Journey to success: Pokemon Go

A lesser-known story of John Hanke, the man behind this global gaming phenomenon

During the last weeks you’ve probably seen more people on the streets, in the parks, in museums or churches that ever before. You’ve watched them bumping into street light posts, falling into drains, you’ve seen couples fighting, people judging, business owners taking advantage.

The world has gone cookoo (as my uncle would say, while hunting a Rattata in the back yard) and the sole responsible for this is a harmless game named Pokemon Go. As we are all wondering how this „over-night” success has led to a world-wide frenzy, we’re forgetting one thing.

This was not an over-night success and it was not luck that made Pokemon Go the biggest game in recent years. It was John Hanke, an entrepreneur who has been involved in the digital world for decades. Some consider him to be the next Steve Jobs. I say it’s time to meet him.


John Hanke is the founder and CEO of Niantic Labs, the gaming company that owns “Pokemon Go”. It might seem that luck struck John Hanke, a 49 years old businessman, but in fact there were years of hard work that propelled him to become one of the modern-age geniuses. So, if you’re wondering what it takes to create something as big as Pokemon Go, let’s see his path to success.

1994: John Hanke graduates with a Berkley MBA at University of California

Hanke receives his BA at University of Texas, Austin. While a student, he is in charge with the Distinguished Speakers Committee and brings important speakers to lecture on campus: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Kurk Vonnegut, Jr. or Dith Pran among others.

Before attending Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkley, Hanke works in foreign affairs for the United States Government in Washington, DC, Myanmar and Indonesia.

After graduation, he helps start two software companies: Archetype Interactive and Big Network. He also worked on one of the first MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online) named Meridian 59.

2001: John Hanke creates Keyhole, the first company specialized in geospatial data visualization apps

Keyhole is the first company to create 3D online aerial maps anchored with GPS. The funding came from Sony, NVIDIA, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and from Brian McClendon who became a board member and VP. Keyhole’s marquee application suite, Earth Viewer, draws the attention of Google who acquires Keyhole.

2004: John Hanke starts working at Google Maps and Google Street View

In 2004, Google acquires Keyhole for 35 million $ and Hanke continues his work, developing the former Keyhole apps into Google Maps and Google Street View.

2010: John Hanke creates Niantic, the company that owns Pokemon Go

Hanke initially creates Niantic while working at Google. In 2015, when Google was beginning to reorganize itself and create Alphabet – the new parent company – Niantic wasn’t absorbed by it. Why? Hanke managed to convince the company to let him turn it into an independent entity. Not only did he succeed, but he also got a big investment from Nintendo, Pokemon Co and Google.

2014: John Hanke creates Ingress, a location based game that paved the way to Pokemon Go

Similar to Pokemon Go, Ingress is an augmented reality game that encourages you to get out and explore your community. Ingress gathered 7 million players worldwide in less than a year. In order to play, you have to be physically present at portal locations in the real world. Portals are usually found at museums, historic places, parks and public spaces. Sounds familiar, right? Because Ingress was the foundation for Pokemon Go.

2016: Pokemon Go is released, tops Twitter by daily users from the first week

In october 2015, John Hanke raises funds from Google, Nintendo and Pokemon Co to launch the game. In the first week, the app gets downloaded over 8 million times in U.S. only. Fun fact: more women play Pokemon Go than men. A lot more women. The recent statistics show that people spend more time on Pokemon Go than on Facebook. Twitter was overtaken since the very first week.

And the rest is history!

History in the making. No matter how long the pokemon frenzy will keep on going, one thing is for sure: this is the story of the year and John Hanke is the main character. John Hanke is another proof that success doesn’t hit overnight, on the contrary, it requires hard work and patience. It took John Hanke more than 20 years to achieve it.

So, if you sometimes feel that your ideas or your new business stand no chance…

… think about John Hanke. As in you have to be patient and work your way to success. Or as in take a break and search for some pokemons.

They’re everywhere!


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