In the world of technology and innovation, the story of Alf Inge Wang stands out as a testament to the power of passion, perseverance, and thinking outside the box. From a small town in Norway to the global stage, Alf’s journey is marked by a deep connection to gaming, a commitment to education, and the creation of groundbreaking projects that have left an indelible mark on the tech industry.
His latest venture, BitPet®, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Startup Lab, The Research Council of Norway, NTNU Discovery, Innovation Norway, and The European Space Agency.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The journey from a small Norwegian town to the global tech stage showcases the transformative power of passion for gaming and technology.
- An academic background in electronics and software engineering laid the foundation for creative endeavors, emphasizing the importance of merging passion with education.
- The evolution of Kahoot! from a classroom prototype to a global phenomenon demonstrates the impact of educational technology in transforming traditional learning environments.
- Fortune 500 companies embracing Kahoot! for training and events highlight the versatility and broader applications of educational tools beyond their initial target audience.
- PlayPulse’s journey underscores the challenges of hardware development, emphasizing the complexities and financial investments associated with venturing into physical products.
- The latest venture, BitPet, explores the intersection of physical health, social interaction, and augmented reality in gaming, promising a unique and lasting user experience.
- Experiences emphasize the importance of experimentation, user engagement, and boldness in entrepreneurship, encouraging aspiring innovators to embrace the possibility of failure as a stepping stone to success.
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About Alf Inge Wang:
Alf Inge Wang is a professor in game technology at Dept. of Computer Science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), where he teaches programming, game development, and software architecture.
His research interests include game-based learning, exergames, game technology, serious games, software architecture, and software engineering. The research has resulted in over 130 international peer-reviewed publications.
Alf is co-inventor/co-founder of the game-based learning platform Kahoot!! With more than 70 million monthly active users across the world.
Alf’s work with Kahoot!! has resulted in several awards, including the Norwegian Tech Award 2014. He has also co-founded other startups, including PlayPulse, developing high-intensive exergames; Maenage, providing a solution for gamifying house chores; and BitPet – a location-aware AR-gaming platform for increasing physical and social activity.
He has also been involved in the EduApp4Syria project, where the goal is to provide high-quality literacy game apps to teach Syrian out-of-school children to read.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a really incredible founder. We’re going to be talking about building scaling you know also the financing and the acquisition because I mean one of these companies actually was reported that he got acquire for one point seven billion I mean think about that really impressive. So. Again, you know we’re gonna be talking about how you know they win about it how they were able to have the company taking off how even people were asking for autographs the growth that they were experiencing even bigger and faster than you know a company like Twitter I mean think about that so again without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today al hinge one. Welcome to the show. Thanks.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, thank you so much. It’s a really ah pleasure to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in Norway in a little town there give us a walk through memory lane. How is life growing up.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so I was born in a tiny place called Liveanga in the in Norway with about 20000 people living there and I was kind of a normal boy I guess growing up. Ah, the only thing related to the whole the story we’re talking about today is maybe I was really interested in. Computers and computer games I think that was kind of the strongest link to what what is coming later.
Alejandro Cremades: So how do you get into electronics and software and computers and how how did that happen.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, Actually it’s a fun story when I I was at the store together with my cousin and he showed me a computer I didn’t have a computer at that that time and he just showed me how to program a computer and it was blown away I can make this thing do whatever I like if I just. Learn programming so that was kind of I started programming when I was 13 so that was also like an inspiration but then later on I did the Bachelor’s degree in in electronics later I I noticed that programming was closer to my Heart. So I did Masters and a Ph D On. Ah.
Alejandro Cremades: So in your case gaming How they love for gaming develops.
Alf Inge Wang: Programming or software engineering.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so I was born kind of perfect age or I’m perfect age for gaming so I was born in 1970 so that’s when gaming started. So I you know I grew up with arcade games and after you know when I was growing up I was playing games with with friends. Um. Commodore 60 to 4 if you’re old. You know what that kind of computer is and all these kind of old game consoles and stuff and I’ve been really passionate about gaming my whole life and of course I also made games really crappy games but still together. The friends tried to make into the games who were dreaming out so that’s. Yeah, my whole life I’ve been involved in gaming.
