The Future of Communication Technology: Johnny Warström of Mentimeter On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other

At Mentimeter we want to transform the way meetings, presentations and lectures are conducted. From the traditional linear manor, where a presenter often just talks to their passive audience, to a more inclusive and engaging experience where you as a leader invite people to become active contributors. Mentimeter is about shifting the focus from talking to listening. Allowing modern leaders to prepare, engage and follow-up in a more inclusive way. Making sure every voice is heard.

The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnny Warström.

Johnny is CEO and co-founder of Mentimeter, a Stockholm-based startup which, through an interactive presentation platform, makes sure everyone in a meeting is given a voice. Mentimeter makes meetings, lectures, presentations and workshops (physical or digital) more enjoyable, engaging, productive and inclusive.

Johnny co-founded the company in 2014, today Mentimeter has 120+ employees, has reached over 150 million people in 220 countries and regions, with customers including Imperial College London, Princeton, PWC and M&T.

In 2018 Mentimeter was recognized by The Next Web as the fastest-growing startup in Sweden, a country renowned for its world class startup scene (successes include Spotify, Mojang, Skype and Klarna). Johnny was awarded the EY Entrepreneur of the Year, Rising Star award in 2019.

Prior to Mentimeter, Johnny co-founded two companies, worked for an independent consultancy firm and joined telecommunication group Telenor working with Global Business Development within IoT.

Johnny studied Electrical Engineering at the esteemed KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Outside of Mentimeter, he volunteered for Engineers Without Borders, a NGO working on projects in Bolivia and Tanzania.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Prior to founding Mentimeter, I was working for a large corporation where I quickly became aware of a growing issue faced by most office environments — pointless meetings.

It was out of this frustration that the idea for Mentimeter emerged, as I started thinking about what I could do to challenge the ways of conducting meetings and the tools needed to make them more collaborative and engaging.

I was stunned by how inefficient some of my meetings were, and how there weren’t any tools available designed to make them more engaging. I wanted to rectify this problem and prompt some kind of change, so I created my own company and product to solve it.

As Mentimeter was developed, it became clear to me that the boring and pointless meeting was only a symptom of a much bigger problem. Namely that corporate and educational culture has been created to promote talkers. Being an extrovert is the default state for a good leader, and a good talker or presenter is high status. But when only the loudest voice in the room is heard, the best ideas are drowned out, and we lose the opportunity to build great things that encompass the complexity of human thought. That’s why with Mentimeter, we want to transform the way meetings, presentations and lectures are conducted, making it easy to listen and be heard.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Back in 2016, my team and I spent five months working in Silicon Valley. While out there, we developed one of the most popular features of the Mentimeter platform, ‘interactive quizzes’. Being abroad with my team made me realize the value of spending time away from our hometown, Stockholm, as it contributed to the team’s creativity and spirit.

Since then, we’ve relocated the entire office to a different country for a month each year, during which the whole team works in, and explores, a brand new city. Our most recent trips have been to Barcelona, Palermo and Madrid. Since the relocation initiative started, it has helped us to foster a more productive workplace, improved cross-team collaboration and company culture. It has allowed us to develop a level of trust that I believe would not have been obtainable through traditional corporate exercises, ultimately creating a more successful and faster-growing company.

The idea behind relocating the entire team was inspired by the findings from the researcher, Philip Runsten, PhD at Stockholm School of Economy. He developed a concept called Collective Intelligence (CI) or the “intelligent organization”, which shows that high performing teams work in a more exploratory way, producing an increased output of 2,300% compared to lower performing teams.

