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Niantic Labs and the Professional Entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley: Google, Pokémon Go, and Beyond (Consolidated)
Engel, Jerome S.
Publication date: 1/1/2020, pages 1-34

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 Pokemon Go game in Summer 2016; and the (C) case ponders how should Niantic 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".

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Berkeley Haas Case Series

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