In 2010, the thirtieth year of SoftBank’s existence, its founder Masayoshi Son outlined the company’s vision for the next 30 years. He first set the context by zooming out to talk about how the world and the needs of humanity would evolve over the next 300 years, and stated his firm objective for SoftBank to survive at least that long. And then, zooming back in, explained that in this context, having a 30-year plan was absolutely essential.
SoftBank took an entire year to develop this vision which combined the output of an unprecedented, company-wide, soul-searching exercise with input from consumers responding to questions tweeted by Son himself. At the company’s annual meeting in 2010, Son articulated a vision based on SoftBank’s underlying mission to harness the information revolution to make everybody happy.
Much like Son and SoftBank, Ilkka Paananen and his team are driven by a mission; to build the world’s first truly global game company, and like Son, he owes his company’s success to the unique approach and structure that he has created. Supercell’s homegrown cell-based approach is not predicated on the company knowing what type of game will be the next blockbuster, but rather on unleashing the creative power of multiple independent cells tasked with building their own games quickly and efficiently and letting the audience decide which ones will be hits.
Similarly, SoftBank has shown remarkable agility in moving from publishing technology magazines (Ziff-Davis) to running tradeshows (Comdex) to offering broadband (Yahoo! BB) and finally mobile devices and services, successfully surfing consecutive technology waves. In his 30-year vision presentation, Son quite humbly said that SoftBank will not bet on a single hot technology, implying that by 2040 even the most promising ones would become obsolete. Instead, SoftBank will continue to forge multiple partnerships with leading companies characterized by great vision and energy, to collectively offer products and services to address peoples greatest needs and bring them longer, happier lives. These products would capitalize on the enormous advances in cloud computing over the next 30 years by which time SoftBank predicts single microprocessors will have billions of times more processing power than the human brain, and networks will be measured in petabits per second.
At the very end of his more than two-hour talk, Son spoke movingly about his deep-rooted desire to make his success stand as a symbol of triumph against the adversity and contempt that he and his family endured as immigrants in postwar Japan, to prove, as he proclaimed “that we are all the same; we are all humans!”
The transaction announced today cements a new partnership between the two companies, bolstering them as they pursue their lofty objectives. Although it is orders of magnitude larger than Supercell, SoftBank’s organizing principles champion agility and decentralization to avoid what Son calls “big company disease.” Building on Supercell’s existing relationship with GungHo Online Entertainment-- developers and publishers of the insanely successful Puzzle & Dragons-- the new partnership that has been struck has been intelligently constructed to preserve all of the incentives, processes and culture that have driven Supercell’s success so far. To augment its European base and it’s flourishing presence in the US, Supercell now has unparalleled access to Japanese and Asian markets for its games which combined with the highly-acclaimed launch of Clash of Clans on Android and some other pretty good stuff in the pipeline, makes us very excited about the next stage of the voyage.
Our investment in Supercell was really driven by a deep appreciation of the core principles underpinning Supercell’s unique organizational structure, a belief that these were the reasons for the company’s early success and a bet that they would continue to deliver success over the long-term. At the time of our investment, we outlined the basic tenets of Supercell’s approach: empowering independent self-contained teams to conceive and build their own games, short development cycles, tablet first, systematically killing games that aren’t good enough, focusing on gameplay rather than graphics and optimizing for long-term engagement rather than short-term downloads. We suspect that these aspects of Supercell’s unique culture and organization are also what appealed to SoftBank and its leadership team.
While Supercell and SoftBank have very different origins, they share so many values, principles and goals that they almost appear to be long-lost cousins who are now happily reunited. We look forward to working with and learning from our new partners SoftBank and GungHo and above all, we congratulate Ilkka, Mikko and all Supercellians on the achievement of this incredible milestone and thank them for the ongoing privilege of being their partner.
by Neil Rimer, Partner, Index Ventures @narimer