One of the most important fundamentals when it comes to creating a high-performing team is to create a positive and secure environment, in which team members have complete trust and confidence in one another. Based on this, we wanted to create an environment that would promote Collective Intelligence, and this is where the relocation idea came from.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote that I very much relate to is “the best of times are now”. It’s a quote I like to think of and look back to whenever I feel that I or people around me romanticize what was, and not what is. For me, this quote reflects the idea that at some point in the future, you will think back to today and say, “think of how great we had it then,” so why not enjoy now, now? Being too preoccupied by the past will hinder your attempts to foster a goal-driven and forward-thinking workplace and prevent you from engaging and motivating your team. Instead, focus your attention on what lies ahead, and you will be able to inspire through your ambition and thirst for success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Really early during my University years I got in contact with Katarina Bonde, Mentimeter’s current Chairman of the Board. She and I ate lunches and I used her as a sounding board in projects and ideas I had. With many years of experience in building companies and organizations, she was a great mentor (without being branded a “mentor”) to me.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I feel very proud and humble when I hear stories about how Mentimeter is giving people a voice and helping people address topics that are difficult to talk about. For example, the organization Help to Help, a crowdfunding platform that funds higher education for students in East Africa, used Mentimeter in Tanzania to address topics of gender inequality and sexual abuse by creating a safe space for women to share thoughts and experiences through the use of our anonymous platform feature.

Also I am very proud to be a pioneer investor in Direct Air Capture (DAC) Technology in Sweden. Doing what we can as individuals and businesses to address the climate crisis is not about being good, but something we must all take responsibility for.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

At Mentimeter we want to transform the way meetings, presentations and lectures are conducted. From the traditional linear manor, where a presenter often just talks to their passive audience, to a more inclusive and engaging experience where you as a leader invite people to become active contributors. Mentimeter is about shifting the focus from talking to listening. Allowing modern leaders to prepare, engage and follow-up in a more inclusive way. Making sure every voice is heard.

How do you think this might change the world?

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) there are about 900 M knowledge workers in the world. The average employee spends about 6 hours per week in a meeting (24 h for executives and senior managers). In 2019 Doodle conducted a study where they found that pointless meetings represented $541bn worth of wasted resources. Similarly, in a study we at Mentimeter did in 2020, 52% of full time working Americans said they experienced Parroting behaviour from their managers (repeating platitudes, talking without listening and interrupting others). Making meetings more engaging, productive and inclusive could thus have a major impact on making business and education more efficient. But also, and perhaps more importantly, by making it possible for everyone to be heard we strongly believe will improve wellbeing. The Covid-19 pandemic and the acceleration of remote work and education has put a spotlight on how vital this issue is. Boring and un-inclusive meetings was a problem long before we all started relying on hybrid or digital interaction, but the Zoom fatigue we are experiencing has made it obvious that it is something we need to address.

At the same time we live in a world that is dominated by talkers where everyone is trying to be loudest voice in the room. The increased polarisation we are seeing is a consequence of our inability to communicate and listen to each other. Addressing this is one of the most important challenges of our time. We always say that Mentimeter is not a tech company, but that we want to improve human to human interaction with the help of technology.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Digital Audience Engagement Platforms or Interactive Presentations can and should never replace real human interaction. The technology we create is here to help conversations and discussions going and that everyone can express their opinion freely and without biases. Therefore one of the fundamentals of Mentimeter is that it is anonymous.

I do not believe in the now popularized models that you can work anywhere. Naturally, when people are trapped behind a screen, it makes it far more difficult to interact with colleagues, some of whom are in teams that are used to collaborating regularly throughout a given day. At Mentimeter, we have focused on building a culture-driven organization and therefore believe that working together in a physical office is key.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Mentimeter is born from my and the other co-founders’ own frustration. We were sick of participating and also leading presentations, meetings and workshops that were unengaging. We thought there has to be a better way and started building Mentimeter for our own personal use. I think this is key to why we are and have always been a product first company. We want to solve a problem.

