Zynga CEO Mark Pincus had a lot of start ups before Zynga, but none were as successful as the social gaming company. Speaking at the 13th USA TODAY CEO Forum, Pincus says that having a clear goal was vital for being successful, and the goal for Zynga is ambitious indeed.
"I want the dog, our dog icon, which was originally my dog Zynga, I want that icon, that brand, to be what I call a dial tone for play. I want it to be more recognizable than a Nike swoosh and mean something to you. If you see that on a game, it means it's social, it means that it's going to give you back more than what you put into it," said Pincus. "I'm very focused on delivering a positive return on investment for the user. If you play our games, if you give us 15 minutes a day, I'm hoping that we don't just give you entertainment but we actually enhance the relationships in your life. I challenge our product teams that our games should let you meet one new person a day."
"We are getting there. People are getting married through it. It's a whole new way to date. What I hope is that we create one of these forever brands and experiences like Google, that people, you know, look for in their lives," he added.
When asked about mistakes made early on at Zynga, Pincus talked about giving too much power to the team that was initially at the company. "Attracting a team. That's where you can make a lot of mistakes," said Pincus. "It's really hard to take things back from people. It's really hard to change their status with you - especially when you are creating a company. For instance, I called everyone who joined the company in 2007 the 'founding team.' And in the short term, it was great, because it really motivated a lot of people. But longer term, it creates some weird egos and things where people feel like they're co-founders. I had like 30 or 40 people who felt like co-founders. At the outset, be really explicit about what you're agreeing to and what you're not. I see lots of, you know, entrepreneurs and founding teams make assumptions about the relationship before they've all agreed on it."
When asked what he thought leadership was, Pincus responded, "There is so much ambition and hard work in the world, but there is so little leadership. Not many people really want to be leaders, because it is scary, it's risky. … It means getting outside your job, raising your hand and saying, 'Hey, I think we are going in the wrong direction.' I would say leadership starts with complaining and dissatisfaction … but that's half of it. The other half of leadership is, complain and then make it better."
"A couple of months ago, a 21-year-old engineer was in my new-hire orientation and I am talking about all of this stuff," he noted. "He was in the front row, edge of his seat, and he is interrupting me with questions, and he is challenging me. I was like, 'Who is this kid?' I started talking to him. And he is like, 'Yeah, I have already written three games,' and 'I don't get why Zynga does this,' and 'This seems stupid.' I couldn't believe he is talking to me this way. I made him my tech assistant. I was like, 'You're really good, and you're smart, and you want to lead. I need you close to me'."