At tonight’s PandoMonthly fireside chat with Mark Pincus, Sarah Lacy asked the Zynga CEO about his ambitions to build a big company from the beginning and how he set about setting a course toward that result.
Pincus revealed that some of the best advice he ever received was from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Interestingly, the advice stopped coming a year ago for reasons still unknown. Pincus says that there was no fight, no falling out.
“The first time he ever gave me advice we were probably around 300 or 400 people,” says Pincus. “He said:
‘Remember this time. Remember the kind of people you have, remember the way they were ‘entrepreneuring’ because it’s going to be really hard for you to preserve that. After you pass 300 or 400 people the rest of the people weren’t going to be there when you created the product or opportunity.’”
According to the Zynga CEO, his takeaway from the talk was that the biggest challenge once a company grows beyond this scale was getting people to take risks. He admitted to not thinking much about it at the time, but he has come to respect the wisdom since.
“What you get when you have people that were there ‘when,’ they have this DNA — the DNA of people that had to figure things out when it was not obvious,” says Pincus. As he rightly pointed out, companies in Silicon Valley go through these hard times again and again, often having to reinvent themselves every two years.
To thrive in both the good times and the bad, any company needs both people who can figure things out and people who can scale. “Very few people can do both,” Pincus says.
Lacy asked the CEO whether he personally has both abilities.
“I think I started off with the entrepreneur’s instinct. I think if you’re a successful entrepreneur, your instincts are probably right more than 90 percent of the time. Your observations from those instincts might be right half the time, and the conclusions that you’re making might be right a quarter of the time.
What’s dangerous is when you have feedback loops that tell you you were right. You have to look back and see what it was that you were right about. It could be that your instincts were right; it might be that your observations or conclusions were right. If you’ve got an instinct that was right, you might want to fail fast so you can get back to that instinct
I think that I’ve got a good instinct in the consumer space. I think I’ve tried for the last 15 years to be a good CEO.”
Pincus was adamant that he aspires to never sell his company and to personally run it until he’s no longer physically able. If he’s going to succeed in those objectives, he’s going to have to retain as much of the institutional knowledge being built within Zynga as possible.
[The video livestream of tonight’s event is available here]