Congratulations to the MassTLC for putting on an absolutely fantastic event in the main auditorium of the Ben Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT). Ben Franklin was arguably one of America's first great entrepreneurs and inventors, so the setting fit the content, which was three outstanding talks/interviews featuring Dina Katabi, Director, MIT Center for Wireless Networks & Mobile Computing, Rich Miner, the founder of Android, and the Mighty Eagle himself, Peter Vesterbacka, from Rovio—creator of Angry Birds the game and the fast growing brand/entertainment company.
Bad Piggy courtesy of Rovio Entertainment
I won't spend much time on Dina Katabi or Rich Miner, who is a local fixture, but suffice it to say that the 4 different technologies that Dina described in her talk were all fascinating improvements on mobile technology. Dina spoke about technical innovations in WiFi that could offer 10x the bandwidth over what we have today, an upcoming technology that provides location information indoors down to the centimeter level indoors, and techniques that they are exploring for using the cell phone to read an X-Ray image through a wall. Fascinating stuff.
Rich Miner offered his usual smart and experienced perspective on lots of things—where technologies are going, where and how Google Ventures invests, what he looks for in companies and teams, and so forth. Most interesting to me? The emphasis that Rich puts on experience—user experience is paramount to him. And Google Ventures has significant in-house expertise in experience design that they put to work for their portfolio companies.
The capper on the day was the interview that George Bell, CEO of Jumptap, did with Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio. If you don't know the Rovio story, it's inspirational. Rovio was a 6 year old mobile gaming company who had put out 51 titles before creating Angry Birds. Entrepreneurs everywhere appreciate the importance of persistence, and of gaining great experience and getting good at what you do. Rovio did that and then capitalized on opportunity in the form of the iPhone, a singularly sweet entertainment platform.
"When did you know you had something?", someone from the crowd asked. "When we realized how much fun it was to play as we were building it," Peter replied. Since then we have watched a major media brand, which is how Rovio thinks of themselves, literally explode onto the world. Some amazing stats from Peter's discussion: Angry Birds has over 1.7 billion downloads and 263 million active monthly users (bigger then Twitter)! And perhaps the most important thing is that they now have absolutely fantastic brand recognition. Peter cited a survey they did in China of 2000 consumers which found that Angry Birds had 94% brand recognition. Yikes! And so that led naturally to Peter talking about where Rovio is heading, and that is to leverage and expand one of the fastest growing brands ever. They are into theme parks, plush toys, and even Angry Birds coffee. (Peter's comment? It's really good coffee. We want great coffee associated with our brand.) Fully 45% of their revenue now comes from sale of consumer goods.
Of course this question came up: "is it sustainable?" Which led to a long narrative where Peter compared themselves to other major media/entertainment brands that grew based on iconic character brands. Disney was founded on a mouse in a short film. Nintendo grew largely on the back of the Mario Brothers. And he cited other great character based brands, such as Hello Kitty, that have managed to build and sustain large brands and businesses.
So Angry Birds, or more specifically Rovio, has managed to take an iPhone game and turn it into 1.7 billion downloads, theme parks, coffee, and the next great entertainment brand. The question was asked: "What was your secret Peter?" His answer? A whole lot of expertise making games (51 titles to be precise), a strong sense of that what they were building was fun, and (this is the kicker) timing. Timing to be ready for when the iPhone hit—a truly beautiful development platform which also came along with frictionless commerce. Carriers and phone makers were not in a position of dictating consumer choices. And consumers chose with their 1.7 billion thumbs.
So now Rovio is a major media/entertainment brand and they have one of the world's largest distribution systems (Angry Birds' games) for partners like 20th Century Fox (Angry Birds Rio). Angry Bird Tunes are now viewable through Angry Birds (400 million views!) and through plenty of partner networks.
All of which reinforces again the incredible platform that is mobile. Being able to reach 2 billion smart phone owners in a frictionless way is a big deal.
And now the big question: are all piggies bad piggies? We think not, as our Rocket Pig only flies on the side of good.