Angry Birds is a video game, a movie, and an international phenomenon. The game hit the app store in December of 2009, becoming an instant sensation and carrying the mobile gaming world into its first major peak in the age of smart phones. The game has over a billion downloads and, at its point of highest use, users were playing 5 million hours of Angry Birds daily worldwide. The movie, which was released internationally in May 2016, brought in $151 million in its first ten days.

The Angry Birds franchise is undoubtedly a nonpareil success, developed by Finland-based industry leader Rovio Entertainment. Rovio is a highly watched entity in the world of mobile games, setting the standard for success with Angry Birds, their multiplatform channel ToonsTV, and various other games. While the impact of Angry Birds may seem trivial to the casual user, the game’s model and impressive scalability are truly the product of some of the greatest minds in the industry at Rovio.

One of those minds is Mikko Setälä, chief corporate development officer at Rovio. Mikko Joined the Rovio Entertainment team in 2006 as chairman of the board and bounced around as CFO and EVP of corporate development before settling into his current role. Mikko’s background is in the software industry where he has served as a leader, founder and investor at multiple companies throughout his career.

Digital Media Wire had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Mikko. We talked about his leadership philosophy, the start of his career, what Rovio brings to the entertainment table, and, of course, Angry Birds. Check out the full interview below.

1. Was there an opportunity or event in your career that significantly defined where you are now?

Yes. I had been studying Aircraft Design and Production Economics at the University of Technology in Helsinki and I was planning a career in airlines or aircraft manufacturing. I had been using computers as tools (and for fun) since 70s already when I landed (pun intended) on an intern position at the German Lufthansa base in Frankfurt.

Lufthansa was installing the world’s first 747 daylight simulator, driven by two Digital PDP-11 minicomputers. I learned that the simulator was actually more expensive than the actual aircraft so I reconsidered my career and went to IT, especially in software industry which then later led me to other IPRs such as games and movies. And I didn’t stay in Germany.

2. What is your leadership philosophy?

The most important task is the ability to hire the best available people and having the guts to fire the underperformers. A person not doing his/her job properly takes the job of a good performer and also demotivates the rest of the team. Another important thing is to respect each individual and also the individual’s job.

3. What does Rovio provide its community of fans and players that they can’t find anywhere else?

We really want to delight our fans and we want to provide the best gaming experience. Games, videos and movies are actually stories that can be meaningful at least in a symbolic way for the gamer or watcher. The Angry Birds Movie has been telling the story about how an underdog with a not-so-nice personality and bad attitude still can be valuable for the whole society and still be a hero.

4. To what do you attribute the smashing success of the Angry Birds franchise?

The starting point of the mobile games is that you are able to use the small fragments of free time when commuting, waiting or just having a small break. These games have to be intuitive and rewarding. Rovio was one of the very first gaming companies producing a native game for a touch-screen mobile phone so the timing was right as well. One of the design points of original Angry Birds game was that the game shouldn’t be stressful. So, there is no time limit and you can attempt as many times as you want. We also think of the games more like a service meaning we are constantly updating the games instead of just launching and leaving it there.

Another important thing was that Apple was kind enough to feature the game in 2009/2010 so it was easier to discover.

The Angry Birds brand has always had some edge, tongue-in-cheek attitude and we love to do mashups and work with other culture phenomena such as rock and sports stars, National Geographic and CERN. I think we still are the only gaming company that has launched (pun intended, again) in space at the International Space Station. Thanks to NASA.

5. What does the future hold for Rovio?

More entertainment for our fans. And for ourselves 😉

Mikko Setälä will be speaking at Digital Media Wire’s New York Media Festival in NYC on September 26-29. Purchase tickets here.

-Edward Heinrich