01 Sep 2014
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3-Minute Briefing: Mark Pincus (MBA 1993)

Chairman, Zynga
by Julia Hanna

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Photo by Adam Hester

When I started Zynga, I realized that our generation has the opportunity to build the digital skyscrapers that may be around for the next century. These are Internet treasures because we can’t remember life before these services or imagine life without them. A few examples include Google, Amazon, eBay, Skype, and more recently, Uber.

I saw the opportunity to do that with play—to make it a social, bite-sized experience that would give adults permission to put play back in their lives. I don’t think Zynga has achieved that status yet, but the story is still playing out.

Games will continue to become more accessible and bite-sized, like 2048 and Candy Crush Saga. They won’t have a tutorial or instructions. They’re going to fit into your life and not ask much of you. They’ll also give back more. I’m hopeful that if you play our poker game enough, you’ll be able to beat your friends on poker night.

I have new ideas for products and product features all the time, which I call bold beats. An example of a small bold beat was animals that move in FarmVille. This took a day of engineering, but when we turned it on, our players went wild. It opened their minds to a new dimension that the game could take on.

I love all bulldogs. They’re a majestic breed. My old dog, Zinga, would come and speak with me at board meetings. Nzinga is a Swahili word for an African warrior princess, and that’s what she was—a princess.

When you’re moving really fast and trying to build a company, there are many times when you’re dealing with imperfects. People say don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. The flip side is, don’t let good be good enough. If you have dysfunction in a key area, you can’t afford to leave it there, no matter how valuable that player is to the team.

I tell entrepreneurs to learn early on how to separate your instincts from your ideas. Because your instincts as an entrepreneur are probably always right and your ideas are probably mostly wrong. We tend to solder those two together and pursue a bad idea because we believe so much in the instinct behind it.

It’s not that you should be a hard-ass and fire people all the time. I definitely was not that kind of CEO. I probably erred on the side of consensus and collaboration.

The external environment is a big factor in creating company culture. For us, it is a hard environment. We get our metrics every hour, every day, on audience, engagement, and revenues. It’s like producing Seinfeld every day, every week of the year.

So did I create a hard-driving culture? Yes, to a big extent. We got a lot of negative media attention, but I decided early on to spend my time with our teams, serving our users. A lot of CEOs spend their time on the conference circuit, selling to the wrong audience. At the end of the day, I was only as good as the next woman in Indiana deciding if she wanted to play FarmVille or not.

Bill Campbell is the most gifted coach I’ve ever worked with. I tend to be overly analytical and self-critical; one of Bill’s great traits is that he inspires confidence, which is an important aspect of leadership—not false confidence, but knowing when your instincts are right and being less willing to compromise in a management context.

I spent seven years building Zynga and didn’t focus on any other business opportunity. But I had other ideas that I put in a parking lot. Now I’m getting to play with them a little bit.

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Featured Alumni

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Class of MBA 1993, Section E
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