John Hanke is the founding CEO of Niantic, the San Francisco-based software development company behind such massively successful augmented reality mobile games such as Ingress, Pokémon Go, and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Even before launching Niantic, Hanke had form in the industry, having previously launched two successful tech firms and worked for 11 years with Google. Find out more with these ten things you didn’t know about John Hanke.
1. He’s well educated
Hanke was born in 1967 in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. After graduating from Cross Plains High School in 1985, he won a place at the University of Texas, Austin, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1989. Having clearly acquired a taste for academia, he returned to college in 1994, graduating with an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley two years later.
2. His first job was with the US Foreign Service
According to Wikipedia, Hanke’s first experience of the working world after leaving the University of Texas, Austin was with the United States Foreign Service. During his time with the service, he worked on foreign policy issues in both Washinton, DC, and Myanmar. Although the experience may have broadened his horizons, it wasn’t what he wanted in the long term. In 1994, he choose to quit the service to get a business education at UC Berkeley instead.
3. He launched his first business in 1995
Hanke has since said that he was attracted to the idea of completing his MBA at UC Berkeley because of its proximity to Silicon Valley and its focus on entrepreneurship. Clearly, both things had a big influence on him as within just a year of starting his studies there, he’d co-founded his first business, Archetype Interactive. The first (and as it turned out, last) product launched by Archetype was Meridian 59, the first-ever 3-D graphical multi-user massively online-role playing game (MMORPG). The company was acquired by 3DO in June 1996. Buoyed by his success, Hanke swiftly went on to launch his second start-up, The Big Network, which again enjoyed enough success to prompt an early acquisition by eUniverse for $17.1 million.
4. He founded Keyhole in 2001
By the turn of the millennium, the dot.com bubble was still some way from bursting. Hanke’s experience at both Archetype and The Big Network has earned him a reputation as a talented internet entrepreneur with almost unparalleled experience in 3-D visualization. What better time, then, to launch a new start-up? In 2001, he did exactly that when he co-founded Keyhole. When Keyhole’s mapping technology was used in media reporting overlays during the Iraq war, it starting attracting a massive amount of attention. Much of that attention came from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who was so impressed by the company’s innovations, he acquired it lock, stock and barrel for $35 million.
5. He joined Google in 2004
When Google acquired Keyhole in 2004, it didn’t just get the company. It got its founder. On joining the tech giant, Hanke took on the role of Vice President of Product Management for the Geo division. During his time in the position, he helped oversee the integration of Keyhole’s technology into Google Earth and Google Maps, in addition to brokering the deal that saw the introduction of Goggle Maps to the iPhone.
6. He formed Niantic while working at Google
In 2010, Google tasked Hanke with creating a gaming unit. The result was Niantic Labs. 3 years later, Niantic released its first product, Ingress, an augmented reality multiplayer game that went down a storm with gamers. Within just one year, it had a million players. Two years later, it had seven million. The success of the game prompted Hanke to revisit his entrepreneurial roots. In 2015, he oversaw Niantic’s split from Google after raising $30 million in funds from sources that included Google, Nintendo and Pokémon. Since then, he’s remained with Niantic as its CEO, overseeing the launch of games such as the hugely popular Pokémon Go.
7. He created Niantic with his family in mind
During interviews, Hanke has discussed that his inspiration to form Niantic didn’t arise from an ambition to make millions. Rather, it came from his desire to create something that he could do with his family and which would help foster an increased sense of community. “I think the biggest benefit is the fact that (our apps) pull people off their couches and get them out into the parks,” he’s explained to vmware.com. “That seems super valuable to me, to just start rebuilding some of the community that maybe we’ve lost in some ways.”
8. He’s moving into glasses
Back in 2019, Niantic announced a new, multi-year collaboration with chip giant Qualcomm. After promising that the collaboration would focus on the development of 5G compatible AR devices, everything went quiet. Until now, that is. As androidheadlines.com reports, Hanke recently took to Twitter to share a teaser of what seems to be a pair of Niantic-branded glasses, suggesting the company could be about to venture into hardware with the release of their first augmented reality glasses. “Exciting to see the progress we’re making to enable new kinds of devices that leverage our platform,” Hanke wrote on the post…. although so far, he’s keeping us in the dark about the exact details.
9. Success hasn’t changed him
When it was first released, Pokémon Go ranked as one of the fastest-growing apps of all time. Even today, it’s still hugely popular, with around 65 million people playing the game each day. You’d imagine that as the brains behind the game, the success may have changed Hanke. Yet according to an interview he gave to cnet.com, his life is still the same as ever. “I consider myself lucky that I can get on my bike, hop on a ferry, cross the beautiful bay every day, come to work, and think about how to build fun games that get people outside and exercising,” he explains. “We’ve gotten bigger and we don’t have to worry as much about financial matters as we did before, but in terms of the day-to-day, it hasn’t really changed. We loved what we were doing before, we love it now and we’re kind of going about it in much the same way.”
10. He thinks AR will change the way we use technology
Niantic has arguably done more to popularise augmented reality (AR) than any other company in the industry. Understandably, its founder has some strong opinions about how AR will change the gaming landscape. Speaking to vmware.com, Hanke outlined his vision of the future. “The future of AR will, I think, get the phones out of the way for us, and help us use technology in a more natural way,” he says. “The next frontier for immersive gaming is less immersion and more real-world. We’re trying to get people out of their computers and out into the world playing games, but also appreciating what’s out there and talking to one another.”