IVP Hyper-Growth Podcast: 6 Lessons from CEO Ilkka Paananen on Scaling Supercell During Hyper-Growth

Parsa Saljoughian
Jan 15, 2019 · 6 min read
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Ilkka Paananen, Co-Founder and CEO of Supercell

We are pleased to kickoff IVP’s Hyper-Growth Podcast series where we interview CEOs of the fastest-growing companies to discuss the ins-and-outs of company-building in the hyper-growth environment. In this podcast, I interview Co-Founder and CEO of Supercell, Ilkka Paananen. Supercell is a Finnish mobile games developer known for its hit titles Clash of Clans and Clash Royale which together have grossed over $8 billion since launch. The company is majority-owned by Tencent and is currently valued at over $10 billion.

In this episode, I discuss with Ilkka the company’s founding story, the crucial early pivot to mobile, Supercell’s decentralized structure, and the strong international strategy that has enabled Supercell to reach over 100 million people every day.

The podcast can also be found on iTunes. Click here to subscribe to our channel.

Below are some of the major takeaways from our discussion. Read more here on IVP.com. Hope you enjoy!

1. Make decisions that are best for the long-term

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Image of Gunshine, Supercell’s initial title on Facebook

The team made a bet that tablets would be the “ultimate gaming platform” of the future. They extended this to cover smartphones and very quickly adopted a “mobile-first” approach. They discussed this decision as a team and were transparent with the board that this was the best decision for the long-term. The board agreed and shared the conviction that there was a lot of opportunity on mobile. This was a major upheaval for the company as it required them to throw everything they had built away, even projects they had worked on for several months. Ultimately it proved successful and shows the power of having the courage to shut down mediocre products and streamlining focus. Less than a year after the pivot, Supercell launched its first two mobile titles, including Clash of Clans, which remains a top 10 grossing title worldwide after six years.

“One of our dreams is to create games that people play for years and remember forever.”

2. Small and independent teams lead to better decisions and quicker execution

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Supercell’s upside-down structure (GDC Vault)

Ilkka shares two examples where this structure benefitted the company greatly. Two of the company’s five titles, Boom Beach and Clash Royale faced strong internal opposition. However, the leads on both games were positive. While it may have been the right business decision in the short term to fold the games and work on other titles, this decision would have killed the company’s independent team orientation. The company launched both titles, with Clash Royale having since grossed over $2 billion in two years. Ilkka notes that the most radical innovations in the market aren’t obvious early on.

“In most companies, the vision is held by the leadership team, but we started to ask ourselves what if the vision was held by the game developers?”

3. Hire people who put the company first

“We want to hire people and put together teams that always think Supercell first and about what is best for the company. We are so lucky to have all these amazing people who do exactly that.”

4. Failure isn’t fun but is necessary for success

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Supercell champagne toast to celebrate “failure” and share learnings

“Failing isn’t fun… it just isn’t fun. You dedicate 6 to 12 months to a game and it turns out not to work. We don’t celebrate the failure, rather the learnings that come from those failures.”

5. Don’t change the soul of your product when launching into new markets

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Art from Japanese developer GungHo and Supercell crossover event

“Our approach is to stay true to what our game is about in its heart and soul but then to localize everything around it. Take care of every little detail no matter how small.”

6. Stay true to your core values during hyper-growth

“We have to remain 100% focused on games because we are a games company first and foremost.”

As the first mobile gaming company with two multi-billion-dollar franchises, Supercell has paved the way for many in the mobile gaming industry.

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Investor at late-stage VC firm, IVP.

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