accommodate and celebrate neurodiverse learners, inspired by Johan's own experiences and challenges with traditional education.
  • Challenges in the Tech Industry: Johan discusses his navigation through the tech industry as a neurodivergent entrepreneur, including the pressures and expectations that come with it, and how he advocates for a more inclusive and understanding approach.
  • Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Highlights the conversation around neurodiversity in tech and entrepreneurship, including the importance of supportive environments that recognize the unique contributions of neurodivergent folks.
  • Future Endeavors and Social Impact: Details Johan's ongoing projects, such as EntrepreneurShipOne, aimed at addressing environmental issues and promoting social change, while also supporting neurodivergent individuals outside the traditional education system.

Vanessa: Hi and welcome to Brainstorm Changemakers by Tiimo. In this series, we're talking to activists, experts, and movers who are shaking things up in the neurodivergent space. My name is Vanessa, and I'm the Head of Brand Communications at Tiimo. Tiimo is a Denmark-based startup that is on a mission to transform planning and time management for neurodivergent people worldwide. Today, we're talking to Johan Brand.

Johan is a tech entrepreneur, investor, and advocate for neurodiversity. He's the co-founder of We Are Human and Kahoot!, one of the world's fastest-growing learning brands with millions of users. Johan, it's great to have you on Changemaker. Thank you for making the time. I just wanted to ask you, I know you're traveling a lot. You're all over the world. Where are you joining us from today? 


Johan: Actually at home. 


Vanessa: At home in Oslo, right? Norway. 


Johan: In Oslo. I was almost going to join you from my boat, which I also use as an office. But ended up being from home. 


Vanessa: Okay, wonderful. So today, we'll touch a bit on your journey as an entrepreneur with dyslexia and ADHD and how you took this unique profile to forge a career in tech. But I want to take a bit of a step back and put your current success in context. So, take us a little bit back to how it all started. You grew up in Oslo, Norway, and you struggled with schooling largely because academia is based on writing, and you have a more conceptual way of learning that didn't fit into these parameters. Do you want to tell us a little bit about it and what impact it had on you?


Johan: Yeah, I guess I'm lucky because my profile is in a way that means I have the ability to find my own way of learning and being self-aware from outside. So I think that's one thing that's helping me. Looking back, the choice I made, for me, was two things. I was a very small person and I was so small of growth, but I was growing up, so I was probably the smallest guy coming into school. 

And then when you're in Norway, you know, the average person is quite tall here. So that also affected me in terms of my personality. So I was quite timid. I didn't want to be seen. I avoided being on stage. I didn't want to play instruments, didn't want to sing or dance. So in many ways, being a kinesthetic learner, being very much like this also affected me in my personality, but also was slow learning languages. And in Norway, you're early on learning English, which is also important because my father is half English and the family, so early on, the way my makeup is was a bit of a challenge. You're not that self-aware in first grade, but nobody was like pointing out early on that I'm slow or anything. But as to the early days, I was coming home and people thought I was a bit lazy and concentrated because of writing going slow. They put me on writing courses to write more pretty because they thought it was about writing pretty. 


Vanessa: And you were very restless then?


Johan: Yes, I was restless. I had the most amazing teacher who saw me. I didn't have a problem learning. She saw that I had no problem learning in the context and so on. The issue for them was that I wasn't sitting still. You know, I was being distracted. So she gave me the ability to go and pick up the milk for the lunch and take an extra round around the building is always use an example now.


Vanessa: And at the time, I guess a sort of dyslexia or ADHD were not sort of in the conversation, right? People were not really aware that much.


Johan: No, because the way it affected me it's not the same word for my sister, which is different because I wasn't struggling with reading, so I wasn't struggling with input, you know, verbal input, reading. It was absolutely no problem. Expressing myself was no problem picking up new skills was no problem. So I was more seen as someone who gave up quickly, someone who was unconcentrated, you know. Yeah, bit rough aroundthe edges. Yeah. Yeah. But it did drive me through a lot of frustration. I was frustrated. I didn't fit into a scheduling. I didn't fit into what's expected of you sitting, doing homework repetition because I knew straight away was very aware I'd have to repeat something when you already had it. That puts it in this habit. So that became a problem. So I got very kind of, yeah, like this. So I actually chose myself when I was in the last year of like when you were sixth grade to go abroad to a boarding school in England for half a semester. And there I was completely obnoxious. I really didn't work into the British, very strict systems. And then I got actually quite a lot of trouble.


Vanessa: Okay, But but it did help you make a difference for you personally.


Johan: I learned the language because you learned by doing. I got challenged. I really grew. I was being able to be myself and I came back to seventh grade like, what is it called, middle school. 


Vanessa: Yeah. 


Johan: Being more confident, more independent, more knowing myself.


Vanessa: I wanted to say that. I was struck by some interviews I saw with you about how you were able to advocate for yourself and for your needs at an early age, like before even having a diagnosis or anything like this decision to say, I'm going to England, or then later you were studying economics and you just decide, and this is not for me. You quit and you start art school, which again, it's a radical change of direction as wondering what where do did you take the confidence or the awareness to make these decisions? I mean, did you have any role models at the time or is it family impact? You mentioned your sister or is it something, you know, some internal drive that just that you just had?


Johan: It's a combination. I mean, I was I was made aware early on because my sister before me went away for a whole year. And it was like in my family. And this boarding school is the opposite of fancy. It was a bit like "Boy" by Roald Dahl. It was a really rough and tough school. Okay, so people don't know. But yeah, it's a boarding school. 


Vanessa: It's not Harry Potter style.


Johan: I was exposed to it through my sister; it was in my family. It was a bit like, if you want to go, you do it. I probably decided quite early, so I just made a choice. I saw... I don't know. You know, I later on realized I have this metacognitive ability to see myself from outside and learn how I learn. So it was at that point, I just... What is this? It's a conscious decision without really understanding why. Okay, I did the same going to high school. I refused to start high school where my friends were going. I only had one high school. It was a creative high school where they had ballet. You know, even though I wanted to do physics and stuff, I wanted to go to a school where it was creative; it was very different. So, was that school or not going to high school was also quite radical in Norway, where it's expected to go all the way through.

And after one year, I decided to go and be an AFS exchange student again. I knew it was possible to be here, but I chose and said straight away, I was like, I'm done with this. I want to go away.


Vanessa: But you always had the support of your family then? 


Johan: Yeah, so my family always supported me. Right. That's the benefit of being from an affluent side of the family, but also actually being so good in America that I graduated there could go into college, but I chose to come back to do two more years in high school in Norway and actually graduate after my peers was also very conscious knowing that I needed more schooling. I wanted... I wasn't... the American school system wasn't good enough. The bar was too low. So being extremely self-aware is probably what I'm very proud of, that I'm able to kind of know where the bar is and where I can get more knowledge.


Vanessa: That's amazing. How did actually then learning that you have dyslexia and then later that you have ADHD, how did that affect you, or did it change anything, or was it just confirming sort of what you already realized that you just you learn differently, you need a different learning system?


Johan: So this was in high school. I had a teacher. She used to teach police students. She really favored creative people. She was quite hard on my girlfriend, who was very analytical. So I was also like, she was a great teacher, but only for people like me. And she sat me down for this diagnosis and said, "There is something I need to figure out about you because you write extremely good short texts and are very intelligent and kind of above, way above your level. But you're of course, you're very unstructured. And, you know, there's a lot of stuff going on in the writing, but particularly your reading out is very weird because you read the right content, but it's not the way it's in the book." So that's why I got to this diagnosis and they figured it out and it made sense, but it was too a thing that told me, "You have learning difficulties and brain damage." 


Vanessa: That's what they told you.


Johan: Yeah. It’s like I don’t have learning difficulties because dyslexia is learning difficulties. 


Vanessa: Brain damage? Okay, I'm sure they don't say that anymore. 


Johan: It's really weird to tell someone something like this. And yes, it affects me because, when someone tells you—I mean, it's true. I have a disconnect between the verbal and the written sense to my brain. So if you tell me something verbally I haven't seen, I can't write it. And when I'm reading, I can't straightaway translate it. I have to go through a little bit of a connection in my brain. But what it made me was a bit like, sorry, the word, the system. This, don't tell me these things because I didn't recognize myself in that in that box.


Vanessa: Yeah. But, at the same time, they told you this, but at the same time, this was the teacher who really backed you up and who…


Johan: So yeah. So she sent with this thing, and I came back, and she's like, "Look, I want to give you the top grades, but your spelling doesn't allow me to do it, but I can do it on certain basis, you know?"


Vanessa: Yeah. 


Johan: And I had a German teacher who made a deal with me saying, "Look, yeah, you don't have to do homework. You don't have to come up for the tests. This is the grade. I think you'll be able to achieve, and you have it as long as you just keep on doing your stuff." 


Vanessa: I'm hearing this. I'm just wondering if this is also something like this flexibility on the teacher's side. If this is something particular to Norway, I can imagine that would not have happened in some other cultures. And we're going to talk a bit more about Norway and the culture later. But is that your impression?


Johan: Yeah, I mean, has changed now. But it was not that long. It was a reform in 1994, so which was a couple of years before I went into high school that said the students have responsibility for their own learning. They empower you as a student. It means that back then I could hack the system. I could actually—I mean, I did also illegal things like eradicating my was, you know, when I was in school. 


Vanessa: Your your attendance. 


Johan: Yeah my attendance, which you can't do anymore. But the teachers a bit like, well, your grades are good, so why am I going to fail you just because you don't come to school? Because you don't fit into the system. The same happened when I came back. Now it's become so much more strict, and you actually drop out if you have more than 10%. And so my drive at the moment is to get the politicians to understand the more rigor they're putting in, the worse it is for those who need to be able to tailor schooling for themselves.


Vanessa: And who don't fit into that system. 


Johan: And there's a difference between those who drop out because of attendance not going. It was more social issues versus those who learn differently and it can't actually turn on that one and they can't really see the difference. So it was different then than now.


Vanessa: Okay, but that was good for you because you did get something


Johan: Extremely good, otherwise I would’ve dropped out. 


Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So when I go on to talk a bit about Kahoot! and, you know, this educational platform that is really reshaping the way millions of people are learning worldwide and you are the co-founder, you've stepped away a little bit now, but I'm thinking about all of you, what you've just said and your own challenges with learning and a very sort of an educational system that I think you called it binary at some point as well. How did all of those struggles and all of the learnings that you took away from your own experience, how did that feed into the concept of Kahoot!?



Johan: Everyone who's been part of founding or shaping has given it color, which means it's such a diverse group of learners, and actually fits into the school system, even though it breaks every single rule.

Yeah, for me, being kind of the driver of the vision in a lot of things was because of exactly I was neurodiverse. Kahoot! is made for neurodiversity. It's got an inclusive design strategy, which means it's designed for the outcasts to be the best for everyone because we know the outcasts' challenges are something that everyone, to some degree, has, and it will improve for everyone. Particularly because we have a global issue with attendance that has nothing to do with neurodiversity but has to do with not finding school interesting.

So, it fed in massively. And also, because I've been going to school in the Nordic school system, British school system, and American school systems, I knew what was needed in the different ones. I could see the comparison and what I thought was best and worst. So, in America, I came, you know, when I got F's in English and I was struggling in the beginning, and then I ended up being one of the best students in English, even though I have dyslexia, and it’s not even my nativate language because it's easy to hack with notes and the way the system, multiple choice, was.

So, I had an immensely good average. I was above my peers. So, and I was like, okay, why can you hack the system in the US and also look at my peers, why they're falling behind, and also the adoption of technology, freedom of the teachers, but also how schooling is based on work. So, for me, it was a way of understanding the global education system and also, by the way, the British one is very much adapted in Turkey, you know, in Asia.


Vanessa: And so I know, yeah, yeah. My daughter went to school in Spain and it was a Cambridge curriculum. So, it's all over the world. Yes.



Johan: So for me, it was feeding in and, luckily, being exposed to all of this and being able to understand also this strategy. And also, Jamie was part of the inclusive design strategy that makes it very flexible and it designs for an extremely broad audience.

And then the other thing we learned about same happened to me when the guy or the girl in the back of the classroom comes in front for the right reason. It's inspiring for everyone. It's inspiring when the troublemaker attends or shows they're doing well, or the kid with dyslexia or the kid with Autism comes and shows what they can do, and everyone is included. Because often what happened is you have those who attend and engage and the disengaged, and when the disengaged engages, it pulls everyone along and it's very inspiring.

And the big part of Kahoot!, which we realize I saw myself, was being seen. Why did I do well in school? The teachers saw me. It was eye contact, right? So Kahoot! is very much about looking up, getting eye contact with your peers and with the teacher. 


