John Hanke's Incredible Success Story

John Hanke's Incredible Success Story

Rayson Choo 23/01/2023
John Hanke's Incredible Success Story

How long does it take to create an overnight success? In John Hanke's case, it has taken him 20 years to create Pokémon Go.

Back in 2016, the Pokémon Go app broke all records, with 10 million+ downloads in the first week, exceeding Twitter in daily active users, and with higher average user time than Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram & WhatsApp.

How did John Hanke create such a massive overnight craze? Here are the 10 times he leveled up in his lifetime to reach Pokémon Go:

1st Level up: In 1996, while he was still a student, John co-created the very first MMO (multiplayer online game) called ‘Meridian 59’. He sold the game to 3DO to move on to a bigger passion: mapping the world.

2nd Level up: John started "Keyhole" in 2000 to figure out how to combine maps and aerial photos and produce the first online, GPS-linked 3D aerial map of the world.

3rd Level up: In 2004, Google acquired Keyhole, and with John's assistance, they transformed it into what is now known as "Google Earth." That’s when John decided to focus on creating GPS-based games.

4th Level up: From 2004 through 2010, John oversaw the Google Geo team, which produced Google Maps and Google Street View. He gathered the team that would subsequently develop Pokémon Go during this period.

5th Level up: In 2010, John launched Niantic Labs as a start-up funded by Google to create a game layer on maps. John explains why he called it Niantic: “The Niantic is the name of a whaling ship that came up during the gold rush and through a variety of circumstances got dragged on shore. This happened with other ships, too. Over the years, San Francisco was basically just built over these ships. You could stand on top of them now, and you wouldn’t know it. So it’s this idea that there’s stuff about the world that’s really cool but even though it’s on the Internet, it’s hard to know when you’re actually there.”

6th Level up: In 2012, John then created Niantic’s first geo-based MMO, “Ingress”. John explains: “In the case of Ingress the activity is layered on top of the real world and on your phone. The inspiration was that it was something that I always used to daydream about while I was commuting back and forth from home to Google. I always thought you could make an awesome game using all the Geo data that we have. I watched phones become more and more powerful and I thought the time would come that you could do a really awesome real-world adventure-based game.”

7th Level up: Google and the Pokémon Company collaborated in 2014 to create an April Fools' Day joke that allowed users to locate Pokémon creatures on Google maps. John began to consider how the concept might be developed into a genuine game after it became a viral phenomenon.

8th Level up: Ingress players produced user-generated meeting places, and John decided to base Pokémon Go on these. The most popular places then became the Pokéstops and gyms in Pokémon Go.

As John says, ”The Pokéstops are submitted by users, so obviously they’re based on places people go. We had essentially two and a half years of people going to all the places where they thought they should be able to play Ingress, so it’s some pretty remote places. There are portals in Antarctica and the North Pole, and most points in between.”

9th Level up: To build a team of more than 40 people and launch Pokémon Go in mid-2016, John raised $25 million from Google, Nintendo, the Pokémon Company, and other investors between December 2015 and February 2016.

10th Level up: John and his team launched Pokémon Go on July 6th in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. Since its launch, Nintendo’s share price has risen more than $12 billion, and the app was already generating over $2 million daily in in-app purchases, making it an overnight phenomenon.

The overnight success of Pokémon Go has taken John Hanke 20 years to create. Throughout these 20 years, while he had a big vision of a game layer over the world, he didn’t know what form it would take. At every step, he just focused on his next level up.

At each new level, he had new powers, new team members, and new items in his inventor.

Are you, like John, treating your own entrepreneurial journey like one big MMO?

The road to success is never easy and we might mistake the people who have achieved them for overnight success. However, once you've seen the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears they have shed for their passion and vision, you would be surprised at the amount of effort they need to put in. Life is not always rainbows and sunshine. So, if you think that success is easy, think again.

Therefore, I implore all of you to be like John and that's to keep the end in mind, but focus today on simply leveling up. At every level, grow your powers, your team, and your luck. And know it takes many levels to win the game.

Like Eddie Cantor famously said: “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”

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Rayson Choo

Transformation Catalyst Expert

I am a Transformation Catalyst. What I do is I pick the brains of the best entrepreneurs you have in this world such as Gary Vee, Grant Cardone and etc to find out from them what are some of the simple and effective steps that millennials like myself can take to experience success in the swiftest and most effective way possible.I do that through podcasting. The millennials who have listened to the podcast have experienced personal transformation because they have gotten the tips they need to move forward. 

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