50m monthly users: learnings from Jamie Brooker, co-founder of Kahoot!
One of the benefits of the Emerge network is the opportunity to learn from some of the most successful edtech entrepreneurs in Europe. This month in my ongoing series of inspiring founder interviews, Jamie Brooker, co-founder of Kahoot shares his journey to 50m monthly users, as well as stories about their key milestones, finding product-market fit, and how they positioned themselves as a learning brand.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
🚀Aim to build a brand and lead from your mission, it will be your competitive advantage, show you’re more than a throwaway piece of tech, and help build a community and strong company culture to enable sustained growth.
🤴Always be user-centred, inclusive and strive to connect emotionally with your audience through your products and other touch-points. Solve one person’s problems in ways that enable you to also deliver value to others and don’t box you into a specific vertical.
📊Integrate your growth strategies into all areas of the business. Growth doesn’t happen by magic, so ensure your philosophy for growth is factored into all decisions, from macro to micro, by everyone.
It has gone pretty well for you Jamie. How well? Along with my co-founders and a hugely dedicated team, we’ve grown Kahoot! to reach 50 million people around the world every month. Now under new management, I’ve stepped away from my day-to-day role to explore new challenges.
What is your one line elevator pitch for Kahoot? Make Learning Awesome — create, play and share fun learning games for any subject, for all ages, for free.
So how did it all start? Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur? I’ve never really referred to myself as an entrepreneur, but having set up multiple companies I guess I am. I believe I can use my skills to improve the world in some small way, and the best chance of doing that is to shape your own destiny and find like-minded people to do it with.
It must have been exciting. What has been the best thing about running your own company? Creating my ideal job, with ideal colleagues. And that feeling I get when I realise I’m contributing to improving the lives of millions around the world through what I’ve helped create.
There are always challenges to overcome for a growing business. What has been the most difficult aspect of the entrepreneurial journey for you? When you get the balance wrong, and all the stressful, worrying things that every founder experiences negatively impact your personal relationships, too.
Can you remember back to where the idea for the company came from? It was the converging of several people’s experiences, knowledge, ideas and desires, with a process that enabled us to collaboratively learn, iterate and validate a concept that we knew deeply impacted the lives of our audience at a very personal and individual level — borne out of our mission to make learning something everyone wants to connect with.
Thinking over the last few years, what would you pick out as the key milestones you think happened to get to where you are today? We always set ourselves “fuzzy goals” for one, three and five years’ time. And then work in three-month increments with much more concrete goals that are adaptable depending on how the world changes around us (but always in context of reaching the “fuzzy goals”).
When we launched, we said to ourselves: “In three years’ time we want to be considered a platform”, and that would have been because our one-to-many game experience had become a recognised “format” for learning about anything (in the same way a tweet is a recognised “format” for sharing any real-time information). Additionally because both the creation and consumption on the platform was coming from our users at scale.
This is very much a “fuzzy goal” when you think about it, but it was a really key milestone for us as it kept us focused for three years, but also allowed us the flexibility to adapt how we’d get there. Too often goals are concrete, and mean you lose the ability to change when the world changes and you quickly become irrelevant.
Getting to “market-product fit” is essential for the success of any business. How do you think you knew you had achieved this? What were you measuring to know you had ‘got there’? When I was in the first classroom to use Kahoot!, observing how an early prototype was used, a child was standing on a table to play the game. I asked the teacher if this was ok (given that’s really not normal classroom behaviour), and she said “yes, he’s widely seen as the most disruptive child in the school. I’ve never seen him so engaged in what he’s learning!”. When we started seeing this type of behaviour repeating itself, we knew that our goal to bring learners from the back of the room to the front (for the right reasons) was happening. This behaviour was so profound for teachers, that we started to see growth through word of mouth right away.
How do you measure the impact of your company? We call it our “Return on Learning”. A lot of it’s qualitative. Impact for us is down to an individual level, it’s about desire and motivation to learn, and engagement with our brand.
You have done well against a background where everyone says that selling in the edtech market is really hard — how did you do it? To be honest, we’ve never referred to ourselves as edtech. We see ourselves as a learning brand, and the distinction really is that we’re not a classroom tool. We’re not explicitly designed for teachers (despite adding a lot of value to teachers). Our learner-centric strategy has meant we’ve focused on the human behaviour of learning, rather than fitting into the institution of education.
That strategy has enabled us to become a horizontal platform — also being used in universities, businesses, events, social settings and more. That has enabled us to open up revenue streams in other verticals — from businesses who use it for training, or publishers and brands who see distribution opportunities on the platform — ensuring we always keep it free for teachers and students in schools aligned to our inclusive mission.
Our learner-centric strategy has meant we’ve focused on the human behaviour of learning, rather than fitting in to the institution of education.
Part of your journey involved raising investment — what did you learn from that? I’m lucky, two of my amazing co-founders did most of that. It’s really tough, but can give you many highs too. I’m not sure I can share too many learnings, but I saw a brilliant tweet earlier, and I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like “If you want to simultaneously feel like you’re a genius, whilst also a complete failure, then fundraise.” You need your investors to understand you and your mission — it’s not just their money you need, but what else they can offer that will help you achieve your vision. Sometimes that can take time to find.
If you had to pass on 3 golden rules for aspiring or current entrepreneurs, what would they be?
- Aim to build a brand and lead from your mission, it will be your competitive advantage, show you’re more than a throwaway piece of tech, and help build a community and strong company culture to enable sustained growth.
- Always be user-centred, inclusive and strive to connect emotionally with your audience through your products and other touch-points. Solve one person’s problems in ways that enable you to also deliver value to others and don’t box you into a specific vertical.
- Integrate your growth strategies into all areas of the business. Growth doesn’t happen by magic, so ensure your philosophy for growth is factored into all decisions, from macro to micro, by everyone.
As regards learning from others, is there one course or book you think everyone should take/do that has helped you? Sounds obvious, but The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It really is the bible for how to do this. If I could mention more, I would — there are so many complementary books out there.
In terms of the key components that founders need to succeed, Emerge focus on the right Network, core Expertise and access to Capital. Which parts were critical to you early on? It was all about the network for us. I know Emerge connect founders to potential customers (schools) and this is really important to help get your first customers, and from there it’s all about building a user centred product that helps referral and virality. That was key for us — and that is something that I am now helping Emerge alumni with on the product workshop day I run with Nic!
So Jamie, what’s the next big goal for you?
For Kahoot!, now we’ve hit a good scale, we have revenue targets that we’re aiming to meet with the launch of a range of business models. For me personally, I’m getting ready for the next phase of my other company, We Are Human. So stay tuned, big things to come…
Thanks Jamie! — Nic.