Vanessa: Yes. And Kahoot! is giving that visibility. 


Johan: And being able to kinesthetic, to be audiovisual, right. To be able to deliver it on the phone, to be able to do all those things. Attention ones that you know was there.


Vanessa: I wonder when you were fundraising for Kahoot! or raising funds or speaking to investors, partners, was there a lot of resistance to the idea, or was there already this moment where people were like, "Yes, this is what we need?" Or was it like, "This is not going to work. It comes from gaming. We're not, you know, it's not serious." What was the reaction?


Johan: My, everything. I was so surprised that the serious player organization was completely saying it's not a game, you know. And then on the other side people saying it's too much of a game. It's game-based. So it's based on the work from was his name is Richard Brown wrote a book called "Play" where I spend a lot of time when I worked on play personalities, where I disagreed with the idea that we have eight play personalities, fixed in. So my research showed that you change in and out of them depending on context. So that's a big part of Kahoot! to show that you can do different things. You can be a creator, you can be a player, you can be many things which a lot of other game-based programs, particularly games outside of education, recognized.

And then the first and then you mentioned Cambridge is kind of funny because I pitched the idea or I was asked by and Silicon Valley was coming to UK. We went to Cambridge. I was asked during this massive dinner to stand on a chair and talk about it. 


Vanessa: So if just for context, how old were you then? 


Johan: This was when I was working, so I was probably about 20-. So I was about 29. Okay. So this is, you know, in my career or 30, something like that. But still, it's quite intimidating to stand on a chair in front of all these scholars, really famous entrepreneurs, and say, "I'm doing this thing," and I was shot down. Right. But then entrepreneurs who were there exactly, you know, they inherently saw that. No, no, I think this can work. Blah, blah, blah. And it was really kind of cool to first step up and the professors shoot you down and as are being shot down, then they hear the arguments and start going, "Hang on, hang on, hang on." So that was kind of cool.

But when teachers and students start saying, "This is profound for us." They saw the behavior changes. Kids were allowed to stand on chairs, you know, all those things. Then. So you've got both. And for long still, people talk negatively about Kahoot! or they talk about the very basic level of it, not understanding the pedagogical models. So it's always going to be like this, "Mobile in the classroom? Horrible, right? You think?


Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, yeah." No, no, no. Technology. Technology is bad. Yeah, but okay, so it took off. It became this huge success. I wanted to talk a little bit about your career in tech as a neurodivergent person and entrepreneur. I mean, it's not exactly known for being a hotbed for self-care, and entrepreneurship is also frequently associated with these norms of what they call toxic masculinity. You know, winning at all costs, stoicism, not admitting you're wrong, you know, relentless work. I'm wondering how did you navigate this environment? I mean, also coming you were in art school, right? You were there for a reason. How did you navigate this environment? And do you feel a responsibility to model a different kind of masculinity, entrepreneurship?


Johan: You know, definitely. So it was easier for me to make the choices I made because you're male and it's, you know, even though there was a lot of expectations and I couldn't really define after my high school, I want to do so my mom said, look. And my dad said, look, you know, you financial studies, economic studies, there's always something you'll need, so do it. This is I could really argue if anything else, you can expect this. I went to university. I lasted one semester. I ended up crashing into bed, staying there for two weeks. But I also said to my dad, Look, I'm going to start my own company because that's how I can learn business. 


Vanessa: Sorry too, but sorry to butt in. But I'm just curious, did anybody around you start companies or start a business?


Johan: Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. Yes. I come from a family where my uncle built a Caribbean cruise line. My other uncle a great role on role of ships. Okay. Okay. Yeah. A lot of creative people. So. So definitely being an entrepreneur.  


Vanessa: Having that model somewhere. Yeah. Sorry for side-tracking.


Johan: I was reading up on Steve Jobs. I was, you know, so, you know, entrepreneurialism was a big part of what I saw myself becoming.


Vanessa: Yes. Okay. But then you entered this tech world and was that a sort of challenge to adjust to? Did you have to adjust or did you just decide, I will do this my way? I'm a different kind of entrepreneur. I'm model a different kind of masculinity?

(interview continues below)

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Johan: Well, in the beginning I wasn't so self-aware. So when I was doing this tech company also, keep in mind, when I chose to go for art, I was aware of my learning style and I felt art school was probably the educational system that wasn't affected by the Industrial Revolution. You were able to educate your for the right reasons. And I was very expressive. I knew that I'd taken these tests. I knew the visual communications stuff was very much for me. I knew that I wanted to change people. So that's also why I chose art school and I run my own business. While at art school I was running a tech, a little tech company doing work for other big businesses. So I was doing a parallel, but I didn't fit into art school because as the other kids said, you don't have holes in your clothes. You know, I wasn't there, there. And it was very female-oriented, you know, blood on a wall administration, you know, So there being a white male Christian from, you know, then you were actually the odd one out.

And it was a really interesting one. But what I realized going into the tech world afterwards was, yeah, it was very you know, it's extremely competitive, It's very male-dominated, it's very technical, you know, it's very much solutions oriented. And it didn't fit me. And this is where I got to, aware like, I work better with having a diverse team with women because I felt like I was being heard. So I actually started very early in my career in London to go to meetings like business, women in business, because I wanted to hire women. 


Vanessa: Interesting. Okay. Yeah. 


Johan: It was two males in one of those meetings. Well, most of it to makes me and a more an older guy. And I got a bit shocked because the women wasn't wondering how men could help them. And so when it was actually internal fighting. So I got a little bit like it wasn't really good. And I was trying to say like, I want women around me because it fits me the way I am, also because of the way my value system and so on. So from then on it's been a big thing for me quite selfishly as well. Yeah, and particularly through the Kahoot! career, it's been a problem, this masculinity, this way of being, what expectations you're talking about the toxicity because of lack of structure being the way we are and not necessarily having the limits of self-structure in terms of how you operate. Yeah, you get burnt out, you go all those things and you're very sensitive to other people's feedback and so on.

So being in an environment which so hard, you know, because you have such a mix, particularly on the VC side, they’re so hard, they expect so much of you, the pushing, pushing, pushing and if you can't restructure yourself to say no, you get pushed out. And they don't provide you with the structure and they don't have an empathetic model to pick you up.


Vanessa: So how do you thrive? How did you thrive then?


Johan: Well I thrived, and then I stopped thriving. One of the reasons I left Kahoot! was because I saw the problem in education that I was not being present. So I was a big one. I did not like the working structure. I did not like the way I was being treated, being a CEO, what I valued more and when to travel. You get picked on, you know, you basically you feel like you're shit.


Vanessa: Okay. 


Johan: So, so I also that was Kahoot! one because of that reason.


Vanessa: Okay. So that was part of why you walked away there. Okay. I'm wondering, is there, you know, you have some in the tech world at the same time you have these sort of figures who are very prominent and obvious, like, for example, Elon Musk, who are, you know, neurodivergent. But is there a larger conversation about neurodiversity in tech and especially neurodiverse talent and how to support and accommodate that kind of talent?


Johan: It is. And I'm proud to be part of like that generation of entrepreneurs bringing it to the agenda and pointing out at yourselves in a more constructive way. I felt in a bit, a little bit like the crazy ones. I mean, you know, Richard Branson being this lefty and open about it, was very important. But I've been sitting in meetings in London where they talk shit about them saying like, he shouldn't he should do well because of dyslexia. As is like he's just like stupid. Being a leader in a business yourself. I was like, I'm not gonna tell them. I'm not going to tell them before. I'm on a level where I can tell them.

Vanessa: Okay, so you haven't you haven't early in your career disclosed?


Johan: No, not at all. I didn't disclose being dyslexic before one of the well, the largest tabloid newspaper in Norway did it on the front page completely without my agreement. 


Vanessa: Without your agreement, og my god. 


Johan: Interviewed me for something else. And just for context, I talked about dyslexia and they put it on the front. And but then I was like, I'm going to own it and I'll talk about it. My superpower And I had to kind of flip it around because then all of a sudden people start judging it, right? And they're going like, it can’t be Johan who’s leading it because he's got dyslexia, and I talk you down. So then I was like, This is. 


Vanessa: So that's why you then disclose it. So before that it was just you felt that the cost of disclosing is too high in terms of how people. 


Johan: So yeah people around me knew it was normal in the business. And, and so it was like hidden, but it was wasn't something I was going out, you know, so people knew it. I don't think anyone on my board knew it.


Vanessa: Okay, interesting. Yeah. 


Johan: Yeah. So I just talked more about being creative. And I think that your question, I think the debate still is a bit within certain segments of the entrepreneurship. It's about the founders who talk about it, but it's still a parallel discussion. I am I will also say the more kind of because then the entrepreneur world isn't this one thing. It's a lot of segments of things, right? Even though it's a world full of parallel stuff. So I feel but it's getting more and more built. So investors start talking about, particularly entrepreneurs becoming investors. You have a more diverse investor base who is also themselves neurodiverse and getting more aware of it. I think just within creativity, it's more discussion about neurodiversity, even within other companies, because you're over indexing on it, people recognize it. So but unfortunately, it's not a wide debate. It's more a bubble debate.


Vanessa: Okay, interesting. And yeah, so in the tech world, you're saying it's kind of still sort of just being discussed in the more innovation, creativity-driven sectors, but not so much in the more standard areas like software development. 


Johan: And yeah, it's more of a panel discussion. The thing is that people are not maximizing and understanding the opportunity within and neurodiverse people, particularly in this through creativity. I would say that neurodivergent individuals are good at adapting, and they it that. They could do much better because there's such a high percentage of entrepreneurs, early employees, entrepreneur companies being neurodivergent now.


Vanessa: Exactly. And that brings me a little bit back to Norway and the way you emphasize in your public speaking, and also in how Norway or the Norwegian culture has influenced you. Norwegian culture informs a different way of doing business. And I wondered if you could talk a bit about what, in your opinion, sets Norwegian startups and ventures apart or can set them apart.


Johan: Yeah, I think what my business partner Jamie, my British, who we built up our careers out of the UK, who has invested into the Nordics predominantly, he feels the Nordics and probably Norway, the most, is that it's very value-driven, it's very conscious. And sometimes, on the negative side, maybe not being so growth-oriented and, you know, a lot of other stuff. That doesn't mean all business in Norway is like this. There are segments of Norway in Norwegian business that are extremely profitable, very hard-driven. But there is a part of the society, a very value-driven society, a very naive society. 


Vanessa: Naive because they are too optimistic or they're not realistic about the challenges? 


Johan: Naive in terms of meeting other people and their extreme lack, like they believe too much in the good in people, to believe that they don't want to get exploited and blue-eyed as we say. So, it's a bit of, in one way, Norwegians, if you go into all sectors, are impressive engineers and hard negotiators but, you know, that's a culture learned. But I think, in a more entrepreneurship way, people are a little bit naive about other people looking out for them.


Vanessa: Yes, yeah, maybe something that is actually a little bit the case in the Nordics in general. 


Johan: And also, remember that Norway is also an extremely monoculture. So that's also why I left early on. You know, it's weird to say, but like when I grew up, it was lawyers, economists, and engineers who ran companies. That creates an extremely monoculture. So being creative, you cannot have a leadership position you could in the UK. You know, I saw people I was growing because I could see what I am, the way I want to be. I can be a leader there; I can build businesses. In Norway, there were no creative companies. Yeah, you had advertising and so it was very different. 


Vanessa: Yeah, creative agencies, but not. Yeah, but also not. Yeah. People in. 


Johan: Norway still have a very kind of industrial economy, which means it's a problem for startups, it's a problem for creative companies, a problem to be creative and coming to large companies because it's extremely traditional industrial thinking.


Vanessa: Okay, but do you see value in the value-driven aspect of it though? Is it making a difference in your opinion? And if you sort of period rightly with the growth-oriented approach, then you would probably have a sort of competitive advantage in Norway.


Johan: Yeah, because the whole is put together that way and there is this triangle cooperation between the industry, the work association, and the government, which means quite well balance in. That's why we have such a good system. People want to pay taxes to a certain level. People are looked after, you know, you can drop out of work and be looked after and so on. So it's a there's a duality to that that makes people, and I think the industrial country always also have been value-driven as much as to other places. 


Vanessa: Yes, that's correct. In terms of awareness in Norway around neurodiversity, is there a conversation happening there in the workplaces? And are you very much part of that conversation?


