Podcast

Episode: 53 |
Johnny Warstrom:
Mentimeter:
Episode
53

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Johnny Warstrom

Mentimeter

Show Notes

Our guest today is Johnny Warström, the CEO of Mentimeter, which is a tool that can help you make presentations, workshops, and meetings more interactive.

Here’s a link: https://www.mentimeter.com/

The tool lets you take a live poll of your audience, and the results get updated real-time in your presentation. The audience doesn’t need any special hardware – just a phone or any other device connected to the Internet.

When I interviewed Johnny, I had not yet used the tool.

I just got back from facilitating a professional development event with about 25 independent consultants where I tried Mentimeter for the first time, and it was a massive hit.

Some of the attendees said that Mentimeter was their number one takeaway!

We’d be having a facilitated discussion and presenting regular slides, and the attendees were engaged, but you could see the energy in the room starting to flag.

And then we’d get to a place with a Mentimeter survey, and, Bam!, the room came alive. Out came everyone’s phones, and you’d see the responses coming in on the screen, and people were looking up to see how their response compared to everyone else’s – it was awesome.

I can’t imagine doing a presentation in the future to a larger group without including a few Mentimeter surveys.

I’ll also say the tool is incredibly easy to set up.  I had put it off for a week, because of the activation energy involved in learning some new piece of software. I shouldn’t have worried.

If you can drag and drop, you can have a Mentimeter survey ready in about 60 seconds.

One tip: while most of the survey templates are quantitative, do try out the “Open-ended” question type, in which respondents can type in free text. It is very cool to see all the responses popping up on your screen up in front.

You might start a meeting by asking, using Mentimeter, “what are you hoping to get out of today’s session?”

Or you might end your meeting by asking, “What is your key takeaway from today’s session?” or “What was most valuable to you from today’s session?”

The tool allows you to export all the responses, in either Excel or PDF format, so you can use in later analyses or presentations.

