“My goal in life is to become free”

He is a specialized communication consultant, public speaker, a well-known blogger and a startup entrepreneur. For Johan Ronnestam, this variety of projects is what brings him pleasure, and what eventually enables him to become free. Let’s hear more on his philosophy and ways of achieving his goals.

Hi Johan. Is it ok to say that you have a split work personality?
Haha well if you want to. It’s true that I have a big problem telling people what it is that I do, since I’m dealing with a variety of very different projects simultaneously. That was one of the reasons why I started my blog… so I could simply tell people to go there and read about me, instead of explaining everything.

So let’s say we don’t want to read your blog right now. How would you introduce yourself?
Well, ok. I have been working with the Internet in one or another way since 1993, and I had the privilege to be able to do projects for some of the world’s biggest brands, both regarding advertising and communication but also in the field of business development and online/offline strategies. I tend to say that I do three things: I consult for different businesses, I do public speaking gigs and I am an entrepreneur, being involved in a couple of startups, one of them JAJDO, which develops iPad apps for kids.

How do clients who want you for consulting find you?
Primarily through word of mouth. After they have heard about me through somebody else, they usually go on the web and google me, and then they find my blog and can get to know me a bit better before getting in touch with me.

Considering your different activities one has to wonder if you simply stumbled into this situation working simultaneously in very different fields or if that was a deliberate decision of yours?
It was totally deliberate. When I started to blog some people told me that I need more focus. But I replied to them that I don’t do this to make business, I just try to shape my life so I have fun. And I have fun doing lots of things.

You don’t find it hard to prioritize all the time? Like when a client wants your help but you are preparing an important speech or working with your startup?
When I take assignments I am very clear with communicating that the client needs to follow my agenda.

That sounds as if you managed to build up quite a reputation. What’s your secret?
I would say it’s a mix of things. I got the chance to work with Nike Football in Europe in the 90s as well as with some other big global brands, which helped me to get noticed and increase my network. Also, my blog which I launched in 2007 has helped me to show people what I am good at. For example, I am a passionate designer, but telling somebody might not be convincing enough. Instead, I can show my creations. Also, my speaking gigs have helped me to spread the word. And when blogging, I try to publish my own thoughts, ideas and theories, not only linking to others. That’s important I think because it enables you to become and authority in your area of expertise.

What’s your thoughts on the state of social media?
Everything is maturing. And it hasn’t really happened so much during the past two years, at least nothing that really “WOWs” me. ; )

You are hoping for bigger changes?
It would make things a bit more exciting again. It was different in 2007 when all those new sites and services became big, like Facebook and Twitter. Now there are still new services, but often they do the same thing as the past ones. I also notice an increasing fragmentation. Everybody is using different services. You could say that social media is going through the same process as traditional media did – one newspaper was replaced by 1000 digital services, now 1000 big digital services are replaced by 10.000 small services. A couple of big things become many small things. The problem with fragmentation is that even the potential audience is fragmented. User driven content relies on people feeling that someone else is listening or reading. If people lack this feeling they stop publishing. Two years ago you had 50 great blogs in Sweden that were updated daily. Now that number has shrunk to 5. That means less linking and less engagement for everyone blogging in Sweden. But lets see how everything will change again with the next radical evolution that is already in sight: mobile.

…which is where you are heading with your own startup JAJDO.
Exactly. We are three guys running JAJDO, developing iPad apps for children. My co-founder Andreas and I kickstarted tons of smaller initiatives in the past and one day we decided to dedicate our time to a “real” startup. The big companies had overlooked this part of the gaming market which made it easier to build apps with only a very small team. We called our friend Jonas and went ahead. Today we invest about 3 days a week into JAJDO. It’s one brand and one engine in the background but we want to publish different apps. Of course we made a lot of beginner’s mistakes. One app we are going to launch is delayed 20 weeks. But we are not really under pressure since we are bootstrapping, thanks to our consulting jobs.

What’s your goal with being an entrepreneur?
If you are running a digital company with money from your own pocket, you are free to do what you want. You can go and surf while the company is running without you for a while. My goal in life is to become free (I blogged about that once). Another aspect is that by developing apps for children you can have a good conscious about what you’re doing, even if it would make you rich. We have more than 100.000 app downloads. I know that there are 70.000 or 80.000 children that got happy while playing with JAJDO. That’s a great feeling and something to be proud of. I hope we come to the point that we will be able to live off the app completely.

How much are your own kids involved in testing?
A lot. Often when we get close to launching the app they are already bored by it because they have been using it for such a long time, so I need to find new kids then to test it.

