Zynga's Founder Mark Pincus: The Ultimate One Percenter

As Zynga gears up for its $925 million initial public offering on December, the wave of mini-profiles on the company's hyper competitive, hard-nosed founder Mark Pincus are a little less than flattering. 

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As Zynga gears up for its $925 million initial public offering on December, the wave of mini-profiles on the company's hyper competitive, hard-nosed founder Mark Pincus are a little less than flattering. Reuters collects a number of perspectives on Pincus that range from "very intense" to downright "aggressive". Bloomberg quotes one colleague -- who hasn't even met Pincus -- who said the entrepreneur "has a reputation for being an a--hole." It's not all awful. One source summed up Pincus as someone who "will keep up or stay a step ahead of the competition;" as one former employee explained, "Mark didn’t get where he is by being a softie." Reading through even the more positive character assessments, it's impossible not to peg Pincus, a Wall Street veteran and a ruthless businessman, to the zeitgeist. He's the ultimate One Percenter.

It's not so much that Pincus sounds like a complete villain. The One Percent references are more nuanced than that. In many ways, the details of Zynga's IPO show that he deserves some credit for creating some jobs and what appears to be an endless source of amusement for his company's 54 million monthly users. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Zynga's users spend 2 billion minutes a day, trading crops on FarmVille and doing whatever it is people do in MafiaWars. The almost billion dollar IPO will be the tech industry's biggest since Google's and puts Zynga at a $7 billion valuation. However, as many have suspected for some time, all of that success came at a price, not just to Zynga employees who have apparently been running for the door due to an oppressive office culture but also to millions of users who bolster Zynga's bottom line by purchasing virtual goods. Even Pincus himself has admitted to tricking users into spending money. We've pulled out some passages to help paint a better picture of Pincus as the One Percent.

The Wall Street roots. Bloomberg's Douglas MacMillan lists Pincus's affluent beginnings:

Pincus grew up in Chicago’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood, the son of an architect mother and a father who worked as a public-relations adviser to CEOs and politicians. After studying economics at the University of Pennsylvania, he took jobs in banking, working at Lazard Freres & Co. and Asian Capital Partners, an investment bank based in Hong Kong. He then went on to get an MBA at Harvard University with the idea of going back into the business world on his own.

The greedy spillover effect. MacMillan again:

Pincus has said himself that he went too far at times, especially in Zynga’s early days.

“I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues,” including giving users virtual credits in exchange for downloading software that was later difficult to delete, he said during a talk in 2009 in Berkeley, California.

The too big to fail ambition. Liana B. Baker and Alistair Barr at Reuters report:

"In my perfect world ... who am I kidding, in my perfect world I'm Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch or better, Larry or Sergey, and I own a controlling share and don't waste any time buttering up board members!" Pincus wrote in 2005 in a blog post. "Until then, I'll toil as a mere mortal."

The elitism. Baker and Barr again:

Friends, business associates and soccer buddies describe Pincus as a serial entrepreneur who does not like to be told what to do by his venture capital backers. He is a control freak to his critics, but is praised for his ability to spot new trends and unrelenting drive to expand Zynga, his best chance at joining Silicon Valley's elite.

The banker culture at Zynga. Evelyn M. Rusli at The New York Times described the company culture last month:

“It’s very similar to a New York investment bank,” said Lou Kerner, an analyst at the brokerage firm Liquidnet, who has followed Zynga for years. “It’s data-driven, and it’s intense.” …

For the top performers, the rewards are handsome. Zynga dispenses lavish gifts like vacations and $100,000 in vested stock. After the game Mafia Wars reached a milestone two years ago, Zynga sent the team to Las Vegas to celebrate, buying some 80 plane tickets and providing $500 in cash for each person and luxury hotel accommodations, according to one former senior employee.

Those who do not perform can perish.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.