How Jaakko Lisalo Hatched a Billion Dollar Bird


This week Rovio has its IPO valuing it at a billion dollars. All because of one late night eight years ago when Jaakko Lisalo – desperate for a good idea and with Rovio on the verge of bankruptcy – sat down at home and drew an angry bird.

How Jaakko Lisalo Hatched a Billion Dollar Bird

As he recalls “Rovio only had enough money to make one game. It was 2009 and, as the company’s sole designer, I had to start coming up with ideas.”

The company had already made 51 games over 8 years and had now run out of cash. They had decided to go-for-broke with a game for the new iPhone, without any idea what it would be.

That led to the late night flurry of drawings with Jaakko’s stress finding it’s way to the crazed eyes of the characters he began drawing: “I’ve always been keen on drawing animals, so I sat at my computer and drew a bunch of birds, giving them beaks, a rounded shape – and angry eyebrows.”

The next day he presented his angry birds to Rovio’s CEO, Mikael Hed. Mikael remembers: “There was something about those characters. These birds have no feet and can’t fly. And they’re really angry.”

“We all started thinking about why they are so angry? For such simple characters, they made us think so much…”

Encouraged by the team’s reaction, but still with no idea what the game would do, Mikael got drawing again: “The game needed enemies, but the schedule was tight, so obviously I just drew an animal – a pig thing I’ve been drawing since I was 10, according to my mum.”

With Rovio needing to keep the money going by charging out their team to make games for other companies, Mikael made the new ‘Angry Bird’ a side project with a €25,000 budget. For six months they worked on the game until Christmas.

That’s when Niklas Hed, Rovio’s COO and Mikael’s cousin, watched his mother burn the Christmas turkey, because she got so carried away playing the prototype game. “She doesn’t play any games. I realised: this is it.”

The team released the game on Apple, and it was a flop. Then, three months after pushing Apple to feature it, it finally got a banner on the front page of the App Store.

Jaakko remembers: “People were coming into the office and saying there’d been a million downloads. Peter Vesterbacka (Rovio’s Business Development Director) said his goal was to reach 100m sales. We shook our heads and thought: “This guy’s crazy.” Then we hit two billion.”

“By April 2010, we were top of the US charts and then we had only one target: to be the biggest game in the App Store. That happened two months later when we passed Doodle Jump.”

Eight years on, Rovio has expanded those original Angry Bird sketches into Angry Bird games with over 80 million monthly active users and over €150 million in annual revenues, the Angry Bird Movie, which came out last year and made over €350 million, Angry Bird books in a dozen languages, and Angry Bird theme parks in Finland, Spain and China

Rovio is now hatching its golden egg with a billion dollar IPO, scheduled to list on the Nasdaq Helsinki Stock Exchange this coming Friday, 29th September.

The beginning of all this success? It wasn’t what Jaakko did when he was at the office. It’s what he was doing when he got home.

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” ~ Newt Gingrich

Imagine if Jaakko had clocked off his job and switched off after five or six o’clock?

How about you?

What do you do in the after-hours of ‘the working day’?

What if your billion dollar idea is also hidden in that last hour of your day?

Because we’ve all got a billion dollar bird ready to be hatched.

“Dreams don’t work unless you do.” ~ John C Maxwell



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