Johan: Yeah, I feel like I've been a big driver of it, lifted out of where, you know, the where it was to the level where we challenged, you know, the military to where they don't let kids in because what if we give them a gun that could shoot someone with one of the main doctors in the military sets off to go? You know, some people she challenged them saying, God, what the hell's going on here? And also I've invested into special soldiers who have dyslexia. It's just not been, you know, something? I know I know people at the highest level in the , sorry not dyslexia, ADHD kids. I know people at a higher level who are neurodivergent that is not publicly known and people who diagnose saying, do you want to go to the military? I'm not going to diagnose you. Then you have to just fight school. If you don't want to go to the military, I can diagnose you because you won't get in. So that has changed. 

Well, not everyone should go in but has changed the way it is. But the debate has changed to the level where I'm obsessed about the language. In my opinion, that's the same with Kahoot! what we did. Language is one of the core things how we program society, the way we talk about stuff. So moving away from diagnosis in a normal language, talking about people having ADHD, you know, you are dyslexic, right? You are kind of nature person. You are an Autist. It's part of who you are. You know, it's not something that you can get sick because of it, because it's too prominent. You can get sick because you don't fit in. 

So it's also understanding the difference, being being functionally stopped by it, or that is actually the system that makes you sick as a consequence. So I've been part of that debate, and it's been so it's been a lot of newspapers about it and what happens, those with a different view then those are more public about it. And that's good because then you start seeing a dissonance. You can start actually talking against and making it more aware. So there are is, and that's been so obvious because up until recently when I talked about my neurodivergence, I never said it. I just talked about my behaviors. I got into it in profile interviews and I talked about six extremes of thinking in my head. I don't know the alphabet yet. I'm writing, you know, super well all those things. So people who diagnosed it, they're like, okay, obviously asset. Then in the business life, people say, Why do you want to portray yourself like an idiot? And I'm like, that doesn’t make me an idiot. 


Vanessa: It really I'm really surprised that the language is that they do see a difference between the US and Europe because I feel like Europe is kind of lagging the the US and UK in language. I cannot really imagine that kind of language being okay in that sort of corporate context anywhere. So I'm assuming that's sort of very Europe-focused.


Johan: Yeah, it definitely is. And a lot of the articles up in the air are translated, articles from the US and UK, then published in the newspapers here. So that's been lost. There was a big neurodivergent kind of neurodiverse year was a lot of articles. I was doing interviews in the in the main newspapers like the BBC of Norway and RK and also the business paper, particularly the business papers were doing the counterview obviously. So it's interesting. And then the debate now I feel like it's been more cemented a little bit, but still it's a long way to go.


Vanessa: Okay, so you're working also on policy. 


Johan: Like working I trying to through my voice to help. How people change, how they look, how they look at it. Because the way the politicians are programming school is not good for neurodiverse people.


Vanessa: What about your own companies? You stepped away from Kahoot! You have now We Are Human that you've been running for several years. That's also investing in startups. Do you have policies there in place? How do you approach neurodiversity in your own companies?


Johan: Yeah, it's kind of important to say that We Are Human was created to create companies like Kahoot! So we created it before Kahoot! We wanted We Are Human to be a vehicle to be able to develop what became Kahoot! because we worked in tech and advertising communication place in the UK. And I was particularly inspired by the BBC doing massive games for them. But our job was to fight computer illiteracy. You know, the reason for doing the game was entertainment. But through the game we're going to fight computer illiteracy and really help people.

So when we created We Are Human, we took a leaf from Jan Gehl the famous architect, who designed Copenhagen and so on. So when he talks about designing for persons between the buildings, We Are Human is there to design for the person between technology and institution and society. So that's the thought was a policy of We Are Human, we are working with the Royal College of Art and the Norwegian Design Council, who have developed inclusive design. And so we start working with them and we really developed into these tools and understanding of inclusive design that guided us on the Kahoot! journey.

And then afterward, we decided that, you know, of course for the profit that we made with Kahoot!. It's one of the reasons to leave early was we wanted to start doing more, apply our knowledge. So this was the point. We want to invest in the parts of society that I kind of always said is in our outcasts, find the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, obviously statistically coming from there, but it wasn't obvious to a lot of people.

So as investors, it was one of our entrepreneurs. In the beginning we're going to have to accept a higher failure rate of our money. So it's almost like we commit to the money through founders pledge knowing that that money is going to get lost, but it's going to build a more fertile ground on the top. And that's the same as we didn't build Kahoot! to get rich. We built Kahoot! to change the system. 


Vanessa: Some of those Norwegian values right there.


Johan: Yeah. And I said to people, like people talking about, you're going to save your money for pensions, like, well, for me, Kahoot! is my pension because you can be a gazillionaire, but it's still not going to be enough money to help you out with your diseases and to change the system.

You need this. You need a government society to look after you. So it's much better to empower society than just accumulating wealth for yourself. So it's more of an systemic thinking, and a lot of people talk about this. So what we do and We Are Human, the policies is that we are eco-systemic investors and we judge ourselves on return on learning.

So we invest where we learn and we share the learning. We have a return on investment, and then we analyze our ecosystemic approach. So now we work with investors in developing alignment tools, processes so that people can be aligned. So if your values are these right to change, you know, the on-impact on the SDG’s. So we're talking about, you know, getting people innovative, diverse. You need these alignment tools and systems. So the way we choose and what we choose to work on, invest into, and develop ourselves, the companies, the funds come from this policy of looking at the outsiders, drawing the best. Yeah, getting kids to be excited about school, seeing social value. Yeah.


Vanessa: And so just to close up, maybe just a question about EntrepreneurShipOne which is your latest venture, I believe, and I know you just talked about how you are trying to change the conversation around neurodiversity, what other social impact are you looking for through EntrepreneurShipOne? Or what is it about?


Johan: Yeah, so when we started We Are Human, we picked education, health as two places we felt like we could do the best impact. Just we were. Kahoot! Being education and sponsorship was the thing I started leaving Kahoot!. So the reason I started, you know, the main business reason was that the ocean wasn't part of the conversation in schools. It was kind of on the Paris Agreement. It was not there before.

And so I looked at Jacques Cousteau, the guy who inspired the whole modern environmental awareness, who created the video conference, who created the diving mask, you know, all this stuff. And it was really by Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic. It was a homage to him. I was like, What if I create a company that's a homage to Life Aquatic or similar to Jacques Cousteau?

And it's kind of like the business plan is a movie unfolding in real life and with characters going back to how do you engage the broader society? How do you engage people who are falling out? How do you take people to do things that I had never done before? So it's a diverse and new way of creating a company to engage everyone. And my philosophy was, if I can get entrepreneurs, politicians, and other people to meet on boats in the ocean, maybe some of them will fall in love with the ocean and do work. Maybe some of them will be more aware, or maybe some of them will just fall in love with the idea of entrepreneurship and biodiversity and why we're doing what we're doing right.

So I was then using my repertoire and particularly we focused on collaborations with institutions who work with kids who are falling out of the school system. And then so we're working with Chris Anodic, which is a large, tall ship in Norway, who has a program called Wind Jammers, which is for kids on the way to falling out of the system. So we bought an island, we have boats, and we kind of we're doing all this work with them, but also them with businesses.


Vanessa: So it's like floating learning, basically. 


Johan: Yeah, we're getting them to the island and getting them to jump into the water. I've got executives in one of Norway's largest companies to jump into the water and figure out who can eat the seaweed straight out of his hand, right. To be around kids who are falling out to show the kids that what's shortened, how short it is to have a network, because that's what I got, right? I inherited a network. I inherited exposure to. It's possible. Most kids don't do that, right? They don't. They think it's for someone else. 


Vanessa: I wish you all the best with EntrepreneurShipOne and all your other ventures. And thank you so much for joining us today here at Tiimo. We appreciate your time, Johan. 

Thank you for joining. And stay tuned for more interviews in this series. If you have a suggestion for a guest, we should be speaking to DM us, we’re @TiimoApp or send us an email at hello@tiimo.dk. You can follow Johan's work at WeAreHuman.cc or follow him on LinkedIn. Thank you for today and see you next time.

February 8, 2024

Johan Brand | On inclusive tech and redefining masculinity in entrepreneurship

In this episode, we talk to the co-founder of Kahoot! and We Are Human Johan Brand (he/him) about inclusive tech and what it's like to redefine masculinity as a neurodivergent leader. Tune in to learn about how Johan's experiences as a dyslexic ADHD'er have shaped his career and his advocacy work.

Team Tiimo

If you’d like to listen to or watch our interview with Johan, the episode is available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

Summary

  • Johan Brand's Journey: Discusses his experiences growing up with dyslexia and ADHD in Norway, highlighting the challenges he faced in traditional education systems and how he navigated these with creative learning strategies.
  • Advocacy for Neurodiversity: Shares insights into his advocacy for neurodiversity, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles and needs in both educational and professional settings.
  • Creation of Kahoot!: Explores the founding of Kahoot!, a global learning platform designed to accommodate and celebrate neurodiverse learners, inspired by Johan's own experiences and challenges with traditional education.
  • Challenges in the Tech Industry: Johan discusses his navigation through the tech industry as a neurodivergent entrepreneur, including the pressures and expectations that come with it, and how he advocates for a more inclusive and understanding approach.
  • Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Highlights the conversation around neurodiversity in tech and entrepreneurship, including the importance of supportive environments that recognize the unique contributions of neurodivergent folks.
  • Future Endeavors and Social Impact: Details Johan's ongoing projects, such as EntrepreneurShipOne, aimed at addressing environmental issues and promoting social change, while also supporting neurodivergent individuals outside the traditional education system.

Vanessa: Hi and welcome to Brainstorm Changemakers by Tiimo. In this series, we're talking to activists, experts, and movers who are shaking things up in the neurodivergent space. My name is Vanessa, and I'm the Head of Brand Communications at Tiimo. Tiimo is a Denmark-based startup that is on a mission to transform planning and time management for neurodivergent people worldwide. Today, we're talking to Johan Brand.

Johan is a tech entrepreneur, investor, and advocate for neurodiversity. He's the co-founder of We Are Human and Kahoot!, one of the world's fastest-growing learning brands with millions of users. Johan, it's great to have you on Changemaker. Thank you for making the time. I just wanted to ask you, I know you're traveling a lot. You're all over the world. Where are you joining us from today? 


Johan: Actually at home. 


Vanessa: At home in Oslo, right? Norway. 


Johan: In Oslo. I was almost going to join you from my boat, which I also use as an office. But ended up being from home. 


Vanessa: Okay, wonderful. So today, we'll touch a bit on your journey as an entrepreneur with dyslexia and ADHD and how you took this unique profile to forge a career in tech. But I want to take a bit of a step back and put your current success in context. So, take us a little bit back to how it all started. You grew up in Oslo, Norway, and you struggled with schooling largely because academia is based on writing, and you have a more conceptual way of learning that didn't fit into these parameters. Do you want to tell us a little bit about it and what impact it had on you?


Johan: Yeah, I guess I'm lucky because my profile is in a way that means I have the ability to find my own way of learning and being self-aware from outside. So I think that's one thing that's helping me. Looking back, the choice I made, for me, was two things. I was a very small person and I was so small of growth, but I was growing up, so I was probably the smallest guy coming into school. 

And then when you're in Norway, you know, the average person is quite tall here. So that also affected me in terms of my personality. So I was quite timid. I didn't want to be seen. I avoided being on stage. I didn't want to play instruments, didn't want to sing or dance. So in many ways, being a kinesthetic learner, being very much like this also affected me in my personality, but also was slow learning languages. And in Norway, you're early on learning English, which is also important because my father is half English and the family, so early on, the way my makeup is was a bit of a challenge. You're not that self-aware in first grade, but nobody was like pointing out early on that I'm slow or anything. But as to the early days, I was coming home and people thought I was a bit lazy and concentrated because of writing going slow. They put me on writing courses to write more pretty because they thought it was about writing pretty. 


Vanessa: And you were very restless then?


Johan: Yes, I was restless. I had the most amazing teacher who saw me. I didn't have a problem learning. She saw that I had no problem learning in the context and so on. The issue for them was that I wasn't sitting still. You know, I was being distracted. So she gave me the ability to go and pick up the milk for the lunch and take an extra round around the building is always use an example now.


Vanessa: And at the time, I guess a sort of dyslexia or ADHD were not sort of in the conversation, right? People were not really aware that much.


Johan: No, because the way it affected me it's not the same word for my sister, which is different because I wasn't struggling with reading, so I wasn't struggling with input, you know, verbal input, reading. It was absolutely no problem. Expressing myself was no problem picking up new skills was no problem. So I was more seen as someone who gave up quickly, someone who was unconcentrated, you know. Yeah, bit rough aroundthe edges. Yeah. Yeah. But it did drive me through a lot of frustration. I was frustrated. I didn't fit into a scheduling. I didn't fit into what's expected of you sitting, doing homework repetition because I knew straight away was very aware I'd have to repeat something when you already had it. That puts it in this habit. So that became a problem. So I got very kind of, yeah, like this. So I actually chose myself when I was in the last year of like when you were sixth grade to go abroad to a boarding school in England for half a semester. And there I was completely obnoxious. I really didn't work into the British, very strict systems. And then I got actually quite a lot of trouble.