Alejandro Cremades: Now one of the things that you’ve definitely been involved your whole life is academia. You know you’ve been a professor and doing research and so being involved with academia for so long. Do I mean what? what? what got you hooked.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yes.
Alejandro Cremades: Into the Academia world.
Alf Inge Wang: So I think for me, it’s you know this passion to learn more and to figure out things and 1 great thing about at least the type of you know, being a professor in computer science or software engineering is that also you can come up with ideas and you can. Together with for instance, master students. You can develop this idea make prototypes and you can test them so it’s a great environment for testing new ideas and exploring and see you know, maybe you can invent or make something that has never been seen before. So for me, that’s really important a passion to. Try to figure out and come up with new stuff have a great. Yep.
Alejandro Cremades: Now One of the things that one of the things that happened there is that while you were now involved in University as a professor you started to really develop ideas and projects and and obviously many of those you know would end up becoming companies very successfully. So ah, but. How do you go from doing research and being in a university and coming up. Let’s say with the idea of caut to all of a sudden in Caho you know being brought to life how that how does that work.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so for me, it was you know I had in 2006 I had a lot bunch of ideas. So I I proposed these ideas as master projects. So I had master students that you know got involved they developed prototypes and we tested these in the classroom and when. And for instance kahoot at that time. What’s called called Lecture Quist was one of these ideas and we tested lecture quiz in the classroom and I notice this there’s some energy here. There’s something happening so I didn’t know at that time that kind of the potential but I knew something was there. It changed kind of the atmosphere of the classroom. So then. Ah, for 4 years we developed a new prototypes we improve um, kind of the prototypes and did more testing and we also started to look at how we can commercialize. Um this this prototype actually at the same time. I also have to include another project that we worked along with the the lecture quiz also have a system called muses which is multiplayer on 1 screen entertainment system and this was basically in a movievith theater. You can play arcade games. So if you have a lot of people in movie theater. They can use their mobile phones. That was before smartphones and they could play like a multiplayer game with a lot of different things on the large screen together in the same room so that was at the same time we had students working with that and these 2 products merge into cahoot later on in 2012 when we start to work on the commercial.
Alf Inge Wang: Prototype or the commercial product actually going from Prototypes to commercial product is very different. You know prototypes They can have a lot of bugs and be unstable. But when you develop also for us I think we focused a lot of technology but not so much on making it easy to use. And for teachers The prototypes are pretty hard to to use. But when we started as a company developing the product then Usability and make it easy to use and the use experience was super important as well as making it you know accessible.
Alejandro Cremades: So what? what ended up being the business model of cahoot. How were you guys making money there for the people that are listening to get it.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so in the beginning that was interesting by the way because in the beginning and we just started making a prototype and got some users and we have different advisors and 1 of ah our advisors said. Don’t think so much about earning money now. Just. Try to get as many users as possible and then we can tap into making money so that was actually the advice we got in 2012 so the first couple of years of course we needed investors but he said basically if you have an amazing user growth. It’s easy to kind of find ways of earning money. So we we were thinking been beginning to have like ah ah like a quiz store where you could buy content that was basically what we wanted to do in the beginning or have like a subscription for the tool. But I think if I think back if you’ve started that way. We wouldn’t have made it because to get like um, incredibly user growth is more important I think in the beginning and then if you get investors and I’m onboard it would. It’s possible or then there are a lot of opportunities to actually earn money so in beginning. We didn’t focus so much on earning money. As getting a lot of users and it’s kind of similar what Facebook a lot of other companies has been doing or at least in the beginning before they start to earn a lot of money.
