Angry Birds’ Success Myth


Overnight success is a myth and the years of struggle that it took for Angry Birds developers, Rovio, to become an ‘overnight’ success is encouraging.

Anyone who is involved in start-ups probably has their favourite overnight success story. We all know they are as mythical as King Arthur’s Camelot, but why spoil a good story.

There is some element of the ‘hopeless dreamer’ in anyone who dares to build a new venture. All that time and effort sunk into a dream that falters and flounders and struggles to gain any traction in a crowded market.

Then along comes a story of stoic resilience and perseverance. It hits that sweet spot, as innocent as ‘just another shot’ for a lapsed AA member. Its power is dangerous because it could be just the sort of thing we want to hear. It may prove to be a much needed tonic or it may be just another sip of the delusional Kool Aid that keeps us hoping and building and clinging on despite all evidence that it is time to let go.

I’m also guilty of writing articles on those who clung on and overcame the odds. Sylvester Stallone’s literally Rocky path to success is an amazing tale. So, I accept that articles like The Dirty Little Secrets of Overnight Success do have their place.

It is inspirational to hear how Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd attempt. The moment I read that they’d struggled so hard there was a flicker of “Yes, it can be done” surge through me. I also took heart from the insight that:

  • James Dyson had 5,126 failed prototypes before he invented his phenomenal vacuum cleaner; and
  • WD-40 lubricant got its name because the first 39 experiments failed.

The knowledge that WD-40 literally stands for “Water Displacement–40th Attempt” is, I have to admit, oddly comforting.

The Deeper Story

Here is the strange thing though. Even a ‘behind the scenes understanding’ can have its own delusional quality because there may be even further data we should know.

Rovio’s endurance to wade through 51 failed attempts is truly inspirational. However, the deeper story outlined by Wired is even more revealing. Ravio, the ‘overnight success’, was actually started in 2003 by Niklas Hed and his cousin Mikael.

It undoubtedly helped that Mikael’s father, Kaj Hed, was an experienced finance-software entrepreneur. Kaj sold his Holland-based Trema International Holdings BV to a private equity for $150 million. In 2005, he invested 1 million Euros in Rovio in return for an 80 percent equity stake. This investment was not without problems though and disputes between Mikael and his father over the company’s growth strategies led to Mikael leaving the company. We can only guess about the bitterness involved.

Four years later with the rapid success expectations of Kaj proving impossible and the number of employees shrinking from 50 to 12, Niklas knew the company was in “full crisis” and they needed to have Mikael return to reinvigorate the company and build a broader base for success. Sensational success did eventually come, but it was not before they’d experienced the start-up trauma of shareholder disputes, staff lay-offs and growth doldrums.

It must have been gruelling for father and son to have such tension between them for a number of years. So much for Rovios’s easy path to riches!


Photo by Jsome1
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About Mark Toohey

Mark Toohey is an experienced commercial lawyer who has worked with both major law firms and as general counsel in the media, telecommunications, software and IT industries. He has been a lawyer, company director, marketing director, company secretary and entrepreneur. Mark's commercial experience extends way beyond the theoretical. He has helped launch a number of start-up businesses and his hands on experience was gained from negotiating and documenting deals for a wide variety of business initiatives.