Vanessa: Okay, But but it did help you make a difference for you personally.


Johan: I learned the language because you learned by doing. I got challenged. I really grew. I was being able to be myself and I came back to seventh grade like, what is it called, middle school. 


Vanessa: Yeah. 


Johan: Being more confident, more independent, more knowing myself.


Vanessa: I wanted to say that. I was struck by some interviews I saw with you about how you were able to advocate for yourself and for your needs at an early age, like before even having a diagnosis or anything like this decision to say, I'm going to England, or then later you were studying economics and you just decide, and this is not for me. You quit and you start art school, which again, it's a radical change of direction as wondering what where do did you take the confidence or the awareness to make these decisions? I mean, did you have any role models at the time or is it family impact? You mentioned your sister or is it something, you know, some internal drive that just that you just had?


Johan: It's a combination. I mean, I was I was made aware early on because my sister before me went away for a whole year. And it was like in my family. And this boarding school is the opposite of fancy. It was a bit like "Boy" by Roald Dahl. It was a really rough and tough school. Okay, so people don't know. But yeah, it's a boarding school. 


Vanessa: It's not Harry Potter style.


Johan: I was exposed to it through my sister; it was in my family. It was a bit like, if you want to go, you do it. I probably decided quite early, so I just made a choice. I saw... I don't know. You know, I later on realized I have this metacognitive ability to see myself from outside and learn how I learn. So it was at that point, I just... What is this? It's a conscious decision without really understanding why. Okay, I did the same going to high school. I refused to start high school where my friends were going. I only had one high school. It was a creative high school where they had ballet. You know, even though I wanted to do physics and stuff, I wanted to go to a school where it was creative; it was very different. So, was that school or not going to high school was also quite radical in Norway, where it's expected to go all the way through.

And after one year, I decided to go and be an AFS exchange student again. I knew it was possible to be here, but I chose and said straight away, I was like, I'm done with this. I want to go away.


Vanessa: But you always had the support of your family then? 


Johan: Yeah, so my family always supported me. Right. That's the benefit of being from an affluent side of the family, but also actually being so good in America that I graduated there could go into college, but I chose to come back to do two more years in high school in Norway and actually graduate after my peers was also very conscious knowing that I needed more schooling. I wanted... I wasn't... the American school system wasn't good enough. The bar was too low. So being extremely self-aware is probably what I'm very proud of, that I'm able to kind of know where the bar is and where I can get more knowledge.


Vanessa: That's amazing. How did actually then learning that you have dyslexia and then later that you have ADHD, how did that affect you, or did it change anything, or was it just confirming sort of what you already realized that you just you learn differently, you need a different learning system?


Johan: So this was in high school. I had a teacher. She used to teach police students. She really favored creative people. She was quite hard on my girlfriend, who was very analytical. So I was also like, she was a great teacher, but only for people like me. And she sat me down for this diagnosis and said, "There is something I need to figure out about you because you write extremely good short texts and are very intelligent and kind of above, way above your level. But you're of course, you're very unstructured. And, you know, there's a lot of stuff going on in the writing, but particularly your reading out is very weird because you read the right content, but it's not the way it's in the book." So that's why I got to this diagnosis and they figured it out and it made sense, but it was too a thing that told me, "You have learning difficulties and brain damage." 


Vanessa: That's what they told you.


Johan: Yeah. It’s like I don’t have learning difficulties because dyslexia is learning difficulties. 


Vanessa: Brain damage? Okay, I'm sure they don't say that anymore. 


Johan: It's really weird to tell someone something like this. And yes, it affects me because, when someone tells you—I mean, it's true. I have a disconnect between the verbal and the written sense to my brain. So if you tell me something verbally I haven't seen, I can't write it. And when I'm reading, I can't straightaway translate it. I have to go through a little bit of a connection in my brain. But what it made me was a bit like, sorry, the word, the system. This, don't tell me these things because I didn't recognize myself in that in that box.


Vanessa: Yeah. But, at the same time, they told you this, but at the same time, this was the teacher who really backed you up and who…


Johan: So yeah. So she sent with this thing, and I came back, and she's like, "Look, I want to give you the top grades, but your spelling doesn't allow me to do it, but I can do it on certain basis, you know?"


Vanessa: Yeah. 


Johan: And I had a German teacher who made a deal with me saying, "Look, yeah, you don't have to do homework. You don't have to come up for the tests. This is the grade. I think you'll be able to achieve, and you have it as long as you just keep on doing your stuff." 


Vanessa: I'm hearing this. I'm just wondering if this is also something like this flexibility on the teacher's side. If this is something particular to Norway, I can imagine that would not have happened in some other cultures. And we're going to talk a bit more about Norway and the culture later. But is that your impression?


Johan: Yeah, I mean, has changed now. But it was not that long. It was a reform in 1994, so which was a couple of years before I went into high school that said the students have responsibility for their own learning. They empower you as a student. It means that back then I could hack the system. I could actually—I mean, I did also illegal things like eradicating my was, you know, when I was in school. 


Vanessa: Your your attendance. 


Johan: Yeah my attendance, which you can't do anymore. But the teachers a bit like, well, your grades are good, so why am I going to fail you just because you don't come to school? Because you don't fit into the system. The same happened when I came back. Now it's become so much more strict, and you actually drop out if you have more than 10%. And so my drive at the moment is to get the politicians to understand the more rigor they're putting in, the worse it is for those who need to be able to tailor schooling for themselves.


Vanessa: And who don't fit into that system. 


Johan: And there's a difference between those who drop out because of attendance not going. It was more social issues versus those who learn differently and it can't actually turn on that one and they can't really see the difference. So it was different then than now.


Vanessa: Okay, but that was good for you because you did get something


Johan: Extremely good, otherwise I would’ve dropped out. 


Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So when I go on to talk a bit about Kahoot! and, you know, this educational platform that is really reshaping the way millions of people are learning worldwide and you are the co-founder, you've stepped away a little bit now, but I'm thinking about all of you, what you've just said and your own challenges with learning and a very sort of an educational system that I think you called it binary at some point as well. How did all of those struggles and all of the learnings that you took away from your own experience, how did that feed into the concept of Kahoot!?



Johan: Everyone who's been part of founding or shaping has given it color, which means it's such a diverse group of learners, and actually fits into the school system, even though it breaks every single rule.

Yeah, for me, being kind of the driver of the vision in a lot of things was because of exactly I was neurodiverse. Kahoot! is made for neurodiversity. It's got an inclusive design strategy, which means it's designed for the outcasts to be the best for everyone because we know the outcasts' challenges are something that everyone, to some degree, has, and it will improve for everyone. Particularly because we have a global issue with attendance that has nothing to do with neurodiversity but has to do with not finding school interesting.

So, it fed in massively. And also, because I've been going to school in the Nordic school system, British school system, and American school systems, I knew what was needed in the different ones. I could see the comparison and what I thought was best and worst. So, in America, I came, you know, when I got F's in English and I was struggling in the beginning, and then I ended up being one of the best students in English, even though I have dyslexia, and it’s not even my nativate language because it's easy to hack with notes and the way the system, multiple choice, was.

So, I had an immensely good average. I was above my peers. So, and I was like, okay, why can you hack the system in the US and also look at my peers, why they're falling behind, and also the adoption of technology, freedom of the teachers, but also how schooling is based on work. So, for me, it was a way of understanding the global education system and also, by the way, the British one is very much adapted in Turkey, you know, in Asia.


Vanessa: And so I know, yeah, yeah. My daughter went to school in Spain and it was a Cambridge curriculum. So, it's all over the world. Yes.



Johan: So for me, it was feeding in and, luckily, being exposed to all of this and being able to understand also this strategy. And also, Jamie was part of the inclusive design strategy that makes it very flexible and it designs for an extremely broad audience.

And then the other thing we learned about same happened to me when the guy or the girl in the back of the classroom comes in front for the right reason. It's inspiring for everyone. It's inspiring when the troublemaker attends or shows they're doing well, or the kid with dyslexia or the kid with Autism comes and shows what they can do, and everyone is included. Because often what happened is you have those who attend and engage and the disengaged, and when the disengaged engages, it pulls everyone along and it's very inspiring.

And the big part of Kahoot!, which we realize I saw myself, was being seen. Why did I do well in school? The teachers saw me. It was eye contact, right? So Kahoot! is very much about looking up, getting eye contact with your peers and with the teacher. 


Vanessa: Yes. And Kahoot! is giving that visibility. 


Johan: And being able to kinesthetic, to be audiovisual, right. To be able to deliver it on the phone, to be able to do all those things. Attention ones that you know was there.


Vanessa: I wonder when you were fundraising for Kahoot! or raising funds or speaking to investors, partners, was there a lot of resistance to the idea, or was there already this moment where people were like, "Yes, this is what we need?" Or was it like, "This is not going to work. It comes from gaming. We're not, you know, it's not serious." What was the reaction?


Johan: My, everything. I was so surprised that the serious player organization was completely saying it's not a game, you know. And then on the other side people saying it's too much of a game. It's game-based. So it's based on the work from was his name is Richard Brown wrote a book called "Play" where I spend a lot of time when I worked on play personalities, where I disagreed with the idea that we have eight play personalities, fixed in. So my research showed that you change in and out of them depending on context. So that's a big part of Kahoot! to show that you can do different things. You can be a creator, you can be a player, you can be many things which a lot of other game-based programs, particularly games outside of education, recognized.

And then the first and then you mentioned Cambridge is kind of funny because I pitched the idea or I was asked by and Silicon Valley was coming to UK. We went to Cambridge. I was asked during this massive dinner to stand on a chair and talk about it. 


Vanessa: So if just for context, how old were you then? 


Johan: This was when I was working, so I was probably about 20-. So I was about 29. Okay. So this is, you know, in my career or 30, something like that. But still, it's quite intimidating to stand on a chair in front of all these scholars, really famous entrepreneurs, and say, "I'm doing this thing," and I was shot down. Right. But then entrepreneurs who were there exactly, you know, they inherently saw that. No, no, I think this can work. Blah, blah, blah. And it was really kind of cool to first step up and the professors shoot you down and as are being shot down, then they hear the arguments and start going, "Hang on, hang on, hang on." So that was kind of cool.

But when teachers and students start saying, "This is profound for us." They saw the behavior changes. Kids were allowed to stand on chairs, you know, all those things. Then. So you've got both. And for long still, people talk negatively about Kahoot! or they talk about the very basic level of it, not understanding the pedagogical models. So it's always going to be like this, "Mobile in the classroom? Horrible, right? You think?


Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, yeah." No, no, no. Technology. Technology is bad. Yeah, but okay, so it took off. It became this huge success. I wanted to talk a little bit about your career in tech as a neurodivergent person and entrepreneur. I mean, it's not exactly known for being a hotbed for self-care, and entrepreneurship is also frequently associated with these norms of what they call toxic masculinity. You know, winning at all costs, stoicism, not admitting you're wrong, you know, relentless work. I'm wondering how did you navigate this environment? I mean, also coming you were in art school, right? You were there for a reason. How did you navigate this environment? And do you feel a responsibility to model a different kind of masculinity, entrepreneurship?


Johan: You know, definitely. So it was easier for me to make the choices I made because you're male and it's, you know, even though there was a lot of expectations and I couldn't really define after my high school, I want to do so my mom said, look. And my dad said, look, you know, you financial studies, economic studies, there's always something you'll need, so do it. This is I could really argue if anything else, you can expect this. I went to university. I lasted one semester. I ended up crashing into bed, staying there for two weeks. But I also said to my dad, Look, I'm going to start my own company because that's how I can learn business. 


Vanessa: Sorry too, but sorry to butt in. But I'm just curious, did anybody around you start companies or start a business?


Johan: Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. Yes. I come from a family where my uncle built a Caribbean cruise line. My other uncle a great role on role of ships. Okay. Okay. Yeah. A lot of creative people. So. So definitely being an entrepreneur.  


Vanessa: Having that model somewhere. Yeah. Sorry for side-tracking.


Johan: I was reading up on Steve Jobs. I was, you know, so, you know, entrepreneurialism was a big part of what I saw myself becoming.


Vanessa: Yes. Okay. But then you entered this tech world and was that a sort of challenge to adjust to? Did you have to adjust or did you just decide, I will do this my way? I'm a different kind of entrepreneur. I'm model a different kind of masculinity?

