Zynga’s Acquired Founders: Where Are They Now?

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Zynga faces the challenge of keeping the entrepreneurs it brings aboard from leaving.

As Zynga uses part of its $1.8 billion to acquire popular mobile apps and the key talent behind them, one challenge it faces is keeping the entrepreneurs it brings aboard.

“The most important component of a deal is the human element,” said Barry Cottle, Zynga’s new head of mergers.

So how has the social gaming company done with earlier acquisitions? The founders of at least eight startups have already left Zynga:

  • MyMiniLife (bought in 2009): This acquisition laid the foundation for FarmVille. Sizhao Yang left in 2010 to become COO of BetterWorks. Joel Poloney and Amitt Mahajan left in late 2011 to work on undisclosed projects.
  • Serious Business (bought in 2010): Alex Le and Siqi Chen left in February, and are working on undisclosed projects.
  • XPD (bought in 2010): Robin Chan became Zynga’s general manager of Asia business operations, helping with the acquisition of Unoh Games. He left last year to focus on investing.
  • Challenge Games (bought in 2010): Andrew Busey became general manager of Zynga’s Austin office before leaving this year to join Austin Ventures.
  • Conduit Labs (bought in 2010): Serial entrepreneur Nabeel Hyatt built up Zynga’s Boston office before leaving this year to become a VC at Spark Capital.
  • Area/Code (bought in 2011): Kevin Slavin left shortly after the acquisition, while his co-founder Frank Lantz remains creative director at Zynga New York.
  • DNA Games (bought in 2011): Jon Lee left earlier this year to become an investor and adviser.
  • Roger Dickey, whose stealth startup was acquired by Zynga in 2008, also left the company last year.

Despite these departures, CEO Mark Pincus said out of all the company’s deals, including those not publicly disclosed, more founders have stayed on than have left. Many have stuck around because they got key roles in the company, like Newtoy’s co-founders, who head up the McKinney, Texas-based Zynga With Friends studio, and Wonderland Software’s Matthew Wiggins, who is general manager of Zynga’s UK studio.

The company has gotten better at keeping entrepreneurs, said Hyatt, the founder of Conduit Labs.

“They made a lot of mistakes in those early acquisitions,” he said. Even though Zynga has gotten bigger, it’s doing a good job of letting newly-acquired teams do their own thing, he said.

Still, Hyatt himself decided to leave this year because he wanted to get back to building companies.

“Being a senior executive wasn’t as interesting to me as being in the startup ecosystem,” he said. At Zynga, “it felt like I wasn’t contributing back to that ecosystem.”

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