Supercell is the new superstar of the mobile gaming industry, but rather than burn out and fade away, it's CEO wants the Finnish company to last forever.

Supercell Clash of Clans Last Forever
Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen wants to build a company which will last for decades not just years.

On the face of it, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen don't seem to have that much in common.

One (at least if you believe the account given by Brad Stone in his new book, The Everything Store) is a maniacal, driven and ruthless task master who wields an iron fist to rule his empire squeezing every last drop of sweat from his employees.

The other is a mild-mannered Finn who is more worried about work-life balance, creating something beautiful and making sure work is fun.

But dig a little deeper and you will see that despite their apparent differences, Bezos and Paananen share a deeply-held belief that they are building companies which will be around, not just for the next decade, but for the next 300 years.

Both want to create history; both want to leave a legacy as the world moves relentlessly to digital; and both will not stop until they achieve their goal.

The Dream?

Standing in an anonymous meeting room of a vast, modern building in the centre of Helsinki - once occupied by Nokia's research and development division - the co-founder and current CEO of the mobile gaming phenomenon is finishing up a presentation, having faced questions about his company's finances, its hugely popular games, and the culture within Supercell.

The smiling, humble CEO is asked one last question. What does he want to achieve with Supercell?

Rather than answering, Paananen simply taps the screen which is still displaying the last slide of his presentation. It says: "The Dream? To make history."

Shining light

Supercell has succeeded Angry Brid's creator Rovio as the shining light in Finland's technology firmament.

It came to international prominence in April when a profile in Forbes asked if it was the fastest-growing company in the world.

The report highlighted that Supercell was making $2.4 million every single day in revenue from its hit iOS games Clash of Clans and farm-tending game Hay Day.

Supercell's star rose even further in October when it was announced that Japanese telecoms and internet giant Softbank and its subsidiary GungHo were acquiring a 51% stake in the company for $1.53bn, valuing the (relatively) tiny company at $3bn.

Truly global

But these huge figures, and Supercell's rapid growth are not what drives its co-founder Paananen. He wants to create "the first truly global games company" with games which will "last years if not decades."

Founded three years ago, the company is still relatively small, with 130 employees occupying just half of one floor in the cavernous building in the middle of Helsinki.

It has released just three games in that time, much less than many of its contemporaries who release games quickly and just as quickly forget about them.

Services not products

Supercell is different.

It sees its games are as services rather than products. It wants to create games which players will not just play for a week and forget about, it wants to keep people playing long-term by continuing to support the games and adding new features every week.

And it is working. The company's games have been at or near the top of the charts on Apple's App Store for 18 months now.

This is all part of Paananen's goal of creating history, creating a company for the long term.


When the CEO is asked about the vast amount of money his company is generating, you can see Paananen noticalby wince at the suggestion that money mattered that much.

"I have never worked for money" he says, yet all anyone has wanted to talk to him about recently was the $2.4m daily revenue his games were generating - now likely to be much higher, after the games launched on the Android platform, as well as launches in China and Japan.

"We have never made these games to make money. Because we have never made games for money, I don't see anything changing."

"Least powerful CEO in the world"

Where Bezos' wanted complete control over every aspect of what his company did, Paananen's stated goal is to become the "least powerful CEO in the world."

Paanenan says that rather than generating ever higher revenues, he is focused on creating a company which is loved by its employees and the players who play its games.

"In 30, 40, 50 years time we want people to look back and feel the same way [about Supercell] as people now feel about Nintendo."

Softbank deal

He says that this is "single biggest reason" the company decided to do the deal with Softbank.

At the time of the deal, SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son told Paananen that he has a 300-year vision for the future - something which appealed greatly to the Finn's vision for his own company's future.

Softbank now owns a majority of Supercell in purely economic terms, but Paananen says that he and his employees retain 100% control of their games, giving them complete independence to keep on doing what they have been doing.

Small is Beautiful

Bezos' mantra in the early days of Amazon was "Get Big Fast", Paananen's seems to be "Small is Beautiful."

In order to remain small, Paananen is staking everything on Supercell's people.

"The best people will make the best games. If you truly believe this, then the only thing that matters is to get those best people to work for the company and create best environment to make sure those people stay."

Supercell has a relatively flat structure with everyone organised into small teams of five to eight people called Cells, with zero bureaucracy and complete transparency.

To aid this transparency, every single employee (from trainees to CEO) receives an email every morning, giving them details such as the progress of various projects, download figures and even revenue figures for each game.

"If you provide people with the key information, you don't need to tell people what to do, they can figure it out for themselves."

Celebrating failure

Another quirk of Supercell is the way it "celebrates failure."

Last year the company launched two games, but at the same time it killed five others. After the decision was taken to kill each of these games, the company comes together to see what it can learn from the failure and while this is happening, champagne is handed out to "celebrate" the end of the game.

"As a company we have failed way more than we have succeeded," Paananen proudly proclaims, adding that Supercell will continue with this model of failig more than succeeding.

Boom Beach

Looking towards the near future, the company is currently beta testing its next possible game - Boom Beach - in Canada, a common testing ground of new mobile games, and it will launch the game "when it's ready."

You get the sense that if Boom Beach doesn't meet Paananen's exacting standards, he will have no problem ditching it and moving on to something else.

As much as the affable Finn espouses flexible working hours and work-life balance, it is clear that like Bezos, this CEO will only accept the best - the reason being, he wants Supercell to be around long after he has retired.