(interview continues below)

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Johan: Well, in the beginning I wasn't so self-aware. So when I was doing this tech company also, keep in mind, when I chose to go for art, I was aware of my learning style and I felt art school was probably the educational system that wasn't affected by the Industrial Revolution. You were able to educate your for the right reasons. And I was very expressive. I knew that I'd taken these tests. I knew the visual communications stuff was very much for me. I knew that I wanted to change people. So that's also why I chose art school and I run my own business. While at art school I was running a tech, a little tech company doing work for other big businesses. So I was doing a parallel, but I didn't fit into art school because as the other kids said, you don't have holes in your clothes. You know, I wasn't there, there. And it was very female-oriented, you know, blood on a wall administration, you know, So there being a white male Christian from, you know, then you were actually the odd one out.

And it was a really interesting one. But what I realized going into the tech world afterwards was, yeah, it was very you know, it's extremely competitive, It's very male-dominated, it's very technical, you know, it's very much solutions oriented. And it didn't fit me. And this is where I got to, aware like, I work better with having a diverse team with women because I felt like I was being heard. So I actually started very early in my career in London to go to meetings like business, women in business, because I wanted to hire women. 


Vanessa: Interesting. Okay. Yeah. 


Johan: It was two males in one of those meetings. Well, most of it to makes me and a more an older guy. And I got a bit shocked because the women wasn't wondering how men could help them. And so when it was actually internal fighting. So I got a little bit like it wasn't really good. And I was trying to say like, I want women around me because it fits me the way I am, also because of the way my value system and so on. So from then on it's been a big thing for me quite selfishly as well. Yeah, and particularly through the Kahoot! career, it's been a problem, this masculinity, this way of being, what expectations you're talking about the toxicity because of lack of structure being the way we are and not necessarily having the limits of self-structure in terms of how you operate. Yeah, you get burnt out, you go all those things and you're very sensitive to other people's feedback and so on.

So being in an environment which so hard, you know, because you have such a mix, particularly on the VC side, they’re so hard, they expect so much of you, the pushing, pushing, pushing and if you can't restructure yourself to say no, you get pushed out. And they don't provide you with the structure and they don't have an empathetic model to pick you up.


Vanessa: So how do you thrive? How did you thrive then?


Johan: Well I thrived, and then I stopped thriving. One of the reasons I left Kahoot! was because I saw the problem in education that I was not being present. So I was a big one. I did not like the working structure. I did not like the way I was being treated, being a CEO, what I valued more and when to travel. You get picked on, you know, you basically you feel like you're shit.


Vanessa: Okay. 


Johan: So, so I also that was Kahoot! one because of that reason.


Vanessa: Okay. So that was part of why you walked away there. Okay. I'm wondering, is there, you know, you have some in the tech world at the same time you have these sort of figures who are very prominent and obvious, like, for example, Elon Musk, who are, you know, neurodivergent. But is there a larger conversation about neurodiversity in tech and especially neurodiverse talent and how to support and accommodate that kind of talent?


Johan: It is. And I'm proud to be part of like that generation of entrepreneurs bringing it to the agenda and pointing out at yourselves in a more constructive way. I felt in a bit, a little bit like the crazy ones. I mean, you know, Richard Branson being this lefty and open about it, was very important. But I've been sitting in meetings in London where they talk shit about them saying like, he shouldn't he should do well because of dyslexia. As is like he's just like stupid. Being a leader in a business yourself. I was like, I'm not gonna tell them. I'm not going to tell them before. I'm on a level where I can tell them.

Vanessa: Okay, so you haven't you haven't early in your career disclosed?


Johan: No, not at all. I didn't disclose being dyslexic before one of the well, the largest tabloid newspaper in Norway did it on the front page completely without my agreement. 


Vanessa: Without your agreement, og my god. 


Johan: Interviewed me for something else. And just for context, I talked about dyslexia and they put it on the front. And but then I was like, I'm going to own it and I'll talk about it. My superpower And I had to kind of flip it around because then all of a sudden people start judging it, right? And they're going like, it can’t be Johan who’s leading it because he's got dyslexia, and I talk you down. So then I was like, This is. 


Vanessa: So that's why you then disclose it. So before that it was just you felt that the cost of disclosing is too high in terms of how people. 


Johan: So yeah people around me knew it was normal in the business. And, and so it was like hidden, but it was wasn't something I was going out, you know, so people knew it. I don't think anyone on my board knew it.


Vanessa: Okay, interesting. Yeah. 


Johan: Yeah. So I just talked more about being creative. And I think that your question, I think the debate still is a bit within certain segments of the entrepreneurship. It's about the founders who talk about it, but it's still a parallel discussion. I am I will also say the more kind of because then the entrepreneur world isn't this one thing. It's a lot of segments of things, right? Even though it's a world full of parallel stuff. So I feel but it's getting more and more built. So investors start talking about, particularly entrepreneurs becoming investors. You have a more diverse investor base who is also themselves neurodiverse and getting more aware of it. I think just within creativity, it's more discussion about neurodiversity, even within other companies, because you're over indexing on it, people recognize it. So but unfortunately, it's not a wide debate. It's more a bubble debate.


Vanessa: Okay, interesting. And yeah, so in the tech world, you're saying it's kind of still sort of just being discussed in the more innovation, creativity-driven sectors, but not so much in the more standard areas like software development. 


Johan: And yeah, it's more of a panel discussion. The thing is that people are not maximizing and understanding the opportunity within and neurodiverse people, particularly in this through creativity. I would say that neurodivergent individuals are good at adapting, and they it that. They could do much better because there's such a high percentage of entrepreneurs, early employees, entrepreneur companies being neurodivergent now.


Vanessa: Exactly. And that brings me a little bit back to Norway and the way you emphasize in your public speaking, and also in how Norway or the Norwegian culture has influenced you. Norwegian culture informs a different way of doing business. And I wondered if you could talk a bit about what, in your opinion, sets Norwegian startups and ventures apart or can set them apart.


Johan: Yeah, I think what my business partner Jamie, my British, who we built up our careers out of the UK, who has invested into the Nordics predominantly, he feels the Nordics and probably Norway, the most, is that it's very value-driven, it's very conscious. And sometimes, on the negative side, maybe not being so growth-oriented and, you know, a lot of other stuff. That doesn't mean all business in Norway is like this. There are segments of Norway in Norwegian business that are extremely profitable, very hard-driven. But there is a part of the society, a very value-driven society, a very naive society. 


Vanessa: Naive because they are too optimistic or they're not realistic about the challenges? 


Johan: Naive in terms of meeting other people and their extreme lack, like they believe too much in the good in people, to believe that they don't want to get exploited and blue-eyed as we say. So, it's a bit of, in one way, Norwegians, if you go into all sectors, are impressive engineers and hard negotiators but, you know, that's a culture learned. But I think, in a more entrepreneurship way, people are a little bit naive about other people looking out for them.


Vanessa: Yes, yeah, maybe something that is actually a little bit the case in the Nordics in general. 


Johan: And also, remember that Norway is also an extremely monoculture. So that's also why I left early on. You know, it's weird to say, but like when I grew up, it was lawyers, economists, and engineers who ran companies. That creates an extremely monoculture. So being creative, you cannot have a leadership position you could in the UK. You know, I saw people I was growing because I could see what I am, the way I want to be. I can be a leader there; I can build businesses. In Norway, there were no creative companies. Yeah, you had advertising and so it was very different. 


Vanessa: Yeah, creative agencies, but not. Yeah, but also not. Yeah. People in. 


Johan: Norway still have a very kind of industrial economy, which means it's a problem for startups, it's a problem for creative companies, a problem to be creative and coming to large companies because it's extremely traditional industrial thinking.


Vanessa: Okay, but do you see value in the value-driven aspect of it though? Is it making a difference in your opinion? And if you sort of period rightly with the growth-oriented approach, then you would probably have a sort of competitive advantage in Norway.


Johan: Yeah, because the whole is put together that way and there is this triangle cooperation between the industry, the work association, and the government, which means quite well balance in. That's why we have such a good system. People want to pay taxes to a certain level. People are looked after, you know, you can drop out of work and be looked after and so on. So it's a there's a duality to that that makes people, and I think the industrial country always also have been value-driven as much as to other places. 


Vanessa: Yes, that's correct. In terms of awareness in Norway around neurodiversity, is there a conversation happening there in the workplaces? And are you very much part of that conversation?


Johan: Yeah, I feel like I've been a big driver of it, lifted out of where, you know, the where it was to the level where we challenged, you know, the military to where they don't let kids in because what if we give them a gun that could shoot someone with one of the main doctors in the military sets off to go? You know, some people she challenged them saying, God, what the hell's going on here? And also I've invested into special soldiers who have dyslexia. It's just not been, you know, something? I know I know people at the highest level in the , sorry not dyslexia, ADHD kids. I know people at a higher level who are neurodivergent that is not publicly known and people who diagnose saying, do you want to go to the military? I'm not going to diagnose you. Then you have to just fight school. If you don't want to go to the military, I can diagnose you because you won't get in. So that has changed. 

Well, not everyone should go in but has changed the way it is. But the debate has changed to the level where I'm obsessed about the language. In my opinion, that's the same with Kahoot! what we did. Language is one of the core things how we program society, the way we talk about stuff. So moving away from diagnosis in a normal language, talking about people having ADHD, you know, you are dyslexic, right? You are kind of nature person. You are an Autist. It's part of who you are. You know, it's not something that you can get sick because of it, because it's too prominent. You can get sick because you don't fit in. 

So it's also understanding the difference, being being functionally stopped by it, or that is actually the system that makes you sick as a consequence. So I've been part of that debate, and it's been so it's been a lot of newspapers about it and what happens, those with a different view then those are more public about it. And that's good because then you start seeing a dissonance. You can start actually talking against and making it more aware. So there are is, and that's been so obvious because up until recently when I talked about my neurodivergence, I never said it. I just talked about my behaviors. I got into it in profile interviews and I talked about six extremes of thinking in my head. I don't know the alphabet yet. I'm writing, you know, super well all those things. So people who diagnosed it, they're like, okay, obviously asset. Then in the business life, people say, Why do you want to portray yourself like an idiot? And I'm like, that doesn’t make me an idiot. 


Vanessa: It really I'm really surprised that the language is that they do see a difference between the US and Europe because I feel like Europe is kind of lagging the the US and UK in language. I cannot really imagine that kind of language being okay in that sort of corporate context anywhere. So I'm assuming that's sort of very Europe-focused.


Johan: Yeah, it definitely is. And a lot of the articles up in the air are translated, articles from the US and UK, then published in the newspapers here. So that's been lost. There was a big neurodivergent kind of neurodiverse year was a lot of articles. I was doing interviews in the in the main newspapers like the BBC of Norway and RK and also the business paper, particularly the business papers were doing the counterview obviously. So it's interesting. And then the debate now I feel like it's been more cemented a little bit, but still it's a long way to go.


Vanessa: Okay, so you're working also on policy. 


Johan: Like working I trying to through my voice to help. How people change, how they look, how they look at it. Because the way the politicians are programming school is not good for neurodiverse people.


Vanessa: What about your own companies? You stepped away from Kahoot! You have now We Are Human that you've been running for several years. That's also investing in startups. Do you have policies there in place? How do you approach neurodiversity in your own companies?


Johan: Yeah, it's kind of important to say that We Are Human was created to create companies like Kahoot! So we created it before Kahoot! We wanted We Are Human to be a vehicle to be able to develop what became Kahoot! because we worked in tech and advertising communication place in the UK. And I was particularly inspired by the BBC doing massive games for them. But our job was to fight computer illiteracy. You know, the reason for doing the game was entertainment. But through the game we're going to fight computer illiteracy and really help people.

So when we created We Are Human, we took a leaf from Jan Gehl the famous architect, who designed Copenhagen and so on. So when he talks about designing for persons between the buildings, We Are Human is there to design for the person between technology and institution and society. So that's the thought was a policy of We Are Human, we are working with the Royal College of Art and the Norwegian Design Council, who have developed inclusive design. And so we start working with them and we really developed into these tools and understanding of inclusive design that guided us on the Kahoot! journey.

And then afterward, we decided that, you know, of course for the profit that we made with Kahoot!. It's one of the reasons to leave early was we wanted to start doing more, apply our knowledge. So this was the point. We want to invest in the parts of society that I kind of always said is in our outcasts, find the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, obviously statistically coming from there, but it wasn't obvious to a lot of people.

So as investors, it was one of our entrepreneurs. In the beginning we're going to have to accept a higher failure rate of our money. So it's almost like we commit to the money through founders pledge knowing that that money is going to get lost, but it's going to build a more fertile ground on the top. And that's the same as we didn't build Kahoot! to get rich. We built Kahoot! to change the system. 