Alejandro Cremades: So what was the tipping point of cahoo at what point do you guys realize? Wow This thing is taking off.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so ah, 1 on our team. His name is osman who’s also working for Kaut today. He said I think it was in 2013 early. He said like next year we have 1000000 users and we kind of laugh. Oh no, that’s. We were thinking this is a tool maybe for scandinavia or a couple of companies companies or countries. But then the year after we had actually 1000000 users and and it was growing fast almost as fast as it was hard to have the stable technology so because I think. Looking back. It was good that we didn’t have ah like a higher user growth because then I think we might have more difficult technically so but we have a very steady and um ah, user growth that was quite impressive and I think in terms of. Context in Norway I don’t think any companies have had kind of similar user growth.
Alejandro Cremades: And I mean it was pretty amazing because even you guys were visiting schools and being asked for autographs I mean that’s insane.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so at that time also I lived in California for a year and I I was visiting a lot of schools talking to like school teachers about how to use caut and and I was I wanted to see how it was used in action and when. The teacher told um that he the teacher told the chi kids you know Ah, this is one of the guys that came up with Kahoot and also make the music they were kind of went crazy and we have to sign autographs and yeah, it was strange. We didn’t expect that almost like rock stars.
Alejandro Cremades: And and and even like people using it in North Korea how is that.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, because um, yeah, you have these monitoring size where can see you know per usage of your tool if you have like a web base tool and in beginning you could see you know and maybe Uk Usa and you have a couple of countries in Europe. And then we started to spread out and then and then it was kind of every day we looked if there were any white spots where people have not played good and in beginning beheld maybe a couple of spots in Africa maybe a couple of spots in Asia including North North Korea but after a while all the you know countries in the world were covered so that was quite amazing. We didn’t know exactly you know who in North Korea was playing good. But at least there were some doing that.
Alejandro Cremades: And and what did the activation of fortune 500 companies look like because I mean that was probably surprising to you guys.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, and so for us when we starting starting Kaut the main focus was or we thought that this was a higher Ed Education tool so we were targeting higher education. But in the early beginning. We also wanted to explore ways of earning money. So actually 1 of the first companies we targeted was Ikea and they had a problem because Ikea they have a large turnover. Usually they have like ah young maybe students working in the stores. So they need to go through training that training is kind of boring and they don’t don’t need to know kind of approximately how much them please know before they can start to work in the stores. So I presented the cahoot you know this is what gu does and that was a perfect match for their corporate training. It made it more. Exciting. They knew how how much and please you know we could they could test the knowledge skills after the training so that was the first company the customer for us and now. It’s amazing because it’s you know, like 97% of fortune 500 companies use Kahoot for training for events and stuff that was something we didn’t expect but of course it’s very nice because that’s all also means it’s a way of having a nice income for the company.
Alejandro Cremades: now now. now obviously you know for you guys. Incredible income for the company incredible growth. Ah, but 1 thing you know like lead led to the next and the company ends up being acquired for one point seven billion I mean that is.
Alf Inge Wang: This also having yeah yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Absolutely remarkable to be able to create that amount of value and then also for the first company that you did you know to be able to achieve that level of outcome. Ah did you ever envision you know like the company getting to that level when you you know were doing the research in in school.
Alf Inge Wang: no no way ah so it was more like actually my initial idea was maybe this is a tool that I can use. Maybe you know some colleagues at my university and some other schools but I didn’t dream. It was possible to. You know this kind of size is a global company. We can access it anywhere and and it was very strange to see that this was actually possible at one stage. Actually the code has been more valuable than the accusation right now. Um, ah, but I think we. You’re really pretty pleased about you know thatcquisition anyways, and there’s there is um also the companies has about 500 employees or more than 500 which is also I know this is a small company in other countries. But at least in the.
Alejandro Cremades: More 500 employees I mean it’s a definitely a big company but definitely Norway is like an absolute incredible. You know, big time company now the next company that you did was play polls and they always you know you can’t win a win them all right.
