Daniel Senn’s son was born with a hearing impairment so he built a learning app.

Most successful startups are dreamt up as a result of a gap in the market or a personal experience. When Oslo-based Daniel Senn’s son Leon was born with a hearing impairment, he realised that traditional learning methods were going to be inadequate. School curriculums are designed for the majority and Daniel felt that children who struggled to learn to read could become demotivated as they watched their classmates progress. In 2017, Daniel devised the game-based learning app Poio which encourages self-motivated learning and makes the learning to read process easier and more enriching. In May 2019, the Norwegian game-based learning platform Kahoot! acquired Poio. This summer, Poio is launching an English language version of the app.

I came up with the idea when… My son Leon was born with a hearing problem which meant he needed more reading practice in order to keep up with his fellow friends and students at school. The school system is designed for the majority of students; children are taught in groups, with the goal being to develop them all at the same pace.

So, when Leon was three years old, he and I started constructing paper-based games on our kitchen table to help us practise phonics and combine letters into meaningful words in a playful manner. Leon loved this and contributed to the process, and soon we had devised a whole imaginary world together which aided his literacy in an engaging way.

The biggest challenge is… Our 30 second elevator pitch was a big challenge for us during the first year of operation. We were either perceived to be too bold and taking on a big problem without enough funding, or that we were entering a red ocean market flooded with mediocre products that didn’t have the potential that VCs are looking for.

The average day is spent… There is no average day at Poio as we are always doing something different. We could be testing new products with my children at my home office, coordinating with teams across cities, analysing data, and undertaking research.

The team consists of… There is a core team of six full-time employees who are based here in Oslo, as well as a large group of freelancers who work in several countries around the world. After recently joining Kahoot!, together with Dragonbox, the company now has almost 100 employees.

My favourite quote… My favourite quote comes from American computer scientist Alan Kay who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

I am where I am today because of… It was the decision to turn a personal challenge into an opportunity to help many children that brought me to where I am today. As a team, we have worked incredibly hard to bring Poio to fruition.

I am who I am because of... I am extremely thankful to have had a large group of older and more experienced mentors around when I was in the early stages of my life, with whom I could share challenges with as I was developing Poio. They have been really honest about my ideas from the outset and always shared their wisdom.

The best advice I've been given… Think long-term about big problems and invest in user insight and needs, rather than in what may come in two-or three-years’ time.

In five years, I’d like to be… I would like to see Poio available to users all across the globe so that more children can learn to read in a fun and effective way. We want to empower children through play, and by giving them a tool to teach themselves we believe our method can help even more children gain the literacy skills and the thirst for knowledge that encourages them to learn more, in turn building up their confidence as they become proficient readers.

The thing no one ever tells you about running your own business online… The key design observations that lead to a new innovative product have to be of excellent quality in the areas that are really unique. Otherwise, some may try to copy all the hard work put in, having spent years researching and investing in your product, or they may even try to better what you have created.

The websites I most frequently use are... I like to visit WIRED and The Verge for my own geeky insights as I am always keen to know about the latest technology. I get most of my news from CNN and The Guardian, and enjoy listening to podcasts including Sam Harris, The Daily, The EdTech Podcast, and This American Life.

Our biggest mistake and what it taught us… In retrospect, we were too ascetic and underfunded in the first year of research and development. Our first investors, Founders Fund II, at StartupLab in Oslo, saw this and, to our surprise, gave us twice as much of what we asked for when raising money for Poio. The extra money gave us the speed, flexibility and confidence to launch at the best possible moment, and meant that we weren’t anxious about liquidity, but rather investing in building brand and marketing.

The apps we use to be more productive are… The apps I use on a daily basis include Slack, Google apps and Clear. They enable me to communicate with different teams around the world and help manage my day with a simple to-do list and important reminders.

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August 2019