“Journalism and the knowledge of journalists is too important to be left to stagnation”

Emanuel Karlsten is a well-connected Swedish journalists and social media enthusiast. He thinks that the best way of developing new working concepts and business models in the age of social media is through experiments. According to him, the number of experiments is far lower than what it should be. With Ajour, he and a couple of other personalities from the Swedish web sphere are doing their part to help online journalism evolve. We had a chat with Emanuel.

Hi Emanuel. What have you done to become a well connected, well known figure in the Swedish blogosphere?
I am really not sure. It all started with being hired by a small newspaper called Dagen. I simply tried to be a good web editor. I started reading what people were writing on how to use social media, and follow those suggestions. During that time actively engaging in social media was considered being both brave and radical – most people just wrote about it. So my news site got a lot of attention and recognition, which meant that I also got quite a boost. I realized how easily things could be done without great budgets, if you just try. I collected as much knowledge as possible from every person I understood knew more than I. I tried to understand how they thought, read more, learned more and connected more. It has never been a strategy, it has just been me trying to do my job as good as possible.

Photo taken by Martin Ridne

You work as a journalist but you are also doing social media consulting for clients. How do you make sure there won’t be conflicts of interest?
I have been in conflict of interests. Sometimes I want to write about my clients, but if it is too sensitive I just don’t. But mainly my work as a consultant is with other media houses, so I am not very deeply affected.

How does a usual work week look for you?
Really there is no usual week. It depends on what clients I have and what projects they put me up to. But I invest a lot of time on roaming the web, looking for new things. When I don’t have a big client I work with the news project I created with some others, and I usually have about one or to lectures or trainings for journalists a week. I also spend every other Sunday writing my column for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, and am a regular on a few radio shows.

What do you like about working with many different things at the same time?
I am a restless soul, so I am really not left with an option. But what pushes me the most is to see change. Journalism and the knowledge of journalists is too important to be left to stagnation and today there is almost no innovation in our business. It is frustrating and that is pretty much the reason I do what I do. I could not stay at a regular job – it moves to slow. I could not just be out educating and lecturing either – I would miss writing too much. And the way you challenge media is not just by talking, you have to show it somehow – so me and five others created an experimental new media site, Ajour.

Tell us a bit more about the project.
I think ultimately all of the co-founders have different goals. Some just want a platform where we can share great stories. For me it is about trying out new ideas. The whole concept of Ajour is to adapt to a social media world where the sender of a message is becoming increasingly important. So we had the idea on putting together a few of the most influential social media people in Sweden to create a newsblog/newssite where the WHO is the main way of drawing attention, not the WHAT. People trust that what we write is interesting, and thereby we could establish a stage which we then could use to give voice to people and stories that haven’t been heard yet but should be heard. So Ajour is about empowering citizens, challenging and encouraging them to pick up the pen, videocamera or whatever and do journalism together with us. But really, we do not know where it will end, we just wanted to experiment with this. Because it needs to be done, since so few others are doing it.

What importance does blogging have in your daily work?
People tend to think that blogs’ relevance has diminished and that it is now microblogging that is hot. That might be true in the sense that it is newer, but not in the way that it is impacting people. Especially in Sweden blogging has really changed the media landscape. Just look at the way young girls consume media today. They went from magazines to mainly blogs. Not just reading, but also writing. It is the big flagship in social media and is so for me as well.

How do blogs and Twitter changed journalism? Can a journalist still do excellent work without at least spending some time with social media?
Sure, a journalist can do a great and excellent work without social media. And a journalist can still do a great and excellent work without using a phone. But really – none of it makes any sense. Why would we not use a phone to reach people in a faster way? And why would we not use social media to connect to people? The biggest issue with social media and journalism is the gigantic gap of knowledge on how to actually benefit from it. There are so many ways social media could make the journalist’s job more effective. Those who have already understood this have experienced great success. It actually just means that we can do the same old work better, faster and more effective.

What are the challenge of social media disrupting journalism?
The challenge is how to develop a solid business model. I hate the word “find” because it suggests that it will just be there for you to pick up. Media has been great in trying to develop journalism online, but when it comes to business models it just got stuck. The problem lies not in that the model necessarily is wrong, it is just that we don’t get the same revenue on advertising online as we do on print. And that might not work, but we (media houses internationally) never really tried! The ones who did try, Facebook and Google, actually succeeded. But we have somehow bought our own lie on “it will not work” instead of trying to innovate. That is really frustrating to me. Another challenge is that while this is happening regular people – “non journalists” – are doing the journalists’ jobs. Often better. Because they are using the relevant tools and they are doing it transparent and many times with more confidence than a traditional journalist. This will probably become a bigger challenge for every day that passes.