I should be the last person to be surprised by the rise of Niko Partners and its founding partner Lisa Cosmas Hanson. Well, perhaps one of the last. The Dean of the Graduate School of International Service (SIS) at American University no doubt guessed the stellar future of the MA candidate who came to DC in 1990. And surprisingly, a small company in Northern Ireland that manufactured computer housings would also be among the “unsurprised.”
Lisa’s brainchild of 14-years standing is Niko Partners, the leader in Asian games market intelligence, with offices in Silicon Valley and Shanghai. It is an offspring (on steroids) of a project she did as an MA student. I recruited her to help identify a new future for a small manufacturer of computer cabinets. The rise of the laptop made its future uncertain. The mission of our virtual team was to analyze, diagnose and prescribe a way forward for such companies. What followed her taking the assignment to “do some basic market research” was a case study in the evolution of an entrepreneur. Instead of delivering a research product detailing a dwindling market, Lisa went the extra mile. She didn’t deliver a theoretical “for instance.” She found a company in an entirely different industry that put our client company’s well developed skills to use in a new and well-matched area. Her solidly creative report was the kind signaled by the words, “Of course,” accompanied by the heel of the hand hitting the forehead. It was a road map for the two companies to a mutually profitable joint venture.
The relatively low tech likes of me are in no position fully to understand Niko Partners products and services. But even a first visit to its highly informative website delivers a clear statement of their quality and timeliness.
Anyone who has built a business in a highly competitive arena; anyone who has taken on the challenge of building income, employee equity and integrity knows what to look for in a supplier of industry intelligence. Fourteen years of business growth built on word of mouth from satisfied clients and prestigious business media featuring Lisa and her colleagues as the gold standard of reliable ‘talking heads” says it all. So does consistent and scrupulous respect for the clients’ privileged information. Global game industry giants have relied on the strategic advice and market analysis for the success of their game titles. Companies include Blizzard Entertainment (developers of “World of Warcraft”), Riot Games (developers of “League of Legends”), Blue Planet Software (owners of the license for “Tetris”), EA/PopCap (developers of Plants vs. Zombies) to name a few (see list below).
Partnering with Niko Partners gives the client access to a market basket of information and guidance products I define as the trifecta for pursuing growth: analysis, diagnosis and prescription. Questioning the massive amount of information accessible on their website, the answer Lisa gave me in a recent conversation speaks for Niko Partners’ ethical standards. Clients seeking their counsel are ones who have opted to depend for their income on digital games. Many are US-based, but many others are based in Asia or elsewhere and virtually all are seeking to enter or expand their business in Asia. They include providers of products and services, from games to chips to services that could include revenue exchange and collection. “Not surprising,” says Lisa, “since 50% of global revenues are generated in Asia.”
I asked whether the vast amount of freely accessible information on their site discourages visitors from investing their budgets with Niko Partners. It speaks volumes about the company’s business ethic that Lisa’s answer was, “If all they need to move forward is such basic, widely available data we would never consider charging them for it in any case.” She and her team have built their success on providing niche-focused services such as value-added news analysis, review of target market regulatory issues, operation of focus groups and testing of products, including reviewing language for its accuracy and cultural sensitivity.
As a graduate student Lisa chose International Economic Policy as her focus at SIS. She saw this in the larger context of its power to foster peace, realizing even then that true economic growth must be built on a foundation of mutual understanding and respect. She notes that the growth of gaming is part of a multi-platform communication model that links games with live and print forms of media. As such she sees her industry as having awesome power for good. “The key to growth worth achieving is taking time to understand,” she believes.
The key to understanding this entrepreneur’s “Big Dream” can be traced back to her naming of the company. Asked how she chose Niko Partners she explained, “I wanted something that related to my cultural roots: Greek and German and with an etymology either from Greek or from Latin. Combining the figure of Greek mythology symbolizing victory not just in battle but also in peaceful competition. with the Greek variation on Nicholas suggesting Victory of the people, the corporate name was born.
As to her own personal title, two amazing individuals aged 8 ½ and 10 ½ would be quick to say it is “Mom.” And to fill what is laughingly called her “spare time,” the Mother of Oscar and Josie serves on the Board of Advisors of an LA-based nonprofit called Grades of Green. She moves from Boardroom to playground at the children’s school for hands on work to help the students see themselves as stewards of the places in which they live and learn. The skills they are learning include smart uses of water in a period of drought; playground recycling skills; learning the “why” of the scary words, “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”; and creating a living, edible garden. In their automobile intensive suburban community, they are turning the after school pick up area into a “no idle zone.”
My final advice is this. Consider hiring a gifted graduate student the next time you want to be surprised. And then stand back and prepare to be amazed!
Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears every Sunday.