Eight years ago, Japanese businessman Yoshikazu Tanaka founded what has become Japan's largest social network. It's a company called GREE, and it makes mobile social games. Perhaps more importantly, it is working on cracking the code on monetizing mobile, which -- though Tanaka is navigating tough conversations with Japanese regulators -- has been elusive for American social media companies.
GREE expects to generate over $2 billion in revenue this year, but Tanaka's next move is to expand its user-base beyond Japan. To that end, the company is growing. GREE hired over 1,000 new employees last year, and plans to hire more in the coming 12 months. Ultimately, Tanaka has said, he aims for his gaming company to usurp the giant Nintendo., Photo: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images
Tanaka presides over a world of opal-eyed digital zombies and pirates. GREE, the mobile social-gaming company he founded in his apartment in 2004, has become Japan’s biggest social network — of any kind. Globally it reportedly has 190 million users and expects to generate $2.5 billion in revenue this year. To gain a foothold in the West, GREE acquired U.S. mobile-game maker OpenFeint last year. The company’s success has turned the boyish Tanaka into Asia’s youngest self-made billionaire. Tanaka says he grew up obsessively playing NES games into the twilight hours. His parents thought he was wasting his time, he says. Clearly they were wrong. –Matt Vella