Rovio, Kickstarter and Lamborghini

The interwebs loves a good underdog triumph story. I simultaneously love these stories and am very suspicious about the easy moral lessons that shape them.

Yesterday I read through a couple founding stories — the Rovio story on Quora is hard not to like, and looking at the 50 other no-name game titles in the Rovio company history, it looks pretty truthy:

In 2003 some Finnish guys decided to convert their love for making games into a video games company. They made one game after another in the hope that one of them would catch on.

After 51 games and 6 years in, they were still at it. Their 52nd game was a slingshot puzzle game about some birds. Yes, the company is called Rovio, makers of Angry Birds.

Today, they have over a billion users, 500 employees and partnerships with some of the world’s most recognizable names like Star Wars, NASA and the Chinese government.

The moral, of course, is that love + persistence = eventual success. What’s not to like? Except the six years of living marginally and the “almost going out of business” part.

What I would like to know is: what were those six years like? Did the founders live in zenlike acceptance, knowing that there are thousands of other companies out there that make 51 versions of their product and fail? Or was it thrashing and frustration and divorces so that now success is anti-climatic? I’m sure there’s a much more interesting truth under this polished rock.

Yesterday I read this week’s Fast Company story on the formation-in-process of Kickstarter. Again, what’s not to like — three guys pursuing their “idea” and following their principles. Sure, right now they look like a success, but with their relatively unpopular manhandling of their own marketplace the open question is: will they survive? I liked that the original founder, Perry Chen, is obsessed with long-running companies — which is cool — but there’s something about the arbitrariness of his business culture, and lack of transparency, that doesn’t sit so well with me. I’m not sure my feelings are any marker of long term success — I think the persistence and luck formula (see Rovio above!) is where its at, and I think in some form Kickstarter will be around in 10 years. Maybe like Yahoo! — a quirky category starter that was too pure to evolve.

A third founder story from yesterday: Lamborghini. Nothing pumps a story like the petty competitions that drive founders — like the Dassler brothers — and the Ferrari vs. Lamborghini friction seems pretty obvious. But if you read through the Quora summary, and then read the source interview, you can see pretty quickly why I find these “founding legends” so problematic. You notice in the Quora re-telling that Lamboghini went to Ferrari to complain that the clutch assembly was the same as in one of his tractors. Hello? Ignoring the technical unlikeliness of that detail, it turns out to not be based in any reference in the actual source material. Blech! But it makes a better story, along with the clever hidden name-reveal technique.

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