When Harald Manheim co-created a mask for watching movies with his cell phone in college, he had no idea it would evolve into a powerful AR tool and software that is letting school kids everywhere co-create their own learning experience.
In this interview series, we ask values-based entrepreneurs 20 questions ranging from silly to serious in an effort to provide greater insight into their creative minds and how their core values translate into solid value proposals. What follows is an edited version of the interview.
1. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
During my childhood summers, you had no choice but to walk a few kilometers from our summer house to the mailbox. At 8, my brothers and I began fetching the morning papers for our parents, for a fee. Then we scaled the service to neighbours and even started a pop-up restaurant with a menu and all. Our grandparents were our most trusted customers.
2. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
That culture eats strategy for breakfast. This guy had a great theoretical understanding of how the team could improve performance, but had no idea it included our organization culture. I learned that the team needs to buy into your idea for it to work, and that the idea itself needs to spring from the team.
3. What do you wish you knew before you started your first business?
I used to think building a profitable business was about having a great product. I learned the hard way that your first product is nothing but an MVP that you put out there to get user feedback—which is the key resource for ending up with the best product.
4. Give us the Ludenso creation story, the elevator pitch version.
We were testing Ludenso’s AR mask on a bunch of verticals, one of them schools. We thought we had a great workshop concept for providing cool learning stuff for kids. Then one teacher said we had to let the kids create the content themselves, rather than just being taught. So we built software that does that.
5. How did your business concept finally come together?
We started out developing our MovieMask AR concept at NTNU [The Norwegian University of Technology and Science]. When we realised people hacked the mask to enjoy AR content, we created the MagiMask to embrace this. We also realised that we needed to be strong in niches rather than aim for everyone.
6. What is the company’s unfair competitive advantage, and why will it be sustained?
I’ll risk a cliché: Our team. They’re all passionate about tech, creativity and pedagogical theory, lowering the barriers between our different roles. A programmer we recently hired used to be a teacher with a thing for learning theory. A team like that sees every discontent user as a great opportunity.
7. Did your target groups and mission change from the outset?
We went through a massive pivot from thinking we were creating great workshops for schools to having kids actually design their own learning environment. Now, we’re hoping schools will collect all that content in libraries for future use.
8. What is your value platform and how does it integrate into day-to-day operations?
As a student, I once visited a company displaying a massive banner with the company’s values: Honesty. Openness. Transparency. When I asked the workers on the factory floor what it meant they admitted they didn’t have a clue. In our day-to-day operations we try instead to envision our company as a person and ask “What would Ludenso do?”, focusing on our values of exploration, learning and creating as enablers for kids to want to learn.
9. How have your values positioned Ludenso for adverse situations such as the pandemic? Are they helpful in future-proofing your value proposal?
Well, the schools closed down, which was a punch in the face. But we were quickly able to reposition into helping teachers solve the difficult task of leading digital classrooms. Our values align perfectly with the long-term ambitions of schools, and has made it a lot easier for us to remain relevant.
10. What does ultimate success look like for the company?
Having millions of kids use our software Ludenso Create as a gateway to becoming digital creators, and then transfer this knowledge to the real world. As a kid my favourite toy was Lego Mindstorm. I could program this lego vehicle into driving along a strip of light, learning programming and seeing its physical representation. If Ludenso can become a tool where kids can co-create what they think a bird box, a box cart or even an opera house should look like rather than just seeing what the teacher thinks it should look like, we’ve come a long way.
11. What’s been the biggest accomplishment of the team to date?
Last summer, we filled a football pitch with 50000 virtual square meters of AR villages built by 150 school kids.
12. What's your best hiring tip/secret?
Your company’s challenges will be different in 3 or 6 months, so look for people with the will to solve a broad range of challenges as they come along.
13. How do you use social media?
Even though I try to limit my social media use, I like to tell the world what I’m up to and how original I am. Like when we hung out in hammocks all over the place during the pandemic. When we arrived at a lake outside Oslo there wasn’t a vacant tree anywhere. As a company, we go to places on social media where we can communicate directly with educators to share tips and learn.
14. What do you admire most about your mom or dad?
My mum has grit. She never gives up. She would say never quit just because something’s difficult. My dad is incredibly hungry for knowledge and never lets an open-ended sentence escape during family dinners. He used to have an actual encyclopedia by the dinner table and be well into article number 47 when dinner was over. Any discussion is an opportunity to learn something new.
15. What did you learn from your biggest failure?
To never trust overly confident experts—usually men—if you have a bad hunch about something. I let a super-confident advisor get the better of my own judgement on a sketchy part and it cost us a fortune.
16. How do you find inspiration?
By using Ludenso’s product in settings it was not originally designed for, such as drawing up an annex for our cabin, or developing a plugin to 3D print a new part for my brother’s broken toy. During the pandemic era remote meetings, we’ve also been having game nights trying to guess what our colleagues are trying to build in our software - team building and bug testing in one go!
17. What's your productivity secret?
Being allowed to, at work and at home, to skip a meeting or work until three in the morning if I’m in the zone.
18. What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime thus far?
I have to say social media, for good and bad. It brings us together, easily defines our truth and reinforces polarisation.
19. What was your favourite subject in school?
As part of a science class in high school, I was the only kid who also took arts & drawing classes. They made me appreciate that knowledge can be attained by other means than books.
20. What is the title of your very best Kahoot! – real or imagined?
Ingrid on our team stalked everyone’s social media accounts and created the brilliant kahoot “Who at work actually said this?”