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Brad Johnston & Tanoshi Are: ” A good leader does not give up when times are tough or look for others to blame”

To me, “Leadership” means being responsible for establishing goals and seeing them through to completion. A good leader does not give up when times are tough or look for others to blame. A good leader encourages open communication, listens, and helps guide teams in decision making. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making […]

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To me, “Leadership” means being responsible for establishing goals and seeing them through to completion. A good leader does not give up when times are tough or look for others to blame. A good leader encourages open communication, listens, and helps guide teams in decision making.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Johnston.

Brad Johnston is the Co-Founder & CEO of Tanoshi, an educational technology brand to help provide families from lower-income households and school districts with fun, age-appropriate, educational, and affordable devices to learn computer skills and help kids complete their school assignments. With more than 15 years of CE Product Management and Product Marketing experience, Brad is leading Tanoshi to develop fun, safe, and educational computing products for today’s “digital native” kids, providing the best computers and tech for all kids ages 6–12. Brad’s mission is to provide an equitable digital education for every child in the world. Brad is also passionate about working with amazing people to develop and bring to market products and services that solve real-world problems and make people’s lives better.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a loving family of five in the Pacific Northwest. My father was an entrepreneur and launched a home remodeling business with no money in the bank, but a strong determination to succeed. For most of my grade school years, we lived in poverty. Most of the toys and clothes I had were hand-me-downs from my cousins or our church. When my sisters and I got a little older and could take care of ourselves, my mom went back to college and got a master’s degree in education. Around the time my mom started working, my dad’s business was picking up, and we could finally start living more comfortably. I learned a lot about the power of love and perseverance from my parents.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was in my mid-thirties, I stumbled upon an old copy of The Tao of Pooh at a yard sale. I did not know about Taoism or had an interest in it at the time. However, I like humor, so I decided to give this Winnie the Pooh book a read. Ironically, I did not find the book to be amusing. However, it was extremely enlightening. It talked about how in Taoism, one should do what comes naturally to them as water runs down a river. Those that are happy in life and make others comfortable around them are so because they are doing what comes naturally and enjoy it. It made me rethink my experience, the job I had at the moment that I did not enjoy and was a significant factor in me deciding to leave big tech and start Tanoshi.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I was a bit of a troublemaker as a grade school student. I spent more time in the principal’s office than I would like to admit. Often when I got in trouble, I would try to lessen the crime by saying that so-and-so was also involved. My mom always had the same reply, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” It took many years before that sunk in, but when it finally did, I realized that not only can I choose to do the right thing, but by doing so, I had the power to help others and make their lives better.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

At Tanoshi, we are on a mission to provide an equitable digital education for every child. Learning 21st Century computer skills, like coding, is key to securing many of today’s best-paying jobs and around 70% of new posts in the future that has not been created yet. Unfortunately, as the world is discovering due to Covid-19, nearly 12 million students in America and hundreds of millions worldwide are not able to participate in essential distance learning due to lack of access to a modern computer at home and high-speed internet. Furthermore, according to Code.org, in America, only about 40% of today’s K-12 students will have the opportunity to study computer science. There is a substantial digital divide taking place in America and around the world. It is the mission of Tanoshi to help provide access and opportunity so that every child can have a path to a brighter future.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Many factors led me to start Tanoshi. However, hearing a sad story from two elementary school teachers got me fired up. In 2012 my mother and sister were both teaching elementary school in Oregon. At that time, they both happened to be teaching in low-income schools, where most of their students spoke English as a second language. On a family visit, I remember telling me about how their students just completed their annual computer-based assessment tests, and how some of their smartest students struggled with the test. My sister and mom explained that many of their low-income students didn’t have access to a computer at home, to learn such fundamental skills as typing. As a result, when it came time to take the test, instead of focusing on solving the problems, some students were busy just trying to find the right keys to press, so that they could finish on time. I knew right then, and there I needed to do something to help level the playing field. No child should be penalized with lower test scores or grades, or be put in a more moderate education track, just because they don’t have access to a computer at home.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We hear from parents all the time about how their child loves learning on their Tanoshi.

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

  1. The community can help by always being positive with kids and encouraging them to dream.
  2. Community banks, lenders, and investors can help with financing our growth. We have a great business model at Tanoshi. We are growing fast, we are profitable, and we are providing the opportunity for a better future for thousands of kids, and someday soon, millions!
  3. The app and web development community can make more excellent educational content that doesn’t require high monthly fees. We want all education programs on the Tanoshi to be free, or at least very affordable so that low-income kids don’t get left behind. 5 dollars or 10 dollars a month is way too much for many families in America and around the world. It’s OK to have an upsell offer, but please always offer a free or very low-cost version. Help close the gap.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, “Leadership” means being responsible for establishing goals and seeing them through to completion. A good leader does not give up when times are tough or look for others to blame. A good leader encourages open communication, listens, and helps guide teams in decision making.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Just because you can prove large demand and revenue, does not mean you will have any easier path to secure financial support. People with access to money (investors, bankers, etc.) do not primarily invest in successful business models, but they primarily invest in their friends. This is a major reason why females, people of color, and individuals from poor families (like me) struggle to raise working capital for their businesses.
  2. Networking is more important than anything else. Start pitching investors and bankers from day one so that they can watch the company grow and feel confident to make funds available when it is needed. Focus huge amounts of time on building relationships with wealthy individuals and those with access to allocate funding. This is a lesson I wish someone would have taught me back in high school or college. Now every intern we hire I check that they have a LinkedIn account and encourage them to network every chance they get.
  3. The best colleagues are those that are dedicated and never give up. Hustle is 100 times more important than grades, previous work experience, etc. Talk is cheap. It’s all about results.
  4. Don’t ever pitch big tech. Big tech invites startups to pitch so that they can collect ideas that have been researched or proven by others. And yes, this has happened to us at Tanoshi…on more than one occasion.
  5. Management needs to always make time to catch up with each employee on a regular basis, thank them for their work, and listen to them for how to make their work life better.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell young people to listen to their heads and their hearts. There are many ways to make money, but the best way is to do what you love, what comes naturally, and which will have a positive impact on others.

How can our readers follow you online?

Best way to follow is on LinkedIn or Twitter. https://www.linkedin.com/in/bradjohnston/ or https://twitter.com/brad_w_johnston

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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