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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Talk: Mark Pincus Thinks Angry Birds Won’t Hurt Your Kids

Mark Pincus Thinks Angry Birds Won’t Hurt Your Kids

You are the founder and C.E.O. of Zynga, a company responsible for addictive games like FarmVille and the forthcoming Draw Something 2. You know, every time I see my 4-year-old son playing Angry Birds on my phone, I imagine that his little brain is rotting.
I can commiserate because I have twin 2 ½- year-olds, and they’ve mastered the iPod Touch. I don’t think it’s rotting their brains, if you compare what it’s replacing â€" TV. My kids are mastering puzzles, it’s challenging their thinking. I want to ultimately reward them with screen-time minutes for chores and achievements.

Mark Pincus

Have you managed to get 2-year-olds to do chores If so, I’d love to know your secret.
Literally on the morning that they were born, I said to the nurse, “I really want an iPod app that is a job wheel.” But I was just told by our nanny that I have to stop bribing my kids, so I’m not sure that the achievement thing is a good idea.

The night you met your wife, Alison, you asked her what she thought about Carmen and Georgia, the names of your future twin daughters. Is it true you told her you had no future unless she agreed to those names
It was actually the second night. I had made up these almost-cartoon characters of Georgia and Carmen over the years, and I fell in love with them. Georgia Pincus was this funny, bigger-than-life Jewish Southern belle, and Carmen was this feisty Latin Jewish girl. It wasn’t a deal killer, but if she hated those names, then maybe we were coming from different places.

You’ve done a Tony Robbins retreat, hired a life coach, and since Zynga’s founding, people like Apple board member Bill Campbell have come in to consult on your management style. Is there a problem
Maybe this reveals the difference between the coasts you and I live on. A New York point of view would be “What’s wrong with you,” but in California it’s more like “Wow, you want to work on yourself, that’s so cool.” Bill Campbell is supergrounded, and he was really helpful in the last couple quarters.

I thought the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers brought Campbell in because the stock was down and executives were leaving in droves.
I’ve sought out everyone I could find who could help me. If you want to be a great entrepreneur, you’re going to have to burn your résumé and stop worrying about your reputation, because you’re probably going to go through long periods of people calling you stupid.

You once said that you learned you should be an entrepreneur because you got fired from every job you had. Why did you get fired so often
I thought of myself as C.E.O. at every company I was at. Not many companies are set up so people low in the hierarchy can challenge everything like a C.E.O.

You’re one of the original investors who became billionaires when Facebook went public, and Zynga’s games have been instrumental in the site’s success. But the relationship between Zynga and Facebook has been strained at times. Did your relationship with Mark Zuckerberg suffer
No. We have a good relationship. It’s pretty amazing how both our businesses initially got together without a single sheet of paper being signed between the companies. It might be a first in business history.

Is every day still “Bring your dog to work day” at Zynga’s San Francisco headquarters It must stink.
This place is almost as full of dogs as employees. But I don’t ever smell a dog, and I never see dog hair. My dog Zynga used to be in every meeting. She would sit in chairs and look at who was talking. It freaked some people out, but it spices up your day.

Did you make any attempt to take advantage of the fact that Alec Baldwin got kicked off a plane for playing Zynga’s Words With Friends
I got on the phone and brainstormed with Alec Baldwin, but those ideas never made it to life. We’re not at a point that we can justify, say, a $15 million Super Bowl ad.


A version of this interview appeared in print on April 7, 2013, on page MM16 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘I Don't Think it's Rotting Their Brains’.