Antler VC Cast Episode 10 — The Kahoot way of learning with Eilert Hanoa

In this episode, we speak to Eilert Hanoa, the CEO of Kahoot!, the game-based learning platform that has taken the world by storm. Tune in here.


August 28, 2020
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Highlights From Transcript

[2:39] Eilert shares Kahoot's origin story and their vision of making learning awesome.

[15:40] Eilert shares his views on creating the only Norwegian unicorn so far and the evolving tech business ecosystem in Norway.

[20:14] Eilert explains the importance of personalisation and localisation of content while creating a Global platform that makes knowledge more interesting.

On the early days of Kahoot!

Eilert Hanoa: Kahoot! is a fairly young company. It was founded back in 2012. The early version of today's Kahoot! started with thousands of teachers in the US that instantly got huge attention and excitement around their product. The viral growth of Kahoot! started in the fall of 2013. It came from a project in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where gamification professor Alf Inge Wang worked with his students and the co-founders of Kahoot! to create this fantastic phenomenon. I personally was lucky to meet his team in early 2014 and become the first external or non-founding shareholder. I became the chairman in 2015 and I've been working as the CEO since last year. I've been able to follow the enthusiasm around Kahoot! from the early days, and was also able to help the initial project continue to grow. This has been a fantastic journey.

On making the delivery and format of knowledge more interesting

Puja Bharwani: You've raised about 110 million so far, and you obviously have an amazing user growth rate. This year has definitely contributed to the fact that so much more learning is taking place online. But what has been interesting is also the way your company is now looking at corporates and how you're bringing the gamification of learning there. Can you tell us about how that happened?

Eilert Hanoa: The vision of Kahoot! is to make learning awesome, and to make sure that we become the leading learning platform in the world. That of course also includes companies, so not only students and the classrooms and teachers where that's extremely important, but also to be possible to be used at home. Parents can use it for their kids or for individuals to study.

We're all familiar with those fairly boring sessions at work, whether it's compliance training or surveys or even meetings where the energy leaves the room as soon as the meeting starts.

We believe that we can deliver some of those tools to make those processes more interesting. At the end of the day, it's about making sharing knowledge more interesting, making sure that you create enthusiasm around events, and also to some extent, making sure that those who are presenting are the heroes of the session. These are the ingredients that make learning awesome.

A Global phenomenon originating from Norway

Eilert Hanoa: We are originally a Norwegian company or a company that happens to be in Norway, I will say, because we are basically now used in over 200 countries around the world by teachers and schools, so students everywhere on the planet. It's truly a Global phenomenon per se, and that's of course very inspiring because school systems, and even the way you're teaching is very different around the world. There is no good or bad, it's just different, whether it's because of financial and economic differences or from infrastructure, the ability to use wireless or 4G and hopefully soon 5G, and of course budgets.

On personalising content for local markets while creating a Global platform for learning

Eilert Hanoa: When it comes to the content, which is what this is all about, Kahoot! is more of a YouTube (type of) platform with user generated content. We have 100 million Kahoot! (quizzes) on the platform created by the users and half of them are available publicly. And of course, they are created in every language. It can be embedded support, which we definitely are investing in to make sure that happens, but it's possible to basically run all kinds of languages on the platform.

Jussi Salovaara: The whole nature of the educational systems is that it's different everywhere. I am wondering if there would be blocks in your way when it comes to some of these and what I would at least classify as stricter, more structured systems like the Asian ones. For example, given we're talking from Singapore here — have you noticed that in the Global expansion that you'd have some systems are tougher to enter in a way?

Eilert Hanoa: Since we're giving it away for free, we definitely see that teachers are picking up best practice from other teachers around the world, that really hasn't been a big challenge there. It's definitely a different usage pattern in Indonesia versus Singapore versus Taiwan versus Japan and India, but that is maybe more from other things than the school systems such as infrastructure and ability to use devices, whether it's in class or at home. We believe that, of course, some of those differences will be neutralized, if you will, as devices are becoming more affordable and infrastructure improves. As long as we continue to have a great free service, which means that teachers continue to invest in putting new content onto the platform, we think we have a pretty good developer position.

On building and scaling, the Norwegian way

Puja Bharwani: You also said in the origin story that this goes back to this professor who had this gamification theory. Does that have anything to do with the Norway education system? Is there something that is essentially Nordic or Norwegian in Kahoot! that has made it so unique yet so Globally relatable?

Eilert Hanoa: I think Kahoot! is to some extent a company that happens to be in Norway, because of the uptake of Kahoot! as such around the world, which is less of an export of a Nordic way of thinking. But on the other hand, you could say that we have been able to build the company without any strict guidelines of exactly how it's expected such a company to mould. The first years, it was basically focused on making sure that the product of course works, scales and is popular in the sense that the uptake is there.