Alf Inge Wang: Norway it’s it’s a fairly big company and starting from scratch. So yeah, yeah.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yeah now.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, in play Polls You know, obviously the the outcome was a little bit different What happened with play polls. What were you guys doing there and what happened with playpos.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so playples was actually an idea of a master students of Mine. He came up with idea and I and I was his supervisor and joined the startup Team. So The idea here was to transform like exercise box into arcade games to do proper exercise so we wanted to have. Um, focus on gaming um like real gaming and but playing it on an exercise bike and and we tried different business models so beginning we focused on like gyms to sell this as ah equipment you can have in gyms. But the thing is. I Think this market is hard because they have not the margins are quite limited so to sell in something extra.. It’s a bit hard to get you know enough fund or income from that source Also a lot of. People when I go to the gym they are interested in getting maximum exercise not to have fun. So I think our product was better fit for home If You just want to you want to exercise but still you think it’s kind of boring. Ah, so we transitions and transitions more to kind of the home market and then Covid hit ah which made be actually forced to transition to the home market and then I think yeah if we have been faster with the product ready.
Alf Inge Wang: I think we would have been able to succeed but we were kind of at the end of covid we didn’t still didn’t have that product I think that was one of the crucial parts and one lesson to learn from me at least is that hardware is difficult. You know software. It’s scalable. You don’t have to have like installments. It’s easy to maintain fix stuff but hardware is expensive to develop design and produce especially exercise bikes also quite heavy and there’s so many things that can go wrong. So Lesson’s learned for me is at least. Think about twice before getting to hardware company or yeah technology. It’s it’s much more difficult and it also it depends a lot of money to invest to get the products ready. That’s also I think yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: While.
Alejandro Cremades: Now now. Obviously you know you you keep pumping you know ideas and and and projects like like there’s no like there’s no tomorrow I mean it’s amazing. Ah now the next one is bit pit. So how did bit pet come to life.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yeah, this is.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so actually I’m I’m still working as a professor at the university and I did a large study on the um, the research on pokemon go so what bird can research effects like health effects from playing Pokemon go and I discovered that you know it’s. It had it has a really strong impact on emotional or both physical and emotional and social health and positive but it was kind of limited in terms of if you didn’t play it for a long time. You lost all the health effects. So i. Wanted to do something similar but with a stronger bond to the game so it could last longer and so to boost both social and physical effect. So basic concept is that you have a virtual pet or multiple virtual pet. And you actually have to exercise these pets so you have to walk with your phone to get food and stuff resources. It’s also photo competitions including or involved so you can take photos or your pets and it’s a social you can meet other friends. Ah. So and then also it’s augmented reality. So a lot of stuff going on and I think it looks promising the um, the concept and also the way the feedback we get from the users now. So our plan is to launch probably next summer and this
Alf Inge Wang: Ah, the plan is to have like um, a game service that can live for a long time where you can um, ah play with a friends that involves. Yeah, both physicalsal and social exercise but having fun all the way that’s kind of the main focus here.
Alejandro Cremades: Now imagine in a world you know where let’s say you go to sleep and you wake up in that future world where the vision of big pet is fully where bit pet is fully realized what would that world look like.
Alf Inge Wang: Yeah, so for me that would be that you could have We have some augmented reality glasses now. But imagine if you have like perfect augmented reality glasses just like sunglasses that will have battery that can last for a long time and you can just. Ah, you can just experience this virtual world around you augmented in reality and and you can experience all these magical happening around you in this game that that would kind of be the perfect way of playing this game so that is kind of the optimal. Um. Doing this I think maybe we’ll get there because the technologies you know there’s a lot of um technology or big companies investing into this mixed reality or augmented realityty technology. It’s still bit early. But I think we’ll get there and Then. We’ll be ready for the world.
