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Rojahn, Jakob & Ilya, Founders Of NeuroNation



Today, The Asian Entrepreneur sat down and spoke with the 3 masterminds behind one of the most popular cross platform apps for the mind, NeuroNation. Innovative as it is, we got down and personal with the 3 founders and got to know more about their journey. Meet Rojahn Ahmadi(left), Ilya Shabanov(center) and Jakob Futorjanski(right).


So guys, tell us about about yourselves.

Ilya: Rojahn  was born in Iran and was 2 years old when his family moved to Germany. Jakob and I are both from the former Soviet Union and moved to Germany at ages 9 (Jakob) and 10 (Ilya), respectively.

Jakob, Rojahn and I all share a strong academic and professional background in computer science and artificial intelligence.

At 15, Rojahn and I started working for a Berlin media agency specializing in the development of online games. During the 10-years of employment for the company, Rojahn and Ilya founded OneExtraGames, an online portal whose pilot game “Agony: The Portal” generated over 10 Million gameplays on the web.

Jakob: After focusing on artificial intelligence in financial transactions during my studies, I began my career with PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory in the financial consultancy business. Later on, I joined Rocket Internet and developed Groupon Amsterdam as a Regional Director before moving on to the Groupon HQ Management Team in Berlin, where Rojahn, Ilya and I teamed up to make NeuroNation the European market leader for brain training.

Rojahn: NeuroNation first came to life as a side project in late 2008 but we did not pursue it further until after our diploma in 2010. So the summer of 2010 marks the birth of the NeuroNation platform. After a scholarship from the BEUTH University, we were able to make NeuroNation our full-time job.

In your own words what is NeuroNation?

Jakob: NeuroNation is a fun and effective workout for your brain. Scientific collaborations with German universities ensure its effectiveness: Like a personal trainer NeuroNation has designed a fitness test to determine your potential and offers entertaining brain exercises to improve your memory, focus, logical thinking and problem solving skills. A social network helps you stay motivated, after all competing against your buddy can give your training routine that cherry on top.

How did you come up with the idea of NeuroNation?

Rojahn: NeuroNation was born out of our curiosity for the human brain and the potential for improving its performance. When we started with NeuroNation, the online offers for digital brain health were slim to say the least. We played Dr. Kawashima’s brain training for a while, but weren’t too happy with the actual science behind it. All of us have a strong interest in game development, so we started getting excited about the idea of making a relevant contribution to online games and brain fitness.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up NeuroNation?

Ilya: After engaging with Dr. Kawashima as a fun brain game for a while, we started researching the effects of cognitive exercises on the human brain. We were intrigued: was there a way to develop an actual scientific, yet game-like brain training? Something fun, yet effective?

The Cogito Study by the Max Planck Institute belongs to a series of scientific publications to show that online brain training works under conditions of a solid scientific background, high personalization and user motivation.

To create an effective, scientifically-based product, we reached out to the Freie Universität Berlin and the Technische Universität Dortmund, where leading neuroscientists supported us in the development of NeuroNation.

A study conducted by Prof. Dr. Niedeggen from the Division of Experimental Psychology and Neuropsychology proved that NeuroNation works.

In the first stages after the NeuroNation-launch, a virtual currency was used to access single games. A One-Time-Payment-model followed and today we’re working with a subscription model similar to gym membership.

This was quite a long way with a lot of ups and downs, I strongly believe that perseverance separates the successful founders from the not so successful ones.


Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup and if so, how did you guys overcome it?

Rojahn: Founding a company can be a strenuous process, especially in the beginning stages. Monetization proved to be a particular challenge. We had some bad experiences with potential investors, who tried to get insights to our product and then created a copycat. They failed and taught us to be more careful in the following years of the monetization process.

How have you been developing NeuroNation since startup?

Rojahn: We began with a scholarship from the BEUTH University of Berlin and a small private loan from a bank, a bit later NeuroNation became one of the first ever companies to be crowdfunded in Germany. Later we partnered up with the most influential people and companies in brain fitness, related business areas and publishers, developed co-branded products, which helped our partners monetize their traffic and closed mutually beneficial cooperations. This kept us financed up to the point of the first big investment by Spiegel and XLHealth.

