The recently released Forbes list of America’s billionaires is chock-full of the usual suspects—oil-magnates, captains of the computer industry, and world-famous financiers. But one person seems incongruous among the bunch. Tied with the ever-present and ever self-promoting Donald Trump as the 153rd wealthiest person in the country is Ty Warner. For those of you who don’t recognize or remember the beanie baby craze of the 1990s, Mr. Warner is the creator of that era-defining product. Mr. Warner has since expanded his empire to include real estate and other holdings, but the foundation of his wealth was this simple stuffed animal.
On March 10th, Rovio, the company that created Angry Birds (Apple’s most popular app), announced that it received $42 million in Series A venture capital funding—just a day after the Forbes list was announced. When a rapidly growing and profitable firm takes on venture capital, it clearly has some ambitious growth plans. The press release for the investment highlights that the money will be used to continue to build Rovio’s "franchises in gaming, merchandising, and broadcast media" While Rovio will continue to invest in creating computer games, the goal of the company is to expand far beyond the handheld device.
If Rovio is successful—and with such the ownership of the Angry Birds household name, the odds are pretty good that it will be—we might be in store for a stuffed Angry Bird craze that exceeds the Beanie Baby craze. Rovio has already sold over two million stuffed Angry Bird characters since they were released last fall, but the real demand for these toys may still be ahead.
Consider: Rovio will release a new version of its game, Angry Birds Rio, at the same time as the release of the upcoming Fox movie, RIO, coming to a theater near you on April 15th. In addition, an Angry Birds television show is in the works. There are reports that a movie is also being discussed.
The strategy and vision is clear: to be the next entertainment hit that crosses multiple channels. The plan is to follow the model originally designed by Disney by creating a merchandising empire around the Angry Birds animated characters.
If successful, Rovio founder Mikael Hedmight just make the Forbes billionaires list in a few years and perhaps even overtake Ty Warner. The key is to achieve this strategy before the Angry Birds go the way of Beanie Babies and Pogs.
Patrick J. Howie has spent two decades studying the social process of innovation as an economist, head of product development for a venture capital–backed start-up, and creator of the social prediction website ABetterGuess.com. He is the author of THE EVOLUTION OF REVOLUTIONS: How We Create, Shape, and React to Change.