Alejandro Cremades: So in your case I mean a lot of ideas a lot of thinking through whether or not they make sense you know and if they have legs or not to be able to go into a product and then commercialization. Ah now in that regard. How do you know and how you.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yeah, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: How do you distinguish when an idea has legs versus an idea that doesn’t have legs.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, and that’s I’m quite fortunate since I’m still working as a professor at the University I can do experiments which a lot of kind of startups can’t do so I can do experiments with students develop prototypes and then we do experiments with real users to see. If. There’s a potential and for me since I’ve worked with game technology if I see there is like um this engagement and towards you know the the product or the game I can say okay this is something that actually will work and I look. For engagement towards the game but also use social engagement if this is something happening between those using the product that’s kind of how I determine if if I should go further on this project. But note I think throughout my work at the University. We’ve probably developed. 60 or 70 Prototypes. So Most of them are scrapped. There’s maybe I can write a research paper but there’s no companies based on those products So I’ve failed most of the time these products or that these ideas are actually not good enough so there are some that. Have a potential but most of them actually don’t so and that’s something that’s great with my my position when I work at the University because I can afford to fail a lot of times but usually that’s not the case.
Alejandro Cremades: And how do you come up with ideas. You know what’s the perhaps. What’s the process. What’s the source of inspiration where do you look for them. How how does how do they come to you.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, so I think for me First of all, you have to you know? if for instance if I’m also a musician so if you want to create new music music I think to listen to a lot of different music helps and the same but you know with game technology am. Always interested in new type of games and especially things that are maybe a bit different from anything else. So inspiration is important but also I think for just coming up with ideas. Actually it doesn’t help to sit by your desk and try to own now I have to get an idea from me usually i. Take walks or do something else and then the ideas more come to me. But I think I’m I’m a quite creative person. So for me, it’s more natural to think about crazy stuff guess but it depends. Yeah, but I think you know inspiration. Ah, um, in the domain you want to explore but also try to maybe look at things from different angles that could help at least that hass been important for me and maybe merge different things. Not think about 1 specific maybe merge. Different ideas. That’s also okay, it was ah actually a result emerging at least 2 2 ideas.
Alejandro Cremades: And once you have already the idea the prototype. What would you say is the toughest part of bringing something to market.
Alf Inge Wang: For us is always surviving the you know it’s It’s a race. Ah for having enough funding to develop like a product. Ah that is stable. That’s always hard. There is soft funding of course. But also we have to look For. Investors and I think the main problem is when you’re between kind of product that shows potential and an early prototype and you need some time to develop like a product that is solid enough to investors to see the potential but it’s hard to. Get funding to get there. It depends How advanced kind of the technology is but I think that’s the major difficulty to get to something that will investors will see. Okay, this is something I really want to invest money so that inbetweens. State is really hard to survive I think.
Alejandro Cremades: Now imagine if I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time. Let’s say I was able to bring you back. You know for example to 2012 when you were now you know coming up with the idea of cahoot and.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yeah, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: But say you were able to have a sit down next to that younger self and you were able to give that younger self one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yeah.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, yeah.
Alf Inge Wang: I Think ah I would have gim the device that actually it is possible to think big at that time I think we were kind of didn’t think it was possible to pull you know off.
Alf Inge Wang: You know, big ideas and make something global. So I think that would be 1 of the major motivations and the reason also have started other you know startups and companies afterwards is that I I know now I know it’s possible. Ah so even though. And it’s not like ah it’s also not a horrible thing if you fail so I think a lot of people maybe get scared. You know oh it can fail. Yeah sure. But that’s not the end of the world. Ah, but so just be bold and if you believe in the idea just just.
Alf Inge Wang: Really, ah pay you know, go all in I think that would be my main advice.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it so out for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Alf Inge Wang: Yes, ah you can reach me at if if you just Google my name does a lot of different things. But I think actually maybe um, ah.
Alejandro Cremades: Linkedin or Facebook or anything or insta.
Alf Inge Wang: Linkedin is fine. Yeah Linkedin I’m on Linkedin that’s for sure. Maybe the easiest way. So Linkedin if you just search my name on Linkedin I will get in touch then that’s the easiest way. Yeah, for sure.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing, Well easy enough. Well hey well help. Thank you so much for being on the deal maker show to it has been an on Earth to have you with us.
Alf Inge Wang: Um, thank you so much for inviting me. This has been a joy for me.
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