The holy grail of building a service or product

Eilert Hanoa: That brings us maybe to the most unique attribute of Kahoot! as a company: we have 1.25 billion participating players, 20 million active accounts and 200 million games played in the last 12 months.

All that has come to life without spending one single dollar of marketing. It's only about word of mouth.

It's only about references that you get when you consume the product, you see the product, you bring it home or you bring it to work or you bring it to the next session or next school, and that's how the concept and the phenomenon has continued to spread. I think that's a very interesting lesson learnt in the notion that it's not about the market. Sometimes you might have to do so, but if you can build out that concept or service in a way that is also the marketing engine, that's the purest and the most scalable, and of course the most correct way of thinking about investment in early stage in a company.

Kahoot! from that perspective is a role model where all investment went into R&D for making a better product for the free and paying users, and not to send that amount out of the company to feed another system for more leads.

The natural advantage of starting a company in a certain environment

Jussi Salovaara: That's the perfect example of what product market fit looks like. Some of the founders we work with kind of mistake traction for product market fit, whereas you really need to look at the whole cost efficiency or the traction. If you pay, you can always get traction by paying, but if you get it done, you get the virality without it (paying), then it just tells you that your product is fantastic. Kahoot! is the only Norwegian unicorn so far. Does that come with some pressure like national pride and showing the world that Norway is capable of building tech businesses and not just playing on resources?

Eilert Hanoa: It's definitely a focus in Norway and I guess many countries to make sure that you're building the next generation companies and next generation showcases for the ability for the country to build companies in the future. I think, at least as of now, Kahoot! may be one of the most known Norwegian brands outside of Norway in the world. That's of course a fantastic opportunity for us to explore that opportunity in the Global marketplace, but at the same time, it's also a commitment to take advantage of the kind of momentum we have in the company and deliver on that on behalf of users, investors and the organization.

I believe that there is no right or wrong on where to start a company.

It's more about wherever you start, what are the natural advantages of doing it there versus somewhere else. You can have football teams from around the world doing great. You can have athletes, artists, writers, and of course entrepreneurs coming from every corner of the world and basically being able to outperform or out-compete their kind of origin, if you will. And of course, the same goes for where you establish and build a company. I think the most important thing is to spend all your energy on how to leverage whatever situation you're in, instead of complaining about the disadvantages of being exactly where you are.

And then of course, coming from the Nordics is a huge advantage from infrastructure, from society or the way society is organized and so forth. You might have disadvantages versus other parts of the world when it comes to, for example, the whole market and other industries competing for resources. Again, it's about seeing what you can be able to do with where you are and what you have right now, and not playing in the fantasy league, because that's really not why we are creating this.

Puja Bharwani: You talk about the unfair advantage, of course, that places like Norway have, but at the same time, is that one of the reasons that there aren't that many big name startups or tech companies that have gone international? What is the reason for that? Is that because there's no market domestically, or is it a mindset? Is it that everyone there is so comfortable with what they have that there's no, in a way, platform for innovation, what level is the ecosystem at? What do you think about that?

Eilert Hanoa: Well, I mean all the points you mentioned are relevant separately. I mean, of course, in a society where, for example, there are huge disadvantages, starting your own company versus being employed will on average have more talent going into larger organizations and the public sector than starting your own company. Whether that overtime is creating more or less successful entrepreneurs, I don't know. Having a home market which is larger, for some companies, makes it possible to grow until critical size at home before you go internationally. Back in the '80s, '90s and even 2000s, that was a huge advantage. These days, you could argue that some companies starting in very small markets initially and from day one need to think about how we make this work outside our home market. This is kind of having an advantage as soon as they get the economies of scale, so that might be going both ways depending on whether it's a physical delivery or if there are things related to either localization or other very concrete limitations like financial markets.

Rapid Fire Picks

Puja Bharwani: Your proudest moment?

Eilert Hanoa: I think our proudest moment in recent history was when we were instantly in mid-March able to turn around and offer our premium Kahoot! subscription for free to all teachers and all schools around the world who were affected by COVID-19. We did that the day after Zoom, which was the first IT company to deliver value to the user because of the pandemic.

Jussi Salovaara: One piece of advice to startup founders?

Eilert Hanoa: I think Richard Branson once said that good ideas are like the buses of London. There's always a new one. It's about not being too hung up on a good idea.

Of course the idea should be good, but it's all about making that into something more than an idea, and that's the most important.

As a founder, it's 1% good idea, 99% hard work, and if you kind of get that right, it's a pretty good start.

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