How Supercell “Thinks small, but Gets Big”
Have you ever played Clash of Clans on your phone? If so, maybe you’re one of about 8 million people who play every day and ultimately part of the reason Supercell, the startup behind the game, recently inked a $1.5 billion investment deal with Japan’s SoftBank Corp.
Three years ago, the founders were pitching investors over a cardboard box in a tiny, leased office with small windows and missing chairs. Now, the fastest-growing company in gaming history is finding ways to leave the small office without leaving behind the passion and innovation that started there.
Supercell got its start as a small and very passionate team that made a great game which people — a lot of people — started picking up. According to co-founder and Supercell CEO, Ikka Paananen, that’s exactly where things can go off track.
When you become financially successful, he says, “you end up growing really, really quickly with employees, and you start to build these bigger and more expensive products and so on, and at some point the company grows to hundreds of people in size, and the products become more and more expensive. And then you don’t want to take risks anymore — you can see that evidence by all the sequels that are being built. Nobody wants to take any risks anymore.” (gamasutra.com)
So when the successes and the revenue started rolling in and the company faced the clamor for more, Supercell decided not to grow; instead, it replicated.
From the original cell, the company has added 125 employees, but each is distributed into a small, dynamic team of about a half-dozen developers. Each team works independently to build a new product and present it to the rest of the company which decides whether to keep going with it or pull the plug. At Supercell, it’s a recipe for creating high-engagement workers who push boundaries to create something amazing.
When Supercell needed to move out of their small, single-room office on the outskirts of Helsinki, they just started looking for a bigger room. They didn’t want to take the standard route, carving up individual, employee storage units and then distributing them by size and job title.
Instead, their space is open. Everyone works from large conference rooms or shares community workspaces. It’s a workplace model that supports their flat organization and collaborative company culture.
It’s a workplace model that may also look familiar to many startups and small businesses who’ve discovered coworking — productive and lively places where information can move quickly and contact creates opportunity.
Many entrepreneurs who started coworking to save money on overhead are staying because the culture is invigorating for their companies. The success of the model shows in the rising number of coworking spaces coming online in cities like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, as well as initiatives by companies like Jones Lang LaSalle to bring Coworking to Enterprise. For their US headquarters, Supercell chose the well-known San Francisco coworking/incubator RocketSpace.
Pop the champagne! That’s what Supercell does when they decide to pull the plug on a game in development. Paananen encourages failure. “When you fail you learn, and that’s worth celebrating.” (gamasutra.com) It keeps people from playing it safe and encourages risk-taking.
Each failure, and they happen more often than not, is followed-up with a review to discuss openly with the team what went wrong, what went right, and most importantly, what needs to be done differently the next time. The corrections get made and the whole thing takes off again.
“We view change as our friend, not as our enemy,” Paananen adds. “The way we’re set up, having our independent, small, very agile, quickly-moving teams, we can react to the fast-changing environment.” (gamasutra.com)
Gamasutra: Supercell’s Secret Sauce 12/07/2012
Wall Street Journal: Supercell: Zero to $3 Billion in 3 Years 10/16/2013
Supercell Blog: It’s board game time! 10/10/2013
Forbes.com: Mobile Gaming Mega-Deal: Supercell 10/10/2013