The ex-lawyer whose goal is to spark 10 million moments of happiness each day

Some entrepreneurs measure success by the number of pounds sitting in their bank. John Ramsay, on the other hand, gauges his by the number of smiles he puts on the faces of people living with dementia…

At CLIC we love to understand what motivates people. Looking back on our many extraordinary interviews, we’ve found a clear correlation between success and those individuals who have a clearly defined sense of purpose. If you have a target and can articulate what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll be able to map your journey, attract other talented individuals to help you get there and make tough decisions more easily.

Of all the entrepreneurs we’ve interviewed, John Ramsay, co-founder of Shift8*, probably has the most compelling goal we’ve heard. His mission is crystal clear, powerful, and, dare we say it, really rather wonderful. John’s goal at Shift8* is this: “To spark as many moments of happiness each day as possible.” How great is that? This entrepreneur’s primary measure of success is the number of smiles he puts on people’s faces.

Before launching Shift8*, John had been a lawyer at Linklaters for seven years. The Magic Circle firm was an outstanding place to work and gave him exceptional skills, training and contacts but he was never entirely satisfied with his career. Law could not offer him the thing he wanted most – the chance to build and run his own business. And not just any business: it had to be one that would make a positive impact on society. “I realised there was something missing in my life,” says John. “I wanted to do something that I was truly passionate about, but something that would also benefit society.”

The source of John’s dilemma was a painful and life-changing experience. When he was 22 and about to take his finals at Oxford University, his father passed away after living with dementia for 10 years. John says: “Dad was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 52, when I was just 12. I spent the next 10 years helping to care for him. Prior to his diagnosis he had been a leading consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital – he was a brilliant man. His illness was a tough journey and it made me realise that life can be short.”

It took several years before John found his new path and everything fell into place. “My friend, Hester Le Riche, was getting married in South Africa in 2016,” he says. “I asked her what she was up to and she said that she was creating a piece of technology to help people with dementia. Pretty much there and then, Hester and I agreed that I would try to get this technology into the UK and Ireland through a new social enterprise business that I would set up.”

Realising that he could survive for one year without a salary, John handed in his notice, teamed up with co-founder Mehdi Bedioui, and launched Shift8*. His quest to spark moments of happiness had begun.

Shift8* uses a fascinating piece of technology. Invented by Hester during her PhD and called the ‘Tovertafel™’ – Dutch for ‘Magic Table™’ – it aims to improve the lives of those living with dementia and their families. “Whilst spending time observing dementia patients in care homes, Hester noticed that they would often forget to drink, so she designed a light that would project reminders – like ‘have a drink’ and ‘take a sip’ – onto the tables next to their cups. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for people with mid- to late-stage dementia as they didn’t know how they should respond. But, what she saw was that they would move their cups out of the way and play with the lights instead.”

Hester then wondered if she could use lights to spark enjoyment for those with mid- to late-stage dementia – a group for whom traditional activities often fail, resulting in them becoming withdrawn, isolated and frustrated. She discovered that she was able to use projected lights to spark moments of happiness through movement, social interaction and sensory stimulation. Now, after six years of intensive research and rigorous testing, the Tovertafel offers those living with dementia a vast array of interactive light-based activities. John says: “What so often happens is that dementia patients sit in armchairs at the side of a room, alone and cut off. With this technology, you can have up to 12 people, loved ones included, sitting around the interactive Tovertafel, forming a community, re-triggering that fundamental part of humanity – the desire to engage and socialise.”

Seeing the joy that the Tovertafel can bring – combined with the memories of his father’s struggle with dementia – drove John to change his career and seek a different path. John and Mehdi have poured heart and soul into Shift8*, and, two years in, they have introduced the technology to as many care homes in the UK and Ireland as possible. “We’re partnered up with Hester in the Netherlands and between us we are bringing moments of happiness to 50,000 people living with dementia and their loved ones each and every day. Our goal is big – to hit 10 million moments of happiness every day across the world. We’re also starting to help people with learning difficulties, autism and other cognitive impairments, too.”

John, Mehdi, Hester and Shift8* are on a mission. They have an inspirational goal. Yes, of course their bottom line is important. But, while most businesses focus on pleasing shareholders, growing for the sake of growing and hitting dull sales targets, how much more fulfilling is an emotive and compelling goal like Shift8*’s? After all, who wouldn’t want to work for a company focused on sparking as many moments of happiness each day as possible?