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Entrepreneurship

Rojahn, Jakob & Ilya, Founders Of NeuroNation

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

RoJack

Connect

iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/ph/app/neuronation-brain-training/id821549680?mt=8

PlayStore https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=air.nn.mobile.app.main

Facebookhttps://de-de.facebook.com/NeuroNation

 

Entrepreneurship

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

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:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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