Bryan Johnson, '07 (XP-76), is an American entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is founder and CEO of Kernel, a company developing a neuroprosthetic device to improve brain function, and the OS Fund, a $100 million fund that invests in science and technology startups that focus on improving quality of life.
He was also founder, chairman and CEO of Braintree, an online payment system. Braintree was acquired by eBay for $800 million in 2013.
After selling Braintree, Bryan Johnson didn't see the deal merely as an achievement, but as the start of a new adventure. Ever focused on the future of humanity, Johnson launched OS Fund in support of "the world's most audacious" scientists and entrepreneurs who are working to rewrite the operating systems of life. He combines business acumen with an insatiable imagination to fuel his endeavors, which also include writing children's books. His defining belief is that we're at a uniquely exciting moment in the story of humanity, because we can now literally create any kind of world we can imagine.
His OS Fund investments include endeavors to cure age-related diseases and radically extend healthy human life to 100+, make biology a predictable programming language, digitize analog businesses, replicate the human visual cortex using artificial intelligence, expand humanity's access to resources, reinvent transportation using autonomous vehicles, and reimagine food using biology, among others.
Waverly Deutsch (Moderator)
Clinical Professor and Academic Director of University Wide Entrepreneurship Content, Chicago Booth
Waverly Deutsch, a clinical professor at Chicago Booth, teaches Building the New Venture – a unique course on entrepreneurial execution. Deutsch has also been a full-time coach for the annual New Venture Challenge business plan competition since 2002. From 2006 to 2009, in conjunction with the University of Chicago's Collegiate Scholars Program, Deutsch pioneered and taught an intensive summer seminar entitled Elements of Entrepreneurship in which promising high school students from the Chicago Public School Systems turned an idea into a business plan in two weeks.
Deutsch is an active angel investor and advisor to start ups including the YESS Network, InterApt, SwingByte, the Stylisted, and Be. She was on the board of directors for InContext Solutions, a leading 3D virtual store market research company from 2009 to 2011. She currently serves on the board of SmartBet Charities, which uses poker as a vehicle to facilitate entrepreneurial networking in Chicago and raises money for local programs that introduce young people to entrepreneurship education.
Prior to joining Chicago Booth, Deutsch was the founder of WaveWords Consulting, offering strategic consulting for startups on business plans, funding strategy, technology architecture and marketing. In her year as managing director of NetFuel Ventures, an Internet incubator, Deutsch helped raise seed capital and launch three technology companies before the firm merged with ARCH Development Partners. As executive vice president of marketing and strategy for Internet exchange company fob.com, she increased their media visibility by 500 percent.
Deutsch earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985. She received a master's degree in 1989 and a PhD in theater history in 1992 from Tufts University.
Bryan Johnson (Panelist) '07
Founder and CEO, Kernel
Johnson, who has been described as a "serial tech entrepreneur," launched three startups, whilst at university, between 1999 and 2003. The first, which sold cell phones, helped pay his way through Brigham Young University. In that business, Johnson hired other college students to sell service plans along with cell phones; Johnson earned about a $300 commission on each sale.
The next two businesses he started weren't as successful. Inquist, a VOIP company Johnson co-founded with three other partners, combined features of Vonage and Skype. It collapsed in 2001. Johnson has attributed the failure to an inability to secure funding following 9/11 as well as errors made by him and his co-founders.
Following that, Johnson joined his brother and another partner on a $70 million real estate project later in 2001. The project struggled to achieve sales goals and required additional capital. Johnson and his two co-founders moved on.
Johnson formed the idea for Braintree while he was working at a part-time job selling credit card processing services to businesses, work that he took to help pay his bills while the real estate venture floundered.Johnson became the top salesperson out of 400 nationwide, breaking previous sales records.
When Johnson moved from Utah to Chicago to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, he continued working for the same card-processing company. Nine months after accepting a management position at Sears, Johnson formed Braintree and approached some of his old customers to solicit their business.
Johnson has said his goal was to improve customers' payment experiences—something he saw lacking—and to build an "exceptional" company that both his team and their customers would love.
Braintree's rapid growth was spurred by clients in the technology industry including OpenTable, Uber, Shopify, Airbnb, and others. In 2012, Braintree purchased Venmo, a startup that lets users send and receive money from each other electronically, for $26.2 million.
While Johnson received $25,000 to start the company after winning a business plan competition from the University of Chicago in 2007, he otherwise bootstrapped the company before raising venture capital — $34 million in a Series A investment from Accel Partners — in June 2011. At the time, Braintree was processing about $3 billion in credit card payments annually and generating $10 million in revenue.
By September 2013, the company announced it was processing $12 billion in payments annually, with $4 billion of that on mobile. Shortly afterward, on Sept. 26, 2013, the company was acquired by eBay for $800 million.
In October 2014, Johnson announced his creation of the OS Fund, which he backed with $100 million of his personal capital.
Johnson, 37 at the time, said the fund will invest "in inventors and scientists who aim to benefit humanity through quantum leap discoveries at the operating system, or OS, level."
In an article on Medium announcing the fund, Johnson wrote:
"We are at one of the most exciting moments in history. At no other time has the distance between imagination and creation been so narrow. We now have the power to build the kind of world we could previously only dream of. With new tools such as 3D printing, genomics, machine intelligence, software, synthetic biology and others, we can now make in days, weeks or months things that previous innovators couldn't possibly create in a lifetime. Where da Vinci could sketch, today we can build. And yet, there are still so many problems that we haven't begun to solve, so many rich opportunities that lie in wait."
At its launch, the OS Fund had invested $15 million in seven startups, including Human Longevity Inc., which is seeking to extend the human lifespan; Planetary Resources, which is looking for ways to mine asteroids for precious metals and water; Vicarious, an artificial intelligence company; and Matternet, a maker of autonomous vehicles for delivery of goods to emerging markets and developing nations. In 2016 Johnson launched an online series, "Explorations," featuring interviews with leaders of some of those companies.
In 2015, in an effort to spark investment in emerging sciences, the fund publicly released the methodology it uses to evaluate whether to invest in companies involved in synthetic biology.
Johnson – who has said he wants to take companies from "crazy to viable" - expects future problem-solvers to come his direction. "I think the winds will shift," he said. "There will be a shift in the kinds of things people aspire to do. Funding and supporting hard problems will become cool in a company in a couple of years."
Johnson started Kernel in 2016, making a personal investment of $100 million. The company's goal is to build an implantable device to improve brain function in humans, such as memory, while interfacing with artificial intelligence (AI). Initially, the company is focusing on applications for patients with neurodegeneration such as memory loss.
Patients with epilepsy are among the first to test the technology, which relies on algorithms that mimic the brain's natural electrical signals to improve communication between brain cells. Kernel refers to itself as a "human intelligence (HI) company"; Johnson, who has written that the combination of HI and AI will prove to be of great importance for the future of humanity, says his longterm objective is to improve both intelligence and quality of life as human lifespans grow longer.
Bryan is an outdoor-adventure enthusiast, pilot, and author of a children's book, Code 7 and has 3 children of his own.