When we had the first product we started using it in meetings we were leading and the response from our colleagues I think was an eye opener. Everyone wanted access to the tool.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

More than 150 million people have used Mentimeter in over 200 countries, so I would say adaptation is pretty wide spread already 😉

However, to fundamentally change how people conduct meetings, build presentations or believe we best learn is a greater task. I believe we need to change our talking behaviour and understand the power of listening. Listening needs to become high status, driven by leaders in business and education.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

Getting people to feel included and heard in a normal business environment is difficult enough. This becomes exponentially more difficult when we are separated and only talking to our screen. Mentimeter makes it possible to include everyone and make remote work not only more inclusive but also data driven.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1 . Invest time and energy in aligning how you should work and not only what you should build (be a culture first organization)

The single most important aspect of any business is its culture, and focusing on fostering a positive workplace culture is fundamental to the overall growth and productivity of a company, in my opinion. At Mentimeter, our culture-driven approach is what allowed us to grow so quickly. Since 2015, we have expanded from 5 to over 120 employees, and during that time, only 2 people have left.

2. You don’t HAVE to get investments,

When first pitching Mentimeter to angel investors in spring 2014, we pitched to something like 70 different angel investors and got only four investors interested. It was really hard to convince investors that the product prototype we started off with was going to revolutionize meetings and presentations. When pitching Venture Capital firms in 2015 the same “no”-patherened showed itself, that time no investor wanted to invest.

Not being able to secure investment felt like a failure and we started questioning ourself and our product idea. But with the results in hand, it was a blessing in disguise. Rather than relying on external financial backing, we had to really focus on building a product that users loved and were willing to pay for. Since 2016, we have been profitable with the autonomy that a Venture Capital-backed company often don’t have.

I think the learning here was something that has remained central at Mentimeter and that is a product first strategy. If we would have focused more on sales in the beginning to build a business case for investors, I don’t think Mentimeter would be as loved as it is today. Essentially all our growth has been organic and based on product experience. To me entrepreneurship is about adding value, not making a spectacular exit.

3. Talk less, listen more

We believe that when a leader of a meeting, team, class, training or why not a nation listens to their audience you build an inclusive foundation to make your own message heard. Listening leads to increased engagement, transparency and eventually personal ownership and efficiency. Listening, however, is not an easy task. It’s a skill that takes practice, whether that’s in your personal or professional life.

4. Togetherness is so important in the work we do.

Count this as something I wish I knew before the pandemic started! Beyond the benefits from a company culture perspective, there is a lot that we as workers miss out on when we’re not in the office together. Something that I have noticed throughout the pandemic is the “softer” aspects of working, like social cues, for example, are lost in digital translation over video conferencing. There is a general feeling of community and togetherness that being in the same room brings and it may be more difficult for someone joining via video to know when they can find a gap in the conversation in order to talk. We all know that detecting facial expressions, body language, and the general vibe of a meeting is trickier when you’re not, you know, actually in the meeting.

5. Biases are real, especially at work

Confirmation bias affects our ability to act adequately upon information and prevents objective decision-making. This can be seen in various areas — in politics, science, business and healthcare among others. Even the most brilliant scientists are susceptible to this effect, as no one is immune from cognitive biases. Being wrong is not pleasant and although the scientific approach promotes reconsideration of one’s ideas, it can be very tempting to cherry-pick data to find support for a promising hypothesis. To help prevent these biases from impacting our work or our relationships with our colleagues, try double-checking things like key takeaways and data with your coworkers to get additional opinions beyond your own.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Direct Air Capture, a really interesting technical leap in how we can create a carbon neutral world in the future. You might be wondering how this all works. Direct air capture works by pulling in atmospheric air, then through a series of chemical reactions, extracts the carbon dioxide (CO2) from it while returning the rest of the air to the environment. It’s similar to how plants and trees photosynthesize except Direct Air Capture technology does it much faster, with a smaller land footprint, and delivers the carbon dioxide in a pure, compressed form that can then be stored underground or reused.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can visit my Forbes profile to stay up-to-date on what I’m thinking about or for updates on what is happening at Mentimeter.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.


Make and Receive Calls To/From
Hong Kong No Matter Where You Are