What kind of feedback did you get for NeuroNation so far?

Ilya: The feedback so far has been very positive. Our close cooperation with leading scientists in combination with our own expertise in developing entertaining online games has given us a competitive edge. Distinctions such as the Leonardo-Health Award for digital prevention show us the support and appreciation from the digital health community. In 2014 we have also started collaborations with nursing homes, a German health insurance company and numerous companies from many different backgrounds.

Most importantly, we are in close contact with our consumers and greatly appreciate their input. NeuroNation constantly strives for improvement and could not exist without constructive feedback. I strongly believe our members realize that we highly value the scientific foundation of our product and that we would never compromise in this matter. This is one of the core reasons why our users stick with us.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

Rojahn: Competition in the digital brain health market is fierce, we are counting quite a few copycats in German Speaking Countries and probably over 100 globally. In light of demographic change and a society permanently overloaded with information, a healthy brain becomes more and more important.

NeuroNation’s best practice combines a scientific approach with elements of gamification. NeuroNation was developed in cooperation with leading neuroscientists and is updated to state-of-the-art studies on a regular basis. To guarantee our brain training’s effectiveness, the cooperation with the Freie Universität Berlin and the Technische Universität Dortmund is very important.

NeuroNation is a highly personalized brain training perfectly adapting to its user’s needs and potential. Elements of gamification ranging from individual progress reports to social-media-shareability increase the user’s motivation for the training. For instance, members can share their top scores via Facebook or Twitter and compare their brain performance to their friends’ results. According to the research of Susanne Jaeggi, PhD, from the University of California Irvine, motivation is a vital ingredient of successful cognitive training.

How do you plan to stay relevant in this industry?

Rojahn: To stay relevant in the digital brain health market means to provide the most engaging and effective brain training possible. We continuously work on increasing the engagement and effectiveness of our games by expanding our scientific collaborations and optimize based on our users’ feedback. Compared to our competitors we never compromise on effectivity, we do not want the customer to pay for false promises.

I think this is the crucial difference between us and our competitors.

We also strive to consolidate our B2B partnerships and broaden our clientele. Digital prevention in Alzheimer’s, the neurological rehabilitation of stroke patients as well as the prevention of stress and burnout are highly relevant factors in today’s health sector and present great growth potential. At present, a German health insurance refunds NeuroNation for stroke patients in neuro rehabilitation.

What is the future of the industry in your opinion?

Jakob: The digital brain health market is expected to expand to a volume of $6bn by 2020 and chances are we can expand our European leadership beyond the continent’s borders.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? Is it harder or easier, why?

Jakob: Asia is an extremely important market for NeuroNation. The people in Asian countries have been the first to recognize the importance of cognitive excellence and training. Much earlier than Europe, Asia has invested in human capital, psychometric tests and promoted innovative education measures. Therefore, for us, on the one hand, we find the Asian market to be more open to brain fitness and brain training than other regions. On the other hand, the Asian consumer is used to high-quality offers, so any digital brain health company has to make sure to be on top of their game when preparing to launch in Asia. This is why we are extremely happy about the positive feedback from 13 Asian App-Stores making us one of the leading education app providers in the market.


What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

Ilya: As a Berlin startup with founders whose roots lie in Russia and Iran, the appreciation for Asian entrepreneurship is high. Hard work, innovation and discipline are three values we take from our frequent analyses of Asian entrepreneurship. Western entrepreneurs tend to act locally. They do not launch their products fast enough in other countries. Asian entrepreneurs think bigger and act faster in this context.

What is your definition of success?

Jakob: We believe that our success should be a benefit to the society we live in. We build NeuroNation with the idea to provide scientifically researched products with real benefits for our users while still being as fun as your everyday candy crush session.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Ilya: The idea of a free mind is deeply rooted inside my character. Even though I have worked for other companies during my university time, I always felt that I had to become an entrepreneur at some point to live this freedom. When the university just casually invited us to participate in a business plan competition we took the small step, without knowing anything about entrepreneurship but with a strong conviction that it is the right thing to do. The small step became the first in a year long journey which probably will keep leading me to new places over and over again in the future.

