Zynga founder Pincus cashes in on acquisition after 15 years navigating boom-bust cycle


Mark Pincus, chief government officer of Zynga Inc., speaks throughout an occasion at Zynga Inc. headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Pictures

Within the 15 years since he began Zynga as a poker recreation for Fb, Mark Pincus twice gave up the CEO position whereas guiding his gaming firm by early rocket ship progress, a traditionally disappointing post-IPO stretch and a uneven historical past of expensive acquisitions.

However one factor he by no means did was dump the vast majority of his inventory.

Following Take-Two Interactive’s introduced acquisition of Zynga on Monday for $12.7 billion, Pincus is inline to be the largest particular person beneficiary, due to his continued possession of about 5% of his firm’s excellent shares.

In line with the newest SEC filings, Pincus owns 55 million Zynga shares. With Take-Two agreeing to purchase Zynga for $3.50 a share in money and $6.36 a share in inventory, Pincus is poised to pocket about $193 million whereas nonetheless proudly owning roughly $350 million price of Take-Two fairness.

Take-Two’s buy worth equates to a premium of 64% to Zynga’s closing worth on Friday, giving Pincus’s web price a giant enhance.

Nonetheless, this is not how the story was alleged to unfold.

Previous to its IPO in 2011, Zynga was concerning the hottest ticket in Silicon Valley. Its flagship recreation, FarmVille, was printing money, as customers spent actual cash constructing digital worlds and dressing up their avatars. Within the first three quarters of 2011, income surged to nearly $830 million, up seven-fold from full-year income in 2009. FarmVille accounted for 27% of gross sales.

Paul Martino, a enterprise investor who backed the sport developer in its first financing spherical in 2007 mentioned that, between 2008 and 2011, Zynga acquired extra chatter than another firm in Silicon Valley. Specifically, throughout the monetary disaster, enterprise capitalists weren’t placing cash into a lot of something, however Zynga was nonetheless elevating money.

Heading into the IPO, Kleiner Perkins was so bullish on Zynga that in early 2011 it elevated its stake by shopping for shares at $14, valuing the corporate at $12 billion. The inventory debuted beneath that, at $10, and surpassed $14 a number of occasions in early 2012.

However Zynga’s early progress relied solely on Fb — the corporate’s video games unfold virally by utilizing the social community for distribution. When Fb began exerting better management over the platform, it restricted third-party builders from selling their companies, exposing Zynga’s principal weak spot. Between 2012 and 2014, Zynga’s income fell by half.

The inventory misplaced 75% of its worth in 2012 and by no means absolutely recovered.

“As soon as it grew to become such a giant success out of the gate, there was perception that Zynga might transcend being a recreation firm into being a lot extra,” mentioned Martino, a managing companion at Bullpen Capital. “However in the end, it is a recreation firm and acquired purchased as a recreation firm.”

Martino admitted that the inventory efficiency was disappointing. Even with the excessive premium Take-Two is paying, it is nonetheless lower than the IPO worth.

“However in the event you instructed us in 2007 that the corporate can be purchased at a $12-$13 billion quantity, I’ve to think about we most likely would have been fairly joyful about that,” he mentioned.

Pincus’s one huge inventory sale got here on the proper time, for him, and drew the ire of different buyers. In April 2012, as a part of a secondary providing, Pincus offered $192 million price of shares at $12 apiece, representing about 15% of his complete stake. Many shareholders had been nonetheless in post-IPO lockup on the time and did not have that choice.

Pincus and the opposite insiders who offered within the providing had been sued by stockholders, who claimed they “suffered colossal losses on their investments,” whereas these on the high had been capable of promote earlier than the drop. Zynga ultimately settled for $23 million.

Know when to carry

From that time till late 2018, Pincus held onto his remaining shares. He offered nearly $70 million price of shares between 2018 and 2021, partially for property planning for his youngsters, in response to a consultant for Pincus. The one different vital change to his possession was in connection to his 2017 divorce.

Holding was a profitable resolution, at the same time as the corporate confronted turmoil and uncertainty.

Pincus stepped down as CEO in 2013, when Zynga named Don Mattrick, who had been Microsoft’s Xbox enterprise, as his successor. Pincus stayed on as chairman and assumed the position of chief product officer.

Two years after that announcement, Pincus reclaimed the CEO place, a transfer that was panned by Wall Avenue — the inventory sank 18%. Here is what Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, wrote in a report after that announcement:

“Mr. Pincus has a spotty document with buyers, given Zynga’s struggles within the latter portion of his earlier stint as CEO; we imagine the shortage of investor confidence resulted in Zynga shares buying and selling down considerably in after-market buying and selling.”

Lower than a yr after his return, Pincus once more gave up the CEO job, this time handing the reins to Frank Gibeau, an government at Digital Arts. Pincus remained the chairman.

The inventory has since climbed 300%, together with Monday’s rally on information of the Take-Two deal.

“One of many hardest challenges for any firm is a profitable partnership between its founder and CEO,” Pincus wrote, in a weblog put up after the announcement. “Over these previous 6 years I have been fortunate to have that with Frank Gibeau. He has taught me quite a bit about managing at scale. Frank and I’ve all the time mentioned that we agree 80% of the time, and the opposite 20% has led to a few of our greatest insights.”

Zynga was capable of revive itself by shifting past social video games like FarmVille, largely by buying the builders of common titles like Phrases with Mates, CSR Racing and Toy Blast.

However Pincus, who’s now a managing companion at funding agency Reinvent Capital, by no means deserted his love for the factor that acquired him began: Poker.

Previous to the outbreak of Covid-19, Pincus held Zynga poker nights at his home, organising a number of tables of Texas Maintain’em and treating his visitors to catered meals. Martino mentioned he final attended a poker night time at Pincus’s home in early 2020.

“He is finished that for years,” Martino mentioned. “He does a terrific job. It is a good group of buyers and early, early workers.”

WATCH: Take-Two’s $12.7 billion deal to purchase Zynga is sensible

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