Vanessa: Some of those Norwegian values right there.


Johan: Yeah. And I said to people, like people talking about, you're going to save your money for pensions, like, well, for me, Kahoot! is my pension because you can be a gazillionaire, but it's still not going to be enough money to help you out with your diseases and to change the system.

You need this. You need a government society to look after you. So it's much better to empower society than just accumulating wealth for yourself. So it's more of an systemic thinking, and a lot of people talk about this. So what we do and We Are Human, the policies is that we are eco-systemic investors and we judge ourselves on return on learning.

So we invest where we learn and we share the learning. We have a return on investment, and then we analyze our ecosystemic approach. So now we work with investors in developing alignment tools, processes so that people can be aligned. So if your values are these right to change, you know, the on-impact on the SDG’s. So we're talking about, you know, getting people innovative, diverse. You need these alignment tools and systems. So the way we choose and what we choose to work on, invest into, and develop ourselves, the companies, the funds come from this policy of looking at the outsiders, drawing the best. Yeah, getting kids to be excited about school, seeing social value. Yeah.


Vanessa: And so just to close up, maybe just a question about EntrepreneurShipOne which is your latest venture, I believe, and I know you just talked about how you are trying to change the conversation around neurodiversity, what other social impact are you looking for through EntrepreneurShipOne? Or what is it about?


Johan: Yeah, so when we started We Are Human, we picked education, health as two places we felt like we could do the best impact. Just we were. Kahoot! Being education and sponsorship was the thing I started leaving Kahoot!. So the reason I started, you know, the main business reason was that the ocean wasn't part of the conversation in schools. It was kind of on the Paris Agreement. It was not there before.

And so I looked at Jacques Cousteau, the guy who inspired the whole modern environmental awareness, who created the video conference, who created the diving mask, you know, all this stuff. And it was really by Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic. It was a homage to him. I was like, What if I create a company that's a homage to Life Aquatic or similar to Jacques Cousteau?

And it's kind of like the business plan is a movie unfolding in real life and with characters going back to how do you engage the broader society? How do you engage people who are falling out? How do you take people to do things that I had never done before? So it's a diverse and new way of creating a company to engage everyone. And my philosophy was, if I can get entrepreneurs, politicians, and other people to meet on boats in the ocean, maybe some of them will fall in love with the ocean and do work. Maybe some of them will be more aware, or maybe some of them will just fall in love with the idea of entrepreneurship and biodiversity and why we're doing what we're doing right.

So I was then using my repertoire and particularly we focused on collaborations with institutions who work with kids who are falling out of the school system. And then so we're working with Chris Anodic, which is a large, tall ship in Norway, who has a program called Wind Jammers, which is for kids on the way to falling out of the system. So we bought an island, we have boats, and we kind of we're doing all this work with them, but also them with businesses.


Vanessa: So it's like floating learning, basically. 


Johan: Yeah, we're getting them to the island and getting them to jump into the water. I've got executives in one of Norway's largest companies to jump into the water and figure out who can eat the seaweed straight out of his hand, right. To be around kids who are falling out to show the kids that what's shortened, how short it is to have a network, because that's what I got, right? I inherited a network. I inherited exposure to. It's possible. Most kids don't do that, right? They don't. They think it's for someone else. 


Vanessa: I wish you all the best with EntrepreneurShipOne and all your other ventures. And thank you so much for joining us today here at Tiimo. We appreciate your time, Johan. 

Thank you for joining. And stay tuned for more interviews in this series. If you have a suggestion for a guest, we should be speaking to DM us, we’re @TiimoApp or send us an email at hello@tiimo.dk. You can follow Johan's work at WeAreHuman.cc or follow him on LinkedIn. Thank you for today and see you next time.

Johan Brand | On inclusive tech and redefining masculinity in entrepreneurship
February 8, 2024

Johan Brand | On inclusive tech and redefining masculinity in entrepreneurship

In this episode, we talk to the co-founder of Kahoot! and We Are Human Johan Brand (he/him) about inclusive tech and what it's like to redefine masculinity as a neurodivergent leader. Tune in to learn about how Johan's experiences as a dyslexic ADHD'er have shaped his career and his advocacy work.

Georgina Shute

Georgina is an ADHD coach and digital leader. She set up KindTwo to empower as many people as possible to work with Neurodiversity - not against it.

If you’d like to listen to or watch our interview with Johan, the episode is available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

Summary

  • Johan Brand's Journey: Discusses his experiences growing up with dyslexia and ADHD in Norway, highlighting the challenges he faced in traditional education systems and how he navigated these with creative learning strategies.
  • Advocacy for Neurodiversity: Shares insights into his advocacy for neurodiversity, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and accommodating diverse learning styles and needs in both educational and professional settings.
  • Creation of Kahoot!: Explores the founding of Kahoot!, a global learning platform designed to accommodate and celebrate neurodiverse learners, inspired by Johan's own experiences and challenges with traditional education.
  • Challenges in the Tech Industry: Johan discusses his navigation through the tech industry as a neurodivergent entrepreneur, including the pressures and expectations that come with it, and how he advocates for a more inclusive and understanding approach.
  • Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Highlights the conversation around neurodiversity in tech and entrepreneurship, including the importance of supportive environments that recognize the unique contributions of neurodivergent folks.
  • Future Endeavors and Social Impact: Details Johan's ongoing projects, such as EntrepreneurShipOne, aimed at addressing environmental issues and promoting social change, while also supporting neurodivergent individuals outside the traditional education system.

Vanessa: Hi and welcome to Brainstorm Changemakers by Tiimo. In this series, we're talking to activists, experts, and movers who are shaking things up in the neurodivergent space. My name is Vanessa, and I'm the Head of Brand Communications at Tiimo. Tiimo is a Denmark-based startup that is on a mission to transform planning and time management for neurodivergent people worldwide. Today, we're talking to Johan Brand.

Johan is a tech entrepreneur, investor, and advocate for neurodiversity. He's the co-founder of We Are Human and Kahoot!, one of the world's fastest-growing learning brands with millions of users. Johan, it's great to have you on Changemaker. Thank you for making the time. I just wanted to ask you, I know you're traveling a lot. You're all over the world. Where are you joining us from today? 


Johan: Actually at home. 


Vanessa: At home in Oslo, right? Norway. 


Johan: In Oslo. I was almost going to join you from my boat, which I also use as an office. But ended up being from home. 


Vanessa: Okay, wonderful. So today, we'll touch a bit on your journey as an entrepreneur with dyslexia and ADHD and how you took this unique profile to forge a career in tech. But I want to take a bit of a step back and put your current success in context. So, take us a little bit back to how it all started. You grew up in Oslo, Norway, and you struggled with schooling largely because academia is based on writing, and you have a more conceptual way of learning that didn't fit into these parameters. Do you want to tell us a little bit about it and what impact it had on you?


Johan: Yeah, I guess I'm lucky because my profile is in a way that means I have the ability to find my own way of learning and being self-aware from outside. So I think that's one thing that's helping me. Looking back, the choice I made, for me, was two things. I was a very small person and I was so small of growth, but I was growing up, so I was probably the smallest guy coming into school. 

And then when you're in Norway, you know, the average person is quite tall here. So that also affected me in terms of my personality. So I was quite timid. I didn't want to be seen. I avoided being on stage. I didn't want to play instruments, didn't want to sing or dance. So in many ways, being a kinesthetic learner, being very much like this also affected me in my personality, but also was slow learning languages. And in Norway, you're early on learning English, which is also important because my father is half English and the family, so early on, the way my makeup is was a bit of a challenge. You're not that self-aware in first grade, but nobody was like pointing out early on that I'm slow or anything. But as to the early days, I was coming home and people thought I was a bit lazy and concentrated because of writing going slow. They put me on writing courses to write more pretty because they thought it was about writing pretty. 


Vanessa: And you were very restless then?


Johan: Yes, I was restless. I had the most amazing teacher who saw me. I didn't have a problem learning. She saw that I had no problem learning in the context and so on. The issue for them was that I wasn't sitting still. You know, I was being distracted. So she gave me the ability to go and pick up the milk for the lunch and take an extra round around the building is always use an example now.


Vanessa: And at the time, I guess a sort of dyslexia or ADHD were not sort of in the conversation, right? People were not really aware that much.


Johan: No, because the way it affected me it's not the same word for my sister, which is different because I wasn't struggling with reading, so I wasn't struggling with input, you know, verbal input, reading. It was absolutely no problem. Expressing myself was no problem picking up new skills was no problem. So I was more seen as someone who gave up quickly, someone who was unconcentrated, you know. Yeah, bit rough aroundthe edges. Yeah. Yeah. But it did drive me through a lot of frustration. I was frustrated. I didn't fit into a scheduling. I didn't fit into what's expected of you sitting, doing homework repetition because I knew straight away was very aware I'd have to repeat something when you already had it. That puts it in this habit. So that became a problem. So I got very kind of, yeah, like this. So I actually chose myself when I was in the last year of like when you were sixth grade to go abroad to a boarding school in England for half a semester. And there I was completely obnoxious. I really didn't work into the British, very strict systems. And then I got actually quite a lot of trouble.


Vanessa: Okay, But but it did help you make a difference for you personally.


Johan: I learned the language because you learned by doing. I got challenged. I really grew. I was being able to be myself and I came back to seventh grade like, what is it called, middle school. 


Vanessa: Yeah. 


Johan: Being more confident, more independent, more knowing myself.


Vanessa: I wanted to say that. I was struck by some interviews I saw with you about how you were able to advocate for yourself and for your needs at an early age, like before even having a diagnosis or anything like this decision to say, I'm going to England, or then later you were studying economics and you just decide, and this is not for me. You quit and you start art school, which again, it's a radical change of direction as wondering what where do did you take the confidence or the awareness to make these decisions? I mean, did you have any role models at the time or is it family impact? You mentioned your sister or is it something, you know, some internal drive that just that you just had?


Johan: It's a combination. I mean, I was I was made aware early on because my sister before me went away for a whole year. And it was like in my family. And this boarding school is the opposite of fancy. It was a bit like "Boy" by Roald Dahl. It was a really rough and tough school. Okay, so people don't know. But yeah, it's a boarding school. 


Vanessa: It's not Harry Potter style.


Johan: I was exposed to it through my sister; it was in my family. It was a bit like, if you want to go, you do it. I probably decided quite early, so I just made a choice. I saw... I don't know. You know, I later on realized I have this metacognitive ability to see myself from outside and learn how I learn. So it was at that point, I just... What is this? It's a conscious decision without really understanding why. Okay, I did the same going to high school. I refused to start high school where my friends were going. I only had one high school. It was a creative high school where they had ballet. You know, even though I wanted to do physics and stuff, I wanted to go to a school where it was creative; it was very different. So, was that school or not going to high school was also quite radical in Norway, where it's expected to go all the way through.

And after one year, I decided to go and be an AFS exchange student again. I knew it was possible to be here, but I chose and said straight away, I was like, I'm done with this. I want to go away.


Vanessa: But you always had the support of your family then? 


Johan: Yeah, so my family always supported me. Right. That's the benefit of being from an affluent side of the family, but also actually being so good in America that I graduated there could go into college, but I chose to come back to do two more years in high school in Norway and actually graduate after my peers was also very conscious knowing that I needed more schooling. I wanted... I wasn't... the American school system wasn't good enough. The bar was too low. So being extremely self-aware is probably what I'm very proud of, that I'm able to kind of know where the bar is and where I can get more knowledge.


Vanessa: That's amazing. How did actually then learning that you have dyslexia and then later that you have ADHD, how did that affect you, or did it change anything, or was it just confirming sort of what you already realized that you just you learn differently, you need a different learning system?


Johan: So this was in high school. I had a teacher. She used to teach police students. She really favored creative people. She was quite hard on my girlfriend, who was very analytical. So I was also like, she was a great teacher, but only for people like me. And she sat me down for this diagnosis and said, "There is something I need to figure out about you because you write extremely good short texts and are very intelligent and kind of above, way above your level. But you're of course, you're very unstructured. And, you know, there's a lot of stuff going on in the writing, but particularly your reading out is very weird because you read the right content, but it's not the way it's in the book." So that's why I got to this diagnosis and they figured it out and it made sense, but it was too a thing that told me, "You have learning difficulties and brain damage." 


Vanessa: That's what they told you.


Johan: Yeah. It’s like I don’t have learning difficulties because dyslexia is learning difficulties. 


Vanessa: Brain damage? Okay, I'm sure they don't say that anymore. 


