Learning curve

Nearly $550m was ploughed into in education technology (edtech) in the first quarter of 2017, according to CB Insights' market research. Our latest Growth Story focuses on learning-based gaming platform Kahoot.
Published —
16.10.17
Writer —

BUILDING a platform that attracts 50 million monthly users across 180 countries is a serious business, but fun is central to everything the Kahoot team does.

Based around the concept of social learning, Kahoot is a multiple choice-based gaming platform, and one of the world’s fastest-growing learning brands.

“Our philosophy is about improving people’s lives to a very individual level,” says Jamie Brooker, who met fellow co-founder Johan Brand while working at London-based agency Playgroup.

“We were designing games for the BBC and ITV, and corporate learning platforms for clients like Unilever,” says Brooker.

“Play was at the heart of it – a way of unlocking creativity, losing your inhibitions and thinking outside the box.”

After stints travelling the world, Brooker and Brand started We Are Human in 2011, using the skills and creative methodologies they had learned in agency life.

Graph showing number of Kahoot users over time in an upward curve

Spending 60% of their time working for clients, the pair spent the other 40% on R&D, developing their own IP.

As they developed their ideas into a range of prototypes, the duo were introduced to Kahoot co-founder Morten Versvik. His Masters degree – in 2005, pre-smart phone – investigated how to create shared experiences with people in the same physical space.

He set up a cinema screen, and persuaded the accumulated strangers to play games together, turning their mobile phones into a controller like a PlayStation console.

Brooker says: “We fell in love with the idea of treating technology as an enabler to connect people in person – creating a more human experience. We built games on Morten’s platform for team-building in businesses, and entertainment at conferences, busily learning about user behaviour. What gives people moments of joy and social acknowledgement? What provides intrinsic rewards?”

While they had a platform, and a number of games prototypes, they didn’t yet have a scalable business.

“A milk brand approached us,” says Brooker. “They asked if we could plug our game server into a rodeo bull. They put a logo on the bull, and a customer on top – their friends would try to throw them off by moving their phone.”

While it didn’t satisfy the trio’s desire to create impact, it gave them cashflow, improved the technical platform and proved that they could deliver. And kick-started a move into education.

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“The classroom is a social space – but it’s been set up the same for the last 100-odd years,” Brooker says. “It’s not set up to understand that every individual is unique. We’ve always said that we want to take the child from the back of the class to the front, and help them unlock their potential. Truly engage them in learning.”

The business has exploded since its launch in 2013 – particularly in the US, which accounts for 80% of its usage – and has offices in London, Oslo and Austin, Texas. The platform hosts over 50 million monthly users and a library of 20 million games, created and shared by fans in more than 180 countries.

It’s not, Brooker is quick to stress, just for institutional learning environments. “The largest Kahoot ever played helped 4,000 senior citizens learn about the internet. It’s the same product for everyone – but nuanced, depending who you are – and satisfies those human desires and intrinsic motivation to learn.”

Screenshot from a video demonstration of the Kahoot learning platform

The team based its work around learning from the behaviour of students beyond the classroom and applying them to learning in the classroom: “Gaming, social media – it’s about connecting with learners on an emotional level,” says Brooker.

Kahoot’s soundtrack has received thousands of remixes on YouTube; users can go from playing quizzes to making their own, and share memes across their social media accounts. “This creates an experience you wouldn’t expect in the classroom,” says Brooker. “Creating games encourages research, creativity and critical thinking.”

Inclusive design has resulted in Kahoot’s speed of growth, Brooker says: “It’s often seen as designing for elderly, disabled or specific scenarios, but it’s also about understanding cultural differences, minds and mentalities, desires and languages, creates impact at a very individual level.”

The launch strategy focused on teachers, and grew rapidly through word of mouth. “Quizzing is the simplest game that everyone loves,” Brooker says, recognising the impact of internet-based multiple-choice assessment, particularly in the US.

An early decision decreed that Kahoot’s use in schools would always be free so, if the business was to scale to achieve its social impact mission, it needed investment. “We had to roll out business models that would build sustainability,” Brooker says. “Our first investors were seed investors and joined the company. We reached four million people in the year after launch.”

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Brooker and Brand moved away from day-to-day leadership in May to act as advisors. In July, Kahoot was one of 11 companies selected to join the Disney Accelerator programme, allowing it to tap into the movie giant’s characters and creative expertise.

The same month, the company announced another $10m in its Series A financing round, led by private investors from Norway, together with current investors Microsoft Ventures, Creandum and Northzone. It follows a $10m investment in September last year, used to continue to expand its user base, which has grown more than 60% year-on-year.

As a result, a number of models are being rolled out, including Kahoot! Plus, for businesses working on training and employee engagement, and models for publishers and brands. “It gives publishers incredible distribution power for music, books and games. We ran a pilot with American football to raise awareness around a healthy lifestyle, distributing games about sports science.

“We’re endlessly fascinated by the motivation of learners beyond the classroom,” says Brooker. “The key is to get people to feel excited and engaged.”

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