What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?

Jakob: Think through your ideas and talk about them with potential customers. Do it often and with different people. Create and iterate fast!

To me, this is one of the most important aspects of entrepreneurship.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Jakob: Focus, passion, discipline

Ilya: and perseverance

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Ilya: The only boundary there is the belief that there are boundaries.

Rojahn: People who are afraid of changes, will never change anything.

Jakob: Never stop exploring and trying new things. Just start creating and with time you will find a way to success.



iTunes –





“When Adam Draper does Crypto Standup, Singapore listens”



I live and work in Singapore and Santa Monica. Yes, I am blessed. However, my life has been by design, I think of what I want and so I make my life choices and make them happen in my life. Hence the bi-continent living and that comes with bi-continent and now global community living, being and ecosystems building. So I am now never surprised when one part of my world meets another.

I went to Wavemaker Partners venture capital event this evening, keen to meet Adam Draper, who is one of the many great presenters at Crypto Invest Summit, April 30- May 2 in Los Angeles.

Since I actively support leaders who are building scalable, sustainable businesses and movements for the betterment of many; of course I am learning about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. I had been keen to report on the Crypto Invest Summit as I would be back in May to LA for my PhD programme. I was in communications with the organizers. However, I am being awarded an award at the Women Economic Forum in Delhi that same week and could not be physically present.

Still I wanted to report on the event, somehow.

I wanted to listen to the speakers and support some of the speakers who are already friends and experts I rely on for greater insights on cryptocurrency. I like learning and sharing with the greater audience, I have in Asia what I am learning from the US and vice versa. So I feel I had my chance tonight to do a bit of that.

I could not help but smile as Adam Draper shed light into his world of investing in more than 85 crypto related products because he was such a breath of fresh air to the last few Blockchain and Financial conferences I have been reporting on; especially here in Asia.

He just says it like it is.

He kept stopping the audience when they said Blockchain and he said, “You know you really mean cryptocurrency.”  He hit the nail on the head because I have seen so clearly how this phrase had been said in Singapore time and again – “I am not into cryptocurrency but I believe in Blockchain.”

When he said how there was an incongruity as he sat across bankers who personally invested in cryptocurrency and when faced with an inbound of requests from their clients on the same investment; are tied by regulations and are unable to respond.

Here’s some of his best lines. If you don’t laugh or “ah-ha” the way I did, you probably just had to be there. The truth is funny because it calls out for something we all see but sometimes just do not want to admit.

There is a growing understanding of the underlying thematics that the cryptocurrency world has been experiencing as the interface between centralize; de-centralize and personal autonomy becomes more and more apparent and lines get drawn.

Adam Says:

1) The newest phenomenon is that some of the ICO founders are now just so rich from their ICOs that they really don’t need to work on the project they asked for money for.

2) For the crypto-world, money doesn’t matter anymore!
They need talent

It’s so founder friendly now.

3) What Bitcoin made us ask is “What is money?”

The next question is “What is government and governance?”

He highlighted if an entrepreneur is looking for a problem to solve., then the entrepreneur is always looking for horrible industries with poor services and high costs. So yes – Governments are those horrible industries and they need to be disrupted.

4)  Any company who comes to an investor and leads with how much ICO has raised; is a red flag. Leave immediately and go read a Harry Potter book instead.
If they are leading with value and not the problem they are solving. Beware. (read more here

5) If you are going to invest in where the brains are. It’s in crypto.

6) Philosophically, Coinbase is against ethos of what Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency movement is trying to do. However to do such a move from fiat to digital currency, there would need a way to do that. So Coinbase acts like a browser does for internet. One day there will be no need to cash in or out as everyone is already there on digital. Cryptocurrency is the exchange of value. His advice and we know his bias as he is invested in  Coinhako; is to hold onto an exchange for 3-5 years since onboarding of all users to the new digital currency will take some time.