Johan: It's really weird to tell someone something like this. And yes, it affects me because, when someone tells you—I mean, it's true. I have a disconnect between the verbal and the written sense to my brain. So if you tell me something verbally I haven't seen, I can't write it. And when I'm reading, I can't straightaway translate it. I have to go through a little bit of a connection in my brain. But what it made me was a bit like, sorry, the word, the system. This, don't tell me these things because I didn't recognize myself in that in that box.


Vanessa: Yeah. But, at the same time, they told you this, but at the same time, this was the teacher who really backed you up and who…


Johan: So yeah. So she sent with this thing, and I came back, and she's like, "Look, I want to give you the top grades, but your spelling doesn't allow me to do it, but I can do it on certain basis, you know?"


Vanessa: Yeah. 


Johan: And I had a German teacher who made a deal with me saying, "Look, yeah, you don't have to do homework. You don't have to come up for the tests. This is the grade. I think you'll be able to achieve, and you have it as long as you just keep on doing your stuff." 


Vanessa: I'm hearing this. I'm just wondering if this is also something like this flexibility on the teacher's side. If this is something particular to Norway, I can imagine that would not have happened in some other cultures. And we're going to talk a bit more about Norway and the culture later. But is that your impression?


Johan: Yeah, I mean, has changed now. But it was not that long. It was a reform in 1994, so which was a couple of years before I went into high school that said the students have responsibility for their own learning. They empower you as a student. It means that back then I could hack the system. I could actually—I mean, I did also illegal things like eradicating my was, you know, when I was in school. 


Vanessa: Your your attendance. 


Johan: Yeah my attendance, which you can't do anymore. But the teachers a bit like, well, your grades are good, so why am I going to fail you just because you don't come to school? Because you don't fit into the system. The same happened when I came back. Now it's become so much more strict, and you actually drop out if you have more than 10%. And so my drive at the moment is to get the politicians to understand the more rigor they're putting in, the worse it is for those who need to be able to tailor schooling for themselves.


Vanessa: And who don't fit into that system. 


Johan: And there's a difference between those who drop out because of attendance not going. It was more social issues versus those who learn differently and it can't actually turn on that one and they can't really see the difference. So it was different then than now.


Vanessa: Okay, but that was good for you because you did get something


Johan: Extremely good, otherwise I would’ve dropped out. 


Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So when I go on to talk a bit about Kahoot! and, you know, this educational platform that is really reshaping the way millions of people are learning worldwide and you are the co-founder, you've stepped away a little bit now, but I'm thinking about all of you, what you've just said and your own challenges with learning and a very sort of an educational system that I think you called it binary at some point as well. How did all of those struggles and all of the learnings that you took away from your own experience, how did that feed into the concept of Kahoot!?



Johan: Everyone who's been part of founding or shaping has given it color, which means it's such a diverse group of learners, and actually fits into the school system, even though it breaks every single rule.

Yeah, for me, being kind of the driver of the vision in a lot of things was because of exactly I was neurodiverse. Kahoot! is made for neurodiversity. It's got an inclusive design strategy, which means it's designed for the outcasts to be the best for everyone because we know the outcasts' challenges are something that everyone, to some degree, has, and it will improve for everyone. Particularly because we have a global issue with attendance that has nothing to do with neurodiversity but has to do with not finding school interesting.

So, it fed in massively. And also, because I've been going to school in the Nordic school system, British school system, and American school systems, I knew what was needed in the different ones. I could see the comparison and what I thought was best and worst. So, in America, I came, you know, when I got F's in English and I was struggling in the beginning, and then I ended up being one of the best students in English, even though I have dyslexia, and it’s not even my nativate language because it's easy to hack with notes and the way the system, multiple choice, was.

So, I had an immensely good average. I was above my peers. So, and I was like, okay, why can you hack the system in the US and also look at my peers, why they're falling behind, and also the adoption of technology, freedom of the teachers, but also how schooling is based on work. So, for me, it was a way of understanding the global education system and also, by the way, the British one is very much adapted in Turkey, you know, in Asia.


Vanessa: And so I know, yeah, yeah. My daughter went to school in Spain and it was a Cambridge curriculum. So, it's all over the world. Yes.



Johan: So for me, it was feeding in and, luckily, being exposed to all of this and being able to understand also this strategy. And also, Jamie was part of the inclusive design strategy that makes it very flexible and it designs for an extremely broad audience.

And then the other thing we learned about same happened to me when the guy or the girl in the back of the classroom comes in front for the right reason. It's inspiring for everyone. It's inspiring when the troublemaker attends or shows they're doing well, or the kid with dyslexia or the kid with Autism comes and shows what they can do, and everyone is included. Because often what happened is you have those who attend and engage and the disengaged, and when the disengaged engages, it pulls everyone along and it's very inspiring.

And the big part of Kahoot!, which we realize I saw myself, was being seen. Why did I do well in school? The teachers saw me. It was eye contact, right? So Kahoot! is very much about looking up, getting eye contact with your peers and with the teacher. 


Vanessa: Yes. And Kahoot! is giving that visibility. 


Johan: And being able to kinesthetic, to be audiovisual, right. To be able to deliver it on the phone, to be able to do all those things. Attention ones that you know was there.


Vanessa: I wonder when you were fundraising for Kahoot! or raising funds or speaking to investors, partners, was there a lot of resistance to the idea, or was there already this moment where people were like, "Yes, this is what we need?" Or was it like, "This is not going to work. It comes from gaming. We're not, you know, it's not serious." What was the reaction?


Johan: My, everything. I was so surprised that the serious player organization was completely saying it's not a game, you know. And then on the other side people saying it's too much of a game. It's game-based. So it's based on the work from was his name is Richard Brown wrote a book called "Play" where I spend a lot of time when I worked on play personalities, where I disagreed with the idea that we have eight play personalities, fixed in. So my research showed that you change in and out of them depending on context. So that's a big part of Kahoot! to show that you can do different things. You can be a creator, you can be a player, you can be many things which a lot of other game-based programs, particularly games outside of education, recognized.

And then the first and then you mentioned Cambridge is kind of funny because I pitched the idea or I was asked by and Silicon Valley was coming to UK. We went to Cambridge. I was asked during this massive dinner to stand on a chair and talk about it. 


Vanessa: So if just for context, how old were you then? 


Johan: This was when I was working, so I was probably about 20-. So I was about 29. Okay. So this is, you know, in my career or 30, something like that. But still, it's quite intimidating to stand on a chair in front of all these scholars, really famous entrepreneurs, and say, "I'm doing this thing," and I was shot down. Right. But then entrepreneurs who were there exactly, you know, they inherently saw that. No, no, I think this can work. Blah, blah, blah. And it was really kind of cool to first step up and the professors shoot you down and as are being shot down, then they hear the arguments and start going, "Hang on, hang on, hang on." So that was kind of cool.

But when teachers and students start saying, "This is profound for us." They saw the behavior changes. Kids were allowed to stand on chairs, you know, all those things. Then. So you've got both. And for long still, people talk negatively about Kahoot! or they talk about the very basic level of it, not understanding the pedagogical models. So it's always going to be like this, "Mobile in the classroom? Horrible, right? You think?


Vanessa: Yeah, yeah, yeah." No, no, no. Technology. Technology is bad. Yeah, but okay, so it took off. It became this huge success. I wanted to talk a little bit about your career in tech as a neurodivergent person and entrepreneur. I mean, it's not exactly known for being a hotbed for self-care, and entrepreneurship is also frequently associated with these norms of what they call toxic masculinity. You know, winning at all costs, stoicism, not admitting you're wrong, you know, relentless work. I'm wondering how did you navigate this environment? I mean, also coming you were in art school, right? You were there for a reason. How did you navigate this environment? And do you feel a responsibility to model a different kind of masculinity, entrepreneurship?


Johan: You know, definitely. So it was easier for me to make the choices I made because you're male and it's, you know, even though there was a lot of expectations and I couldn't really define after my high school, I want to do so my mom said, look. And my dad said, look, you know, you financial studies, economic studies, there's always something you'll need, so do it. This is I could really argue if anything else, you can expect this. I went to university. I lasted one semester. I ended up crashing into bed, staying there for two weeks. But I also said to my dad, Look, I'm going to start my own company because that's how I can learn business. 


Vanessa: Sorry too, but sorry to butt in. But I'm just curious, did anybody around you start companies or start a business?


Johan: Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. Yes. I come from a family where my uncle built a Caribbean cruise line. My other uncle a great role on role of ships. Okay. Okay. Yeah. A lot of creative people. So. So definitely being an entrepreneur.  


Vanessa: Having that model somewhere. Yeah. Sorry for side-tracking.


Johan: I was reading up on Steve Jobs. I was, you know, so, you know, entrepreneurialism was a big part of what I saw myself becoming.


Vanessa: Yes. Okay. But then you entered this tech world and was that a sort of challenge to adjust to? Did you have to adjust or did you just decide, I will do this my way? I'm a different kind of entrepreneur. I'm model a different kind of masculinity?

(interview continues below)


Johan: Well, in the beginning I wasn't so self-aware. So when I was doing this tech company also, keep in mind, when I chose to go for art, I was aware of my learning style and I felt art school was probably the educational system that wasn't affected by the Industrial Revolution. You were able to educate your for the right reasons. And I was very expressive. I knew that I'd taken these tests. I knew the visual communications stuff was very much for me. I knew that I wanted to change people. So that's also why I chose art school and I run my own business. While at art school I was running a tech, a little tech company doing work for other big businesses. So I was doing a parallel, but I didn't fit into art school because as the other kids said, you don't have holes in your clothes. You know, I wasn't there, there. And it was very female-oriented, you know, blood on a wall administration, you know, So there being a white male Christian from, you know, then you were actually the odd one out.

And it was a really interesting one. But what I realized going into the tech world afterwards was, yeah, it was very you know, it's extremely competitive, It's very male-dominated, it's very technical, you know, it's very much solutions oriented. And it didn't fit me. And this is where I got to, aware like, I work better with having a diverse team with women because I felt like I was being heard. So I actually started very early in my career in London to go to meetings like business, women in business, because I wanted to hire women. 


Vanessa: Interesting. Okay. Yeah. 


Johan: It was two males in one of those meetings. Well, most of it to makes me and a more an older guy. And I got a bit shocked because the women wasn't wondering how men could help them. And so when it was actually internal fighting. So I got a little bit like it wasn't really good. And I was trying to say like, I want women around me because it fits me the way I am, also because of the way my value system and so on. So from then on it's been a big thing for me quite selfishly as well. Yeah, and particularly through the Kahoot! career, it's been a problem, this masculinity, this way of being, what expectations you're talking about the toxicity because of lack of structure being the way we are and not necessarily having the limits of self-structure in terms of how you operate. Yeah, you get burnt out, you go all those things and you're very sensitive to other people's feedback and so on.

So being in an environment which so hard, you know, because you have such a mix, particularly on the VC side, they’re so hard, they expect so much of you, the pushing, pushing, pushing and if you can't restructure yourself to say no, you get pushed out. And they don't provide you with the structure and they don't have an empathetic model to pick you up.


Vanessa: So how do you thrive? How did you thrive then?


Johan: Well I thrived, and then I stopped thriving. One of the reasons I left Kahoot! was because I saw the problem in education that I was not being present. So I was a big one. I did not like the working structure. I did not like the way I was being treated, being a CEO, what I valued more and when to travel. You get picked on, you know, you basically you feel like you're shit.


Vanessa: Okay. 


Johan: So, so I also that was Kahoot! one because of that reason.


Vanessa: Okay. So that was part of why you walked away there. Okay. I'm wondering, is there, you know, you have some in the tech world at the same time you have these sort of figures who are very prominent and obvious, like, for example, Elon Musk, who are, you know, neurodivergent. But is there a larger conversation about neurodiversity in tech and especially neurodiverse talent and how to support and accommodate that kind of talent?


Johan: It is. And I'm proud to be part of like that generation of entrepreneurs bringing it to the agenda and pointing out at yourselves in a more constructive way. I felt in a bit, a little bit like the crazy ones. I mean, you know, Richard Branson being this lefty and open about it, was very important. But I've been sitting in meetings in London where they talk shit about them saying like, he shouldn't he should do well because of dyslexia. As is like he's just like stupid. Being a leader in a business yourself. I was like, I'm not gonna tell them. I'm not going to tell them before. I'm on a level where I can tell them.

Vanessa: Okay, so you haven't you haven't early in your career disclosed?


Johan: No, not at all. I didn't disclose being dyslexic before one of the well, the largest tabloid newspaper in Norway did it on the front page completely without my agreement. 


Vanessa: Without your agreement, og my god. 


