Niantic Labs and the Professional Entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley: Google, Pokémon Go, and Beyond

by Jerome S. Engel

This case series focuses on the entrepreneurial career of John Hanke, a 1996 MBA graduate of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and a professional entrepreneur. The case series primarily centers on Hanke's most recent venture - San Francisco-based Niantic Labs that develops augmented reality (AR) games for use on smart phones - and tells the storyline in three distinct cases: The (A) case explores whether Hanke should spin Niantic out of Google in 2015; the (B) case asks what strategic choices Niantic should undertake, immediately following the successful launch of its Pokémon Go game in Summer 2016; and the (C) case ponders how Niantic should further execute on its strategy of scaling up in 2019, especially with the advent of G5 technology. There are also additional sub-themes in the case series that make this a potentially discussion-rich case for classroom use: (1) How the different components of the 'Cluster of Innovation' ecosystem in the San Francisco Bay Area impacted Hanke's career, starting from the time when he first enrolled at Berkeley-Haas in Fall 1994 up to his current situation now; (2) How Hanke successfully created several start-ups prior to Google acquiring his third one, Keyhole, an 3-D online mapping company, in 2004 and then rebranding it as Google Earth; (3) How he was able to scale-up Google's Geo-products division over an eight-year period and within a large corporate setting by applying the concepts of 'lean start-up,' 'open sourcing,' and 'open innovation' that led to the eventual success of Google Maps and Google Street View; (4) The importance of 'organizational alignment and fit' with Hanke managing the transition of his core team, through Keyhole's acquisition, success within Google with the Geo Division, and ultimate spin-out of Niantic and its emergence as an independent company when scale no longer offset the benefits of entrepreneurial stand-alone flexibility; and (5) the importance of 'grasping the power of new technologies converging and impacting the consumer market.'


Pub Date: Oct 31, 2019

Discipline: Entrepreneurship

Subjects: Divestiture, Mergers & acquisitions, Emerging markets, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Strategic alliances, Business models, Internet

Product #: B5946-PDF-ENG

Industry: Gaming, Online information services

Geography: California, Silicon Valley

Length: 12 page(s)

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