Words cannot describe how happy I was (and still am), when I saw the news on the Supercell acquisition by GungHo and Softbank. I won’t dive into the numbers and what I think about them, because simply put – it’s the best thing that has ever happened to the Finnish startup scene. If you want to go through the figures, I suggest doing so on ArcticStartup.
However, I thought to share my story covering them and the somewhat special relationship I’ve always had with the company. At least I’ve felt it that way.
Running ArcticStartup I always had a little bit of an advantage in talking with founders as I was mostly seen as a representative of media and hence there was an inherent interest for publicity in having a chat with me.
I first talked with Ilkka about Supercell when they were coming out with Gunshine. This was back in February 2011 and I titled the article, “Supercell Combines The Very Best In Finnish Gaming“.
I kept in touch with Ilkka and the team throughout their launch of Gunshine and its development. They never shared too much data with me regarding Gunshine, but he did share the big picture: they wanted to make a game that was playable on different platforms – Facebook, the browser and tablets, etc.
In all my discussions with Ilkka he always came across in a very honest and open fashion. I always enjoyed talking to him in a business sense, there was always something exciting happening at Supercell whenever we met. My interest in writing about Supercell was mostly about covering the traction and growth of the company. There was something about the way they approached things and it made perfect sense.
Just after the First of May in 2011, I speculated whether Supercell had received funding. These guesses were based on the discussions I had heard and the tweets I noticed by Petteri Koponen, partner at Lifeline Ventures and an early investor in the company. Just a few weeks later the company announced that it had closed a whopping $12 million from Accel Partners among others.
By now, it was clear Ilkka and Mikko had big plans. In addition, they had been able to hire the best game development team in Finland. Accel’s investment was a confirmation of that.
In August 2011 I had a chat with Ilkka and posted an article on ArcticStartup titled “A Deeper Dive Into Supercell“. During the discussion he told me that the company is also working on three new titles. I didn’t know it by then, but most likely these were Battle Buddies, Hay Day and Clash of Clans.
Before Hay Day, there was a game candidate called Battle Buddies. I covered this on ArcticStartup in December 2011. It was a multiplayer game that was based on planning turns and then playing those out simultaneously with other players. I liked the concept a lot, but the company decided to cancel it. There were no clear reasons given, but Supercell has been known to test games in Canada and if my memory serves me correct, New Zealand. My guess is that the traction wasn’t good enough to justify launching it.
It is easy to look at these decisions and say that not only was Supercell looking to develop a game that would reach big crowds, they wanted to do it very quickly. The game needed to be madly intriguing and addictive. Gunshine wasn’t that, but their next game would be.
Hay Day was launched with somewhat less promotion. At least I missed it completely. It was only until I began to dive deeper and noticed how well it was doing. Towards the end of June 2012 I wrote an article on how Hay Day is hitting top 10 charts around the world.
It was crazy. The company had kept quiet during the winter and spring. Looking back, they probably had been scrambling to execute on their new mobile only strategy – building games for tablets and phones. The genre and style of play was different to Gunshine. In addition, a lot of time had been “wasted” on Battle Buddies and they needed to come out with a hit.
The figures with Hay Day were through the roof. While my first reaction was that it was a Farmville clone, people on average played 9 minutes on one go and they picked up the game 9 times during the day. Supercell was clearly onto something.
It’s also interesting to speculate whether Supercell wanted to avoid what they did with Gunshine and Battle Buddies – by developing one game at a time. The two games, Hay Day and Clash of Clans were very similar, but appeal to slightly different crowds. By developing both games, Supercell played it safe in my opinion. And it’s easy to say it in hindsight – it was the perfect decision to do so.
In August 2012, Supercell came out with Clash of Clans. I covered the launch on ArcticStartup. I remember meeting with Ilkka and Marika at a cafe in downtown Helsinki.
In that meeting I asked Ilkka if the company would be raising more money soon. He gave a very diplomatic answer on that and my understanding on it was that the metrics in the two new games were out of this world. And they were. The company wouldn’t be needing any funding and back then my guess was that the company would be cash flow positive very soon.
The company went on to do over a hundred million in revenues during the rest of the year. In the first quarter of 2013, the company’s profits were more than its revenue for the full financial year of 2012.
I feel honored to have been able to follow the story so close. Based on all the discussions I have had with Ilkka and other members of the team, they fully deserve the success. Having said that, I do believe the success was made – it simply didn’t come by.
Supercell has been phenomenal in many ways outside their figures and success as well. The leadership style inside the company has been very transparent and Ilkka has proudly stated that he is the least powerful CEO in the world. With a team like that, I don’t think he never really stressed about it.
In the midst of all financial planning in today’s societies, Supercell continues to stand out. The company and its employees will pay some €260 million in taxes to Finland this year.
Once more, congratulations Supercell – on a success well deserved through hard work, while maintaining your integrity and values you stand for.