SALT LAKE CITY — As entrepreneurial success stories go, they don’t come much bigger than Bryan Johnson’s. To begin with, the cellphone company he started while he was an undergraduate paid his way through BYU, where he graduated in 2003.
Then, after he moved on to graduate school at the University of Chicago, he developed an online bill-paying company called Braintree, launching it the year he graduated in 2007. By 2013, a mere six years later, PayPal bought Braintree for $800 million.
Since then, the Utah County native – Bryan was born in Provo and raised in Springville – has invested $100 million each in two more startups. One is The OS Fund, a company whose mission is “to invest in entrepreneurs and scientists who are working on quantum-leap discoveries that promise to rewrite the operating systems of life.” The other is Kernel, a company with the not immodest goal “to build the world's first neuroprosthesis to enhance human intelligence.”
So when word came out that Johnson was working on a book that would be released this fall, the natural assumption was that it would be about how he turned himself a near billionaire by the age of 40, or maybe a how-to book on starting your own business. Something along those lines.
But nope. The book Johnson wrote doesn’t talk about making money or offer business tips or anything of the sort.
He’s written a kid’s book.
“Code 7, Cracking the Code for an Epic Life,” is a book for kids and about kids that talks about non-monetary riches that bring happiness and fulfillment.
“This book is an entry point for kids to identify what they care about,” Johnson said in a recent telephone interview from his home in California. The idea is for them to “start early and make meaning in their lives today."
“Kids have the power to change the world if we just give them the conscious awareness and the tools to realize that power.”
The inspiration for the book came from Johnson’s own children: Jefferson, 14; Talmage, 12; and Genevieve, 7. When they were younger, he routinely told them bedtime stories based on real experiences his kids were having, with embellishments. “I’d just make it up on the fly,” he remembered, “but I’d look at the kids and you could see in their faces that to them this was actually happening; their imaginations took them wherever they wanted to go.”
The book’s seven chapters focus on seven valuable characteristics, i.e. the code: authenticity, character, care, responsibility, perseverance, courage and become. The Johnson kids star in three of the chapters: Jefferson is authenticity, Talmage is perseverance and Genevieve is care.
Financial success, and the freedom it purchases, allowed Johnson to write his book and get it published (“Code 7” is available on Amazon), but making money has never been the driving force for him, he said. He credits his grandfather, retired BYU economics professor Glen Nelson, with shaping his values.
“My grandpa was very influential in raising me,” he said. “He grew up during the Great Depression and taught me frugality from an early age. He never had a great want of money; he saw it as a tool to do things in the world.”
That kind of thinking is what steered Johnson into avoiding the corporate, working-for-somebody-else world and becoming an entrepreneur, a path that could provide “freedom of time and an abundance of money” that would allow him to “go out and do the things I want to do.”
By the age of 40, in addition to using money gained from Braintree’s success to start companies to improve the human race, those “things” have included getting his pilot’s license, helicoptering into an active volcano in Iceland, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and riding a dog sled across the Arctic Circle above Sweden. And, oh yes, writing a book.
Already, “Code 7” is being considered by schools to be part of their curriculum. Johnson would love to see the book used at Sage Creek Elementary, Springville Middle School and Springville High School – the Utah schools he attended growing up. “That would be wonderful.”
“My ultimate objective,” he said, “is in 10, 20, 30 years, when someone achieves some level of success in society, that somebody would cite 'Code 7' as a book that got them to think about themselves in a different way. Even if it’s not a lot, just a few, that would be the ultimate payback.”