Mentimeter has 16 million users – I’m one of them.  I do encourage you to check it out and try it in your next meeting.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Johnny, it’s great to have you on the show.
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, thanks for having me. Thank you very much.
Will Bachman: So, Johnny, I’m really excited to hear about the tool that your firm has produced. It’s an awesome thing for consultants that maybe not everyone has heard about. So don’t let me describe it, I’d love to hear you just first to describe the tool.
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, of course. Nowadays, we talk about Mentimeter as an interactive presentation tool, but what it in practice is is that it’s a web service where you display realtime data and that realtime data, that [inaudible 00:00:44], it comes from the audience’s phones. So they pick up their phone, go to a URL, and vote and contribute with questions or suggestions in realtime and that is shown then on the presentation in realtime.
Will Bachman: That’s awesome. So talk to me about some ways that this could be used.
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, exactly. So our background, and that’s why it’s so interesting being on your podcast, is actually from consulting and the business development of big corporations. So me and my three co-founders, about five years ago, were working much in the context of smaller group workshops, professional education where you had between 10 and 20, 30 people in the room and in the audience. And what we were missing were ways to make those meetings and presentations interactive, like the tools that still are today the most prominent are of course white board and you have post-its and all those types of the manually, non-digital tools.
And being engineers, we thought that one of these … it needed a digital tool for that context, so instead of just creating a PowerPoint, that became very static and one-sided, we started building on a web service that then could generate that interactivity and that realtime data in the room. So we did that in our spare time in the beginning and brought it to our employees and to our workplace and to our projects and became a big hit. We kind of continued working on our spare time for about a year and a half before we actually jumped on and did this full time. And that was about three and a half years ago.
Will Bachman: Okay. So talk me through sort of the actual hardware of how this works. So do we need to get a special device? Or is this just a link that you email to all the participants and then they just use whatever iPhone, or laptop, or android … They can use any device that accesses the web?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, exactly. So what is seen when you press [inaudible 00:03:22], it looks extremely like a single PowerPoint, but on the top of the screen it says, “Go to menti.com,” which is our voting site, and then you have a six-digit code. And the participants, the audience, they pick up their phones or they go into their laptops or their iPads, so no hardware, no physical device except the ones that they’re already bringing to the meeting is needed. And they go into menti.com and that six-digit code, and when that is done, the voter and you as a presenter are connected, so you then have prepared questions and whatever the audience votes on those questions, the result is shown then in realtime on screen.
Will Bachman: Okay, that helps. So what are some of the questions that you would ask kind of early on when you were leading workshops, training workshops, what are some ways that you used the tool?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, depending on what type of projects that we did or what type of situation it was, but a very classic situation in professional education or any education situation at all, is what is called formative assessment where you want to check if the group follows what you are trying to teach them. And so you’re not trying to grade anyone, it’s not a grading system, but you want to pull their knowledge and you want to engage them because then engagement and leaning in when you’re listening increase learning.
So that’s a very classic use case where you continuously, as you present and as you educate your team or your group, you ask control questions and questions around the topic that you are presenting. So that’s a super classic way of using Mentimeter that has been around in education for profession and university level, this has been used for a very, very long time and I know also in consultancy it’s been used for many, even decades. The challenge before, and what we’ve set out to do, was actually building a tool that was like self-managed and that needed no hardware, nor technical expertise, nor a sidekick of the presenter. So we were targeting the single presenter, who he or she was creating the educational presentation in hand, who had very little time and money to do this, and needed everyone in the room to have already brought their interaction device, not distributing hardware in the room when things were set up.
So we kind of enabled many more people to kind of use these systems where 20 years ago it took like thousands of dollars and weeks of planning to reach the same goal to engage your audience.
Will Bachman: Yeah, so I heard about your tool from a member of Umbrex, who’s used it on plenty of consulting assignments, so I haven’t used it myself yet but I’m definitely already thinking about opportunities to incorporate it in my own work. One example that I can imagine is kind of a situation, project I did last year where I was working with the top say 15 executives of a telecommunications firm and we wanted to kind of poll the group realtime. So I guess you mentioned one use case would be in kind of an educational training-type setting, another case I think is like in a workshop I imagine, where you’re actually developing a strategy let’s say.
So we were developing a strategy and we actually did do a poll of the group realtime but it was in a pretty awkward way. We used an online survey tool to ask people. We had a whole range of the business units of the company and for each one we were asking people, “What do you think is the growth opportunity of this business unit and of the whole market, what’s the growth rate, and what’s our ability to take share of that market? Is our share likely to go up or down? Is the overall market going up or down?” So we were kind of doing a two-by-two to figure out where the collective opinion of the group was on opportunity and that was pretty awkward to try to do that using Survey Monkey because we had to get the data and then download it into Excel and quickly copy and paste into PowerPoint. So we had to take like a 15 minute break while we did that, and it sounds like with your tool we could do something like that realtime.
Johnny Warstrom: It’s exactly, and that model, two-by-two is one question type that we have. So you put in the dimensions and you put in the scale, and people in realtime then on a simple scale drag and drop kind of thing in their phones reflect and then in realtime. So the whole process from you setting up the questions, people pulling up their phones, adding in the ID, actually voting, and you having the result on screen in a beautiful way, it takes 30 seconds, 40 seconds. So there is in workshops and those smaller meetings, there are enormously many use cases.
