Mark Pincus - the other Mark of Silicon Valley - helped usher in the
Facebook era with catchy games that got people clicking on virtual cows
and building virtual cities while staying on Facebook for hours on end.
Named after Pincus's late American Bulldog, Zynga, the company that
gave us "FarmVille," ''CityVille" and "Bubble Safari" is now stretching
the limits of its Facebook leash by steering players to its own digital
Tuesday marked the second Zynga Unleashed event at the
company's sprawling San Francisco headquarters. Last year, it used the
occasion to launch what was then known as "Project Z," a place for
people to play Zynga games on the company's own platform, rather than on
a social network such as Facebook. This year brought more games and new
social-networking features centered on gaming.
"Project Z" is now
Zynga.com. It's a place separate from Facebook, sure, but much as a
clever canine that knows not to steer too far from its human companion,
Zynga isn't leaving Facebook behind. People who want to play games on
Zynga.com still use their Facebook identities to log in. Once there,
though, it's a place free of status updates, news links and baby photos
that clutter Facebook. Instead, it's all about games.
Pincus's first project, but it's by far the biggest. The Chicago-born
Harvard Business School graduate founded an early social network,
Tribe.net, in 2003. Tribe was created to let people form online
communities around shared interests, but it never gained the kind of
following that Friendster and MySpace would just a couple years later.
He also founded FreeLoader Inc., an Internet technology startup he sold
for $38 million.
Pincus recognized the promise of social networks
early on. He was one of Facebook Inc.'s earliest investors. And in 2003,
he and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, bought a "broad and sweeping"
patent covering social networking, wrote David Kirkpatrick in "The
Facebook Effect." Hoffman told Kirkpatrick that the purchase was a
defensive move, "to make sure no one would kill the nascent industry" by
using such a patent to block emerging networks.
Pincus says he
was a "serial entrepreneur" before Zynga because he "failed to create a
long-term, sustainable company." Now 46, Pincus spoke with The
Associated Press recently by telephone from Zynga's headquarters in San
Francisco. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and style:
Q: There is a lot of money in Silicon Valley right now. How does it compare with what was happening in the '90s?
Mark Pincus: There are so many ways I think this is different. The most fundamental
difference is that we are seeing consumer Internet services delivering a
lot more of the promise that everyone saw 12 years ago. It's happening
faster. And the size of the audience that successful applications are
reaching seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
difference is I think that there is a much more sustainable, scalable,
profitable business model behind successful products and services that
can sustain these companies. And the third difference that goes along
with the first two is that Silicon Valley, the culture and the
entrepreneurs have grown up. Even the younger ones show so much more
maturity than 12 years ago. You see the companies that are growing up
today want to build long-term, sustainable consumer brands and
Q: How is it different for you, with Zynga?
Mark Pincus: The way I describe my career is that I've been a serial entrepreneur
before Zynga because I failed to create a long-term, sustainable
company. Not by choice. So what's different for me is that we've gotten
someplace where we can invest in a single company and brand and product
on the long run. It's much more fulfilling. I've never had this kind of
opportunity before in my career. I've never been able to bring products
to market that could be quickly seen and loved by millions of people.
Q: And that was because of Facebook?
Mark Pincus: Facebook has been a key catalyst and enabler. These open platforms that
are enabling new products to get to broad audiences much quicker.
Facebook, iPhone, Android, Google opening up. This whole environment of
open platform makes it possible for great products to get to the mass
Q: Where would you like to see social games go from here?
Mark Pincus: The promise of games for everyday people is still so much greater than
the experience that everyone has today. The overall tectonic shifts that
are going on in games and more broadly in media are that everything is
moving to becoming free, social and accessible. But we're just at the
beginning of that. We can get to a day where short-session play can
enhance, if not replace text messaging as a way to stay in touch with
Q: So kind of like the chat that people do right now in "Words With Friends" but an evolution of that?
Mark Pincus: Yeah. I call it pokes with a purpose. The idea that we're all on the go
and running around and we are looking for ways to keep in touch with so
many people. That's one of the reasons why Facebook has been so
important for so many people. And Twitter, and social media.
can give you a new dimension, but we have to make them. We still have
to go a ways to package them more so that they are a poke with a purpose
but not a rulebook that's asking for a lot of your time. "Words With
Friends" and "Draw Something" and "Scramble With Friends" start to kind
of poke at that, at what that future could look like.
Q: Is that future mainly on mobile devices? Does this mean that you guys are moving away from the Web and from Facebook?
Mark Pincus: No, each of these mediums offers different kinds of exciting
experiences. We still use the radio. We still use TV, and I'm a
long-term believer in the PC. We still sit down in front of one at work.
I just think the PC as when you sit down for a meal, and when you are
on the go and want a snack you are on your mobile device. They need to
talk more to each other, those experiences.
I still believe that
we can offer you a much deeper, more engaging, more compelling play
experience on a PC than we can on a mobile device, but one can enhance
the other and one can expand the other. I don't think they necessarily
will compete with each other, just like how we find a place for movies
in our lives, and TV and radio. The same will be true between a handset a
tablet and a PC.