Adam met with many banks and government bodies on his trip to Singapore – I hope they got his truths.

I ended the night by thanking Adam for making me laugh. He reminded me of how much I miss LA.

Want more of this?

If you are in LA on April 30 – May 2.



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Callum Connects

Adrian Reid, Founder of Enlightened Stock Trading



Adrian Reid escaped the rat race and became a knowledgeable trader. He now shares his trading knowledge and empowers others to take control of their stocks.

What’s your story?
After working 12-16 hour days in the corporate world for many years I had a moment of realisation on the 1 hour bus ride to work. It was here at this moment in time, I realised that I felt trapped, desperate and isolated. Trapped in a job I hated, and a life I had not designed. I had long been interested in investing, but I made the decision at that point to become the best trader I could possibly be and escape the rat race.
My dream was to be free; free of the 9 to 5, the commute, the stress and the exhaustion. I threw myself into my stock trading research and study and emerged 3 months later with the trading rules that would ultimately buy me my freedom. I am now retired from the corporate world, I trade full time and share my knowledge with other aspiring traders through my online education program which puts them in control and empowers them to take control and accountability for their trading results.

What excites you most about your industry?
So many people are trapped in jobs they don’t like or are feeling immense financial pressure in their life. Trading education is typically done extremely badly today because of the conflicts of interest in the industry. Fund managers want to hold onto your money forever; brokers want you to trade more frequently; forex brokers want you to use more leverage. Why? Because that is how they make their money.
By teaching traders how to develop and test their own stock trading systems I am able to empower them to find trading rules which fit their own personality, objectives and lifestyle. This is the only way for new traders to be successful. This process transforms people’s financial future, their relationship with money and wealth and gives them hope. I love that!

What’s your connection to Asia?
I recently spent 3 years living in Singapore which I absolutely loved. This put me in a good position to observe the other Asian markets. As a stock trader I am interested in many markets and economies around the world, however the Asian markets have some of the best potential for trading profits. I have traded stocks in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have developed trading systems that work in many other Asian markets as well.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favourite city is Singapore. After living in Singapore for 3 years my family fell in love with the city. Life is great in Singapore for the whole family and the pro-business and investing policies of the government make it a wonderful place to build your financial future as well.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
On a personal front: Find something you love, throw all your energy and passion into it.
On the wealth front: Spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Take control of your finances and always accept 100% responsibility for your investment decisions.

Who inspires you?
My wife Stephanie inspires me. Her commitment to everything she does, her compassion, her insights into people and her ability to uplift those around her, make me want to be a better person.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
No matter what we think we know, there will always be a different perspective that can change our opinion. In my own trading, I continually find that the truths I cling to are not absolute and they can be misleading if held onto dogmatically. Striking a balance between taking a stance and knowing when to change that stance based on new information is critical in all areas of life.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more action earlier on. My fear of mistakes (which still limits me on occasions, like most people) has always proven to be baseless. Playing small to avoid the embarrassment or pain of mistakes is very limiting and I would have taken more action earlier, if I had my time again.

How do you unwind?
To unwind I like to read, meditate, run and ride my mountain bike in the forest.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I just love the small island resort at Batu Batu. It is beautiful, isolated, quiet and surrounded by clean water, full of sealife. After a week at the resort I felt like a different person.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. This book teaches the art of clear and structured communication. My time working as a business strategy consultant gave me a great appreciation for the importance of communication in business. Clear and effective communication can solve a myriad of challenges in your business and professional life, and as a strong communicator your employment prospects, business relationships, team performance and family life are all dramatically improved.

Shameless plug for your business:
Enlightened Stock Trading ( is the only stock market trading education business that empowers you, as an individual trader. It shows you how to design and test your own unique stock trading system that fits YOUR Personality, Objectives and Lifestyle. We have no conflicts of interest and we are focused on teaching you how to trade stocks profitably in a way that fits your life.
After working through the Enlightened Stock Trader Certification Program you will find yourself confident and empowered with your own battle tested trading system and trading plan to guide you through the markets.

How can people connect with you?
Email me directly at [email protected] or through my Facebook Page (

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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