You talk now more about kind of grading and now you have already identified kind of what the risks or opportunities or the projects may be, but they’re also kind of a brainstorming element where you have open-ended question types where you might ask like, “Okay, overall, where do you see the opportunities?” And it’s like open-ended and where you then later on, take those, you bundle them together, either two-by-two matrix or 100 point distribution we have as well as the built in question type. You filter the few of the ones that they as a collective group come up with and then to really prioritize, you also have the different question types to do that kind of end part of the workshop.
So from the creation and really going out and then finding [inaudible 00:10:54] to the clustering and prioritization, to the action taking and kind of where do we go from here? So it’s all of those. And you can say like … because in that meeting that you led as well, there are two people there. One is the presenter, you leading, and one is the voter. For the presenter, there’s a big value in the efficiency and as we say, not taking 15 minutes, but actually taking 30 seconds in the interactivity.
But there’s actually also real value for the voter where self reflection and the feeling of being listened to and being kind of a balanced group before you start an open discussion. The loudest person in the room really gets his or her, often his, opinion across, this is also a way of kind of starting up and creating a common knowledge base for what people in the room think. And that self reflection and the transparency that that creates is also huge value for the voter or the participants.
Will Bachman: I mean, it’s also often hard in a session for people to potentially say what they really feel about something because if it’s the idea, and you think it’s maybe the idea that the CEO favors or you don’t want to necessarily say that you strongly disagree, right? So this sounds like it would provide some degree of anonymity so that people can individually say what they really think about something before they see what … to your point, the loudest person and the most senior person in the room has to say about the idea. So it’s a nice kind of pulse of the whole room, I guess in a somewhat anonymized way.
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, it’s totally anonymized. People need the [inaudible 00:13:00] to kind of … because we only have the generic ID link to question, so it doesn’t say who you are [inaudible 00:13:09] entry. So the anonymity of the service is a big value of it, exactly for the reason that you said there, which I also agree a lot with.
Will Bachman: I suppose … Could you also use a tool like this in a distributed setting if you’re doing let’s say a webinar and you’re trying to quickly get a sense of everybody who’s listening out there where you often can’t see the people?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah. No, definitely. We’ve used it ourselves in our own webinars and both for … we have a Q and A functionality, so the group as a group can ask questions and the group can also outvote the question, so they don’t have to ask the questions all over again, but they can be quite passive but cannot outvote the question that they really like and they want the presenter to answer. So I [inaudible 00:14:05] town hall, CEO, quarterly presentation, or in the webinar distributed, because the only thing you need is a device and to see the link, and you automatically see the link with the ID when you show the presentation, which you would also do in a webinar, so definitely.
Will Bachman: That’s cool. Johnny, could we go back a little bit? I’d love to hear a little bit more about your background and the background of your co-founders and just sort of how this idea originally came up and how you and the co-founders got together and decided to make this into a company.
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, exactly. So it was really a kind of … we’re engineers [inaudible 00:14:55], myself as an electronic engineer, we have a physics and two computer sciences, and those were the four founders. So we met at university, we started our career and became and becomes nuts coding engineers, but as we [inaudible 00:15:13] the PowerPoint engineers, so consultancy, national consultants, different developers to big corporations. So when we missed the kind of engineer-y part of our careers, we were actually looking for something digital to kind of grab on to something web-based.
And the common denominator in our work mostly is meeting, presentation situations where all of us faced and all of us kind of obviously heard the phrase death by PowerPoint, and boring meetings, and all those things, so that was the kind of obvious situation to build something with it. And then we found the ID and the way of [inaudible 00:15:59] to be quite approachable and something that we could actually grab and just take to work and experiment with our boss and our coworkers. So it was very much like experimental, just for fun to start with, very much like four friends hanging out and coding together. And it wasn’t until maybe a year into that that we actually understand and we’ve seen the growth of the usage. We’ve implemented a pay world online, so still the service is free for the majority of our users and it’s a premium-based business model.
But for branding for example, and more advanced usage, you pay a yearly fee. So we had implemented that, and we saw that we could convert people even though we didn’t have personal contact with them and that was kind of the indication that like … Okay, this is something that not only us and not only consultants and educators could use. We saw so much diverse and usage and so many customers coming in from areas where we had no idea who would actually value this type of service. So that was the original kind of accompaniment to [inaudible 00:17:18] where we realized that this can really go global, this is something that a lot of people … This is a mass-market product actually. It’s not only a niche product. It’s something that anyone who sits in or leads a meeting would value and that’s obviously a couple of hundred millions of people every year doing.
Will Bachman: Talk to me about what you’re doing to grow the company. Is it kind of an active sales force, or are you just relying on word of mouth? What are you doing to kind of grow the user-ship?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, it will be interesting, I listened to one of your earlier shows about … it was a consultant who worked with building to software as a service on the side of his consultancy, it was really interesting. And both on that and from the way that we see software as a service, there’s really two types [inaudible 00:18:07] and two types of go to markets. It’s either the way that he did it, or I would say sales force does it, or we work, or those type of companies, where it’s really sales first. You build the huge sales force and you become extremely efficient in how predictable and how scalable that sales force is to really build that unicorn that you’re aiming at.
We have chosen the other way, which is product first. So we’ve always been a company who had relied on the product to drive our growth and our love out in the markets. So actually until a year ago, Mentimeter had no sales people at all, so 80, 90% of the workforce and the time spent was on product development and coding, and then we had a small marketing team, a small marketing effort that kind of supported that product. But it is true that kind of adoption of the product, and the love to the product that we then get adoption and customers and this way, it’s also the way that we have been able to reach the scale that we have today.