Johan: Interviewed me for something else. And just for context, I talked about dyslexia and they put it on the front. And but then I was like, I'm going to own it and I'll talk about it. My superpower And I had to kind of flip it around because then all of a sudden people start judging it, right? And they're going like, it can’t be Johan who’s leading it because he's got dyslexia, and I talk you down. So then I was like, This is. 


Vanessa: So that's why you then disclose it. So before that it was just you felt that the cost of disclosing is too high in terms of how people. 


Johan: So yeah people around me knew it was normal in the business. And, and so it was like hidden, but it was wasn't something I was going out, you know, so people knew it. I don't think anyone on my board knew it.


Vanessa: Okay, interesting. Yeah. 


Johan: Yeah. So I just talked more about being creative. And I think that your question, I think the debate still is a bit within certain segments of the entrepreneurship. It's about the founders who talk about it, but it's still a parallel discussion. I am I will also say the more kind of because then the entrepreneur world isn't this one thing. It's a lot of segments of things, right? Even though it's a world full of parallel stuff. So I feel but it's getting more and more built. So investors start talking about, particularly entrepreneurs becoming investors. You have a more diverse investor base who is also themselves neurodiverse and getting more aware of it. I think just within creativity, it's more discussion about neurodiversity, even within other companies, because you're over indexing on it, people recognize it. So but unfortunately, it's not a wide debate. It's more a bubble debate.


Vanessa: Okay, interesting. And yeah, so in the tech world, you're saying it's kind of still sort of just being discussed in the more innovation, creativity-driven sectors, but not so much in the more standard areas like software development. 


Johan: And yeah, it's more of a panel discussion. The thing is that people are not maximizing and understanding the opportunity within and neurodiverse people, particularly in this through creativity. I would say that neurodivergent individuals are good at adapting, and they it that. They could do much better because there's such a high percentage of entrepreneurs, early employees, entrepreneur companies being neurodivergent now.


Vanessa: Exactly. And that brings me a little bit back to Norway and the way you emphasize in your public speaking, and also in how Norway or the Norwegian culture has influenced you. Norwegian culture informs a different way of doing business. And I wondered if you could talk a bit about what, in your opinion, sets Norwegian startups and ventures apart or can set them apart.


Johan: Yeah, I think what my business partner Jamie, my British, who we built up our careers out of the UK, who has invested into the Nordics predominantly, he feels the Nordics and probably Norway, the most, is that it's very value-driven, it's very conscious. And sometimes, on the negative side, maybe not being so growth-oriented and, you know, a lot of other stuff. That doesn't mean all business in Norway is like this. There are segments of Norway in Norwegian business that are extremely profitable, very hard-driven. But there is a part of the society, a very value-driven society, a very naive society. 


Vanessa: Naive because they are too optimistic or they're not realistic about the challenges? 


Johan: Naive in terms of meeting other people and their extreme lack, like they believe too much in the good in people, to believe that they don't want to get exploited and blue-eyed as we say. So, it's a bit of, in one way, Norwegians, if you go into all sectors, are impressive engineers and hard negotiators but, you know, that's a culture learned. But I think, in a more entrepreneurship way, people are a little bit naive about other people looking out for them.


Vanessa: Yes, yeah, maybe something that is actually a little bit the case in the Nordics in general. 


Johan: And also, remember that Norway is also an extremely monoculture. So that's also why I left early on. You know, it's weird to say, but like when I grew up, it was lawyers, economists, and engineers who ran companies. That creates an extremely monoculture. So being creative, you cannot have a leadership position you could in the UK. You know, I saw people I was growing because I could see what I am, the way I want to be. I can be a leader there; I can build businesses. In Norway, there were no creative companies. Yeah, you had advertising and so it was very different. 


Vanessa: Yeah, creative agencies, but not. Yeah, but also not. Yeah. People in. 


Johan: Norway still have a very kind of industrial economy, which means it's a problem for startups, it's a problem for creative companies, a problem to be creative and coming to large companies because it's extremely traditional industrial thinking.


Vanessa: Okay, but do you see value in the value-driven aspect of it though? Is it making a difference in your opinion? And if you sort of period rightly with the growth-oriented approach, then you would probably have a sort of competitive advantage in Norway.


Johan: Yeah, because the whole is put together that way and there is this triangle cooperation between the industry, the work association, and the government, which means quite well balance in. That's why we have such a good system. People want to pay taxes to a certain level. People are looked after, you know, you can drop out of work and be looked after and so on. So it's a there's a duality to that that makes people, and I think the industrial country always also have been value-driven as much as to other places. 


Vanessa: Yes, that's correct. In terms of awareness in Norway around neurodiversity, is there a conversation happening there in the workplaces? And are you very much part of that conversation?


Johan: Yeah, I feel like I've been a big driver of it, lifted out of where, you know, the where it was to the level where we challenged, you know, the military to where they don't let kids in because what if we give them a gun that could shoot someone with one of the main doctors in the military sets off to go? You know, some people she challenged them saying, God, what the hell's going on here? And also I've invested into special soldiers who have dyslexia. It's just not been, you know, something? I know I know people at the highest level in the , sorry not dyslexia, ADHD kids. I know people at a higher level who are neurodivergent that is not publicly known and people who diagnose saying, do you want to go to the military? I'm not going to diagnose you. Then you have to just fight school. If you don't want to go to the military, I can diagnose you because you won't get in. So that has changed. 

Well, not everyone should go in but has changed the way it is. But the debate has changed to the level where I'm obsessed about the language. In my opinion, that's the same with Kahoot! what we did. Language is one of the core things how we program society, the way we talk about stuff. So moving away from diagnosis in a normal language, talking about people having ADHD, you know, you are dyslexic, right? You are kind of nature person. You are an Autist. It's part of who you are. You know, it's not something that you can get sick because of it, because it's too prominent. You can get sick because you don't fit in. 

So it's also understanding the difference, being being functionally stopped by it, or that is actually the system that makes you sick as a consequence. So I've been part of that debate, and it's been so it's been a lot of newspapers about it and what happens, those with a different view then those are more public about it. And that's good because then you start seeing a dissonance. You can start actually talking against and making it more aware. So there are is, and that's been so obvious because up until recently when I talked about my neurodivergence, I never said it. I just talked about my behaviors. I got into it in profile interviews and I talked about six extremes of thinking in my head. I don't know the alphabet yet. I'm writing, you know, super well all those things. So people who diagnosed it, they're like, okay, obviously asset. Then in the business life, people say, Why do you want to portray yourself like an idiot? And I'm like, that doesn’t make me an idiot. 


Vanessa: It really I'm really surprised that the language is that they do see a difference between the US and Europe because I feel like Europe is kind of lagging the the US and UK in language. I cannot really imagine that kind of language being okay in that sort of corporate context anywhere. So I'm assuming that's sort of very Europe-focused.


Johan: Yeah, it definitely is. And a lot of the articles up in the air are translated, articles from the US and UK, then published in the newspapers here. So that's been lost. There was a big neurodivergent kind of neurodiverse year was a lot of articles. I was doing interviews in the in the main newspapers like the BBC of Norway and RK and also the business paper, particularly the business papers were doing the counterview obviously. So it's interesting. And then the debate now I feel like it's been more cemented a little bit, but still it's a long way to go.


Vanessa: Okay, so you're working also on policy. 


Johan: Like working I trying to through my voice to help. How people change, how they look, how they look at it. Because the way the politicians are programming school is not good for neurodiverse people.


Vanessa: What about your own companies? You stepped away from Kahoot! You have now We Are Human that you've been running for several years. That's also investing in startups. Do you have policies there in place? How do you approach neurodiversity in your own companies?


Johan: Yeah, it's kind of important to say that We Are Human was created to create companies like Kahoot! So we created it before Kahoot! We wanted We Are Human to be a vehicle to be able to develop what became Kahoot! because we worked in tech and advertising communication place in the UK. And I was particularly inspired by the BBC doing massive games for them. But our job was to fight computer illiteracy. You know, the reason for doing the game was entertainment. But through the game we're going to fight computer illiteracy and really help people.

So when we created We Are Human, we took a leaf from Jan Gehl the famous architect, who designed Copenhagen and so on. So when he talks about designing for persons between the buildings, We Are Human is there to design for the person between technology and institution and society. So that's the thought was a policy of We Are Human, we are working with the Royal College of Art and the Norwegian Design Council, who have developed inclusive design. And so we start working with them and we really developed into these tools and understanding of inclusive design that guided us on the Kahoot! journey.

And then afterward, we decided that, you know, of course for the profit that we made with Kahoot!. It's one of the reasons to leave early was we wanted to start doing more, apply our knowledge. So this was the point. We want to invest in the parts of society that I kind of always said is in our outcasts, find the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, obviously statistically coming from there, but it wasn't obvious to a lot of people.

So as investors, it was one of our entrepreneurs. In the beginning we're going to have to accept a higher failure rate of our money. So it's almost like we commit to the money through founders pledge knowing that that money is going to get lost, but it's going to build a more fertile ground on the top. And that's the same as we didn't build Kahoot! to get rich. We built Kahoot! to change the system. 


Vanessa: Some of those Norwegian values right there.


Johan: Yeah. And I said to people, like people talking about, you're going to save your money for pensions, like, well, for me, Kahoot! is my pension because you can be a gazillionaire, but it's still not going to be enough money to help you out with your diseases and to change the system.

You need this. You need a government society to look after you. So it's much better to empower society than just accumulating wealth for yourself. So it's more of an systemic thinking, and a lot of people talk about this. So what we do and We Are Human, the policies is that we are eco-systemic investors and we judge ourselves on return on learning.

So we invest where we learn and we share the learning. We have a return on investment, and then we analyze our ecosystemic approach. So now we work with investors in developing alignment tools, processes so that people can be aligned. So if your values are these right to change, you know, the on-impact on the SDG’s. So we're talking about, you know, getting people innovative, diverse. You need these alignment tools and systems. So the way we choose and what we choose to work on, invest into, and develop ourselves, the companies, the funds come from this policy of looking at the outsiders, drawing the best. Yeah, getting kids to be excited about school, seeing social value. Yeah.


Vanessa: And so just to close up, maybe just a question about EntrepreneurShipOne which is your latest venture, I believe, and I know you just talked about how you are trying to change the conversation around neurodiversity, what other social impact are you looking for through EntrepreneurShipOne? Or what is it about?


Johan: Yeah, so when we started We Are Human, we picked education, health as two places we felt like we could do the best impact. Just we were. Kahoot! Being education and sponsorship was the thing I started leaving Kahoot!. So the reason I started, you know, the main business reason was that the ocean wasn't part of the conversation in schools. It was kind of on the Paris Agreement. It was not there before.

And so I looked at Jacques Cousteau, the guy who inspired the whole modern environmental awareness, who created the video conference, who created the diving mask, you know, all this stuff. And it was really by Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic. It was a homage to him. I was like, What if I create a company that's a homage to Life Aquatic or similar to Jacques Cousteau?

And it's kind of like the business plan is a movie unfolding in real life and with characters going back to how do you engage the broader society? How do you engage people who are falling out? How do you take people to do things that I had never done before? So it's a diverse and new way of creating a company to engage everyone. And my philosophy was, if I can get entrepreneurs, politicians, and other people to meet on boats in the ocean, maybe some of them will fall in love with the ocean and do work. Maybe some of them will be more aware, or maybe some of them will just fall in love with the idea of entrepreneurship and biodiversity and why we're doing what we're doing right.

So I was then using my repertoire and particularly we focused on collaborations with institutions who work with kids who are falling out of the school system. And then so we're working with Chris Anodic, which is a large, tall ship in Norway, who has a program called Wind Jammers, which is for kids on the way to falling out of the system. So we bought an island, we have boats, and we kind of we're doing all this work with them, but also them with businesses.


Vanessa: So it's like floating learning, basically. 


Johan: Yeah, we're getting them to the island and getting them to jump into the water. I've got executives in one of Norway's largest companies to jump into the water and figure out who can eat the seaweed straight out of his hand, right. To be around kids who are falling out to show the kids that what's shortened, how short it is to have a network, because that's what I got, right? I inherited a network. I inherited exposure to. It's possible. Most kids don't do that, right? They don't. They think it's for someone else. 


Vanessa: I wish you all the best with EntrepreneurShipOne and all your other ventures. And thank you so much for joining us today here at Tiimo. We appreciate your time, Johan. 

Thank you for joining. And stay tuned for more interviews in this series. If you have a suggestion for a guest, we should be speaking to DM us, we’re @TiimoApp or send us an email at hello@tiimo.dk. You can follow Johan's work at WeAreHuman.cc or follow him on LinkedIn. Thank you for today and see you next time.

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