Q: Have any games that Zynga has come out with been a disappointment to you?
Mark Pincus: Yes. Although I'm happy to say there's more that were disappointments
that never saw the light of day that those that have been
disappointments that have seen the light of day. But we are a learning
company and a learning industry and we learn quickly. Last year "Mafia
Wars 2" was a disappointment and a learning experience for us.
didn't get the game down to a fun, core, playable flight that we could
go out and test with real people early enough. These projects can take
on a life of their own and get big. And we had such a passionate
connection with "Mafia Wars" and we were in love with the idea of a
graphical version of it that we were more committed to that than we were
to getting something fun out early.
Q: Can you talk about Zynga's culture and how Zynga is run differently from other Silicon Valley companies?
Mark Pincus: The idea that we are building a house that we want to live in is
something that's very fundamental to who we are. I wanted to create an
enduring community and an enduring institution almost from day one.
every other week I sit down with all of our new Zynga hires and I talk
to them for about 90 minutes, have an open Q&A. There is no formal
presentation. I talk about our values, where they came from and why they
are so important and I ask them to challenge those values.
important, fundamental part of our culture is that we think that every
person in the company should feel like a principal, an owner, a founder
of this vision. And they should challenge the vision, the mission, the
strategy, and the values. Sometimes we change the values based on those
challenges, and sometimes we need our teams to call out that we are not
living up to those values.
Our No. 1 value is that we are making
products that we love, that we think us and our friends and family want
to play. The first thing I say to new hires is that if you are working
on a game and you don't feel connected to it or love for it, don't be
embarrassed to talk about it.
It's a culture that is very much
about being an entrepreneur and a CEO. For many people that's refreshing
and exactly what they are looking for in their career. We were
structured to be a great place for highly ambitious people. Sixty
percent of our workforce has leveled up every year for the last four
years, meaning that 15 percent every quarter have taken on greater
responsibility, jobs, compensation. That's unique in a bigger company.
Q: So that's Zynga's way of keeping employees happy? To give them more responsibility?
Mark Pincus: Our goal is that employees feel like they have more career opportunity
here than any company on the planet. We have such a need for leadership
at our company and in our industry. We are searching for leaders. I
regularly encourage employees to break rules. I also say to employees
that leadership starts with complaining and dissatisfaction. But it
doesn't stop there. It comes from saying you're dissatisfied with
something and then fixing it and making it better for everybody.
lot of the values and the culture come from me. Because I am invested
in this. And I ask everyone who comes here to put their own footprint on
this, their own fingerprint and mine are for sure here to.
a strong sense of democracy and fairness and so we work really hard to
be an extreme meritocracy. I don't believe in the clubs of Silicon
Valley. I don't believe in like the founders circle or the sense that
you should have been employee 1 through 100. Everyone who walks in has
the same opportunity to be a huge leader and to be compensated for being
a great entrepreneur. And we work really had to be a really flat
Q: Zynga still makes a lot of its revenue through Facebook. Should this worry people, and is it going to change?
Mark Pincus: It has been hugely positive for us, for Facebook and for both of our
consumers. Facebook has been an incredible catalyst, an accelerator, of
social gaming and of other industries. And we are appreciative of that
and we think that we helped see a significant catalyst for engagement on
their own platform, and now on iPhone as well.
But with that will
come interdependency. We've seen that in other industries. Cable TV,
you know you've got HBO owned by Time Warner it's served up by AT&T
or Comcast who are often direct competitors with each other. But they
all collaborate for the benefit of the end consumer.
Q: But you
also launched your own platform. So it seems like you're also interested
in making Zynga its own platform and its own brand so it's not just the
company that makes games for Facebook.
Mark Pincus: It's important for us
to have a direct branded relationship with our consumers. We created
Zynga.com because we wanted to offer a dedicated destination for social
gaming. It's something that is all about social gaming only and can go
beyond what we can do on other platforms. But it leverages the best of
what we get with Facebook.
Q: What do you do for fun?
Mark Pincus: The
biggest source of fun and use of my time outside of work is my girls,
my daughters. They are definitely teaching me to enjoy a lot of the
simpler things in life. Like my one daughter, she is now obsessed with
swimming and going underwater, to the point where she sleeps in her
bathing suit. I was just kind of rediscovering things through them.
Outside of that, I have developed an addiction to surfing. I can't say
I'm very good at it but I'm trying a lot and it's fun. There's a surfing
community even inside Zynga, so I've gotten to know people inside Zynga
at different levels through surfing.
I love soccer but - I don't
know. Maybe I'm feeling my age, but after I haven't played in six months
I went out to play a game for Zynga against Twitter. Twitter's CEO is a
really good soccer player and he didn't even make it to the game, so I
was proud that I was the only CEO that showed up. But after about 10
minutes I tore my calf. So that limited my soccer and cycling careers
for a little while.