Today we have 16 million users.
Will Bachman: Whoa. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. 16 million users?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah.
Will Bachman: Holy smokes.
Johnny Warstrom: We have 16 million users and we have 10,000 paying enterprise customers.
Will Bachman: Wow.
Johnny Warstrom: And it’s threefold that today versus a year ago, but say that we were closing up around five, six million users and around 3, 4000 paying enterprise customers without having anyone employed, working with sales.
Will Bachman: Wow, that’s an amazing growth. I mean, I love the phrase that you use, that it’s not about product focus, but about product love. Right? Where you just are so devoted to making an awesome product. That is pretty amazing to grow to 16 million users with essentially no sales force. Pretty incredible.
Johnny Warstrom: And it’s quite fascinating, it’s the first time [inaudible 00:20:50] with sales as well, but kind of in love with this niche business, but it’s also kind of a fantastic way to grow the effect of your product, the effect of your business, the company that you’re building, without scaling the organization. So we can threefold our effect and our economics [inaudible 00:21:18] everything every year, but we only increase the amount of employees with a few number of SEs per year, because that’s pretty much what’s needed. Three years ago we had a half person working in support, we do both chat and email support in realtime, so half a person. And today, we’re about 20 times as big and we still have half a person working in support and taking care of the chat force.
Will Bachman: Wow, that’s amazing. So for listeners who are not yet part of that 16 million user base, for those listeners, what’s the process to sign up and start using the tool? Say, “Hey, I have a meeting next week.” What would someone need to do to kind of get an account and to develop the presentation and their surveys that they’re planning on using, could you just kind of give a minute on that, please?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, definitely. It’s mentimeter.com, like mentimeter.com. You sign up for free, so no pay world at all, no credit card, no nothing, just all for free when you sign up. And then directly, you can start creating your presentations and the interface looks very similar to PowerPoints, which of course has a purpose because everyone understands PowerPoints. But instead of content slides, and instead of the complexity of the editing that is in PowerPoint, you create interactive slides. So each slide would have an input and an output, and input in the way that how audience votes, and an output in how is this data displayed in front of the audience?
And exactly the process that I describe now, takes you again, 30, 40, 60 seconds. Register, start creating your presentation, choose what type of question that you want, and then you hit present. And then everything is set up for you. You have the voting URL on top of your screen, you have your ID automatically generated, and you can pretty much from there, start leading a meeting.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Johnny, that’s awesome. I’m going to definitely check it out and I have a meeting coming up myself and I am planning on using this.
Johnny Warstrom: That’s awesome. And-
Will Bachman: Go ahead.
Johnny Warstrom: No, but we reflected before on also in consultancy and as the case come in just this week, which is really interesting, and a use case as well for the product, which I am really interested in and it’s a very value providing way of using Mentimeter. It’s about digital transformation and change management where now we have an industrial company, Customer [inaudible 00:24:39], who through a consultancy firm, got recommended how to lead a change management project. So it’s a big project going on for two years, where they’re changing quite a lot of fundamentals of that industrial company, Global. And they will have 200 change leaders in that big project. And the consultancy firm came to that industrial company giving them Mentimeter as a tool to create that buy in and that transparency that they think is needed for the change to be a successful change and to actually get people to come along with that change that is happening.
So that is also a way of more ongoing, a rolling way of creating transparency and getting people engaged. And the practical situation will always be a meeting because it’s there where you can reflect and [inaudible 00:25:41] on the things that people think and contribute with, but if you continuously do that, if it’s every second week or monthly, people will feel listened to and even if you carry out the project as planned, you will have your employees and your colleagues buy in for that change.
Will Bachman: So it’s a tool not just to kind of test people’s knowledge, but also to make the people that you’re presenting to feel much more engaged and feel like they’re participants in creating the presentation, so that’s very cool. Johnny, as we get close to wrapping up, one question I’m always interested to hear from guests is what are the two or three books that you have gifted most frequently?
Johnny Warstrom: Yeah, I have one that I gift to myself pretty much every half year. I haven’t actually still gifted it to anyone else, but I recommend it. It’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things and it’s a management book or a odyssey written by Ben Horowitz, who’s a [inaudible 00:27:03] now in Silicon Valley but has been an entrepreneur before. It’s one of the best books I’ve read and it gives me new things, like actually each half year I read it. I mature, I have new experiences, and the book gives me kind of new things all the time. That’s the first thing.
And the other book that actually … and this is one book I’ve gifted to people, and that is From Impossible to Inevitable by Jason Lemkin. And if you work in software as a service, it’s a must read. It’s a brilliant kind of full on book on how to … It doesn’t [inaudible 00:27:48] if you are a sales-first, a product-first, SaaS company, it kind of goes through how to be a successful entrepreneur in building a SaaS company and a SaaS product. It’s brilliant.
Will Bachman: Thank you for those recommendations. I just read The Hard Thing About Hard Things over the holidays. I thought it was great. And I hadn’t read the other one, but I will check that out. Johnny, I want to thank you for joining us. I’m really excited to … I’m already thinking about all the different ways I’m going to use Mentimeter in my own practice and I think it’s a really cool tool for our listeners to be aware of. Those who aren’t yet already part of the 16 million who have been using the tool. So thanks a lot for joining us, I really appreciate your time.
Johnny Warstrom: No, of course. And Will, if any of your listeners want to just reach out, I’m happy to kind of talk about new use cases or ideas that they think the tool can be used for. It’s pretty much a Lego box of fun things to bring together. So just send me an email, it’s johnny@mentimeter.com, and I’ll be happy to talk.
Will Bachman: All right, thanks a lot for that.

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