Yesterday at the Techcrunch Tokyo 2011 event there was a panel discussion regarding starting a company aboard, specifically in Silicon Valley. The consensus among the panelists was that a solid command of English and an emphasis on networking are critical components of a fledgeling team. This advice is simple and self-evident but all too often undervalued. Nor is it any less applicable — well, perhaps not specifically with English — to companies venturing out of their homeland.
Today Rovio, most famous for the unbelievably successful Angry Birds brand, announced at a small event in Tokyo that they will be bringing Angry Birds, merchandise and all, to Japan. With the panel discussion from the previous day still in mind and several years of working in notoriously business-difficult Japan, I wonder if Angry Birds will find the success they seek.
Some might argue that Rovio isn’t a new company and that it isn’t faced with the same challenges as most startups. This is true, but it is important to keep in mind that while the company may not be fresh faced, the game that made Rovio the company it is today is still less than two years old.
The official presentation by the Finnish company, while fun (lots of hands on gameplay), didn’t contain too many details. The takeaway points were that the company’s emphasis is on providing quality entertainment above all else. Rovio intends to develop Japan-related gameplay similar to the China levels released earlier this year. However, no level specifics or timelines were revealed. Also, Rovio outlined its strategy for entering the Japanese market with its merchandizing and licensing would be similar to it’s strategy elsewhere: develop key partnerships with local operators.
Even with sparse details there are several other indications that Rovio is doing things right.
First, Rovio has Japanese speakers that can assemble a room of potential partners and media groups. That alone demonstrates the essential characteristics discussed at the Techcrunch panel.
Second, Rovio acknowledges there are cultural differences and challenges ahead. The staff has experience working in Japan and is clearly aware of what to expect. During the presentation Harri Koponen, director of merchandizing, specifically mentioned that his attendance was to demonstrate Rovio’s sincerity in successfully working with Japan. A demonstration of commitment like this is key for doing business in Japan.
Lastly, Rovio is knowledgable of the market. After the presentation I was able to get Henri Holm, SVP of Asia, alone to answer a few direct questions on the company’s decision to enter Japan. He recognizes that the nation’s smartphone ecosystem is a natural evolution of the last ten years of advanced feature phone usage. Both the mobile phone culture and technology is prime for Angry birds. Henri, also noted that one of Angry bird’s greatest assets are the strong characters. Many who have not spent time in Japan are unaware of the immense popularity of brand characters. But Henri has spent several years in the country and is obviously mindful of the licensing and merchandizing opportunities.
On several occasions throughout the event Rovio made it clear that it was still in the early stages of entering Japan but was very bullish. So it’s too early to say if Angry birds will land successfully here. But if 500 million global downloads to date are any indication of what Rovio is capable of — and I think they are — then the outlook is good.