Photo Issue 2011: Andrew Mason is the unlikely CEO of last year’s unlikeliest breakout business, Groupon. The 30-year-old Midwestern music grad has transformed the bottom-feeding coupon trade into a billion-dollar force that even sexy Google lusted after.
Photo Issue 2011: Mark Pincus, Zynga’s founder and CEO, leads visitors through the San Francisco company’s colorful, dog-friendly Potrero Hill headquarters at a brisk trot, showing off the huddles of engineers and designers who self-assemble into the “studios” that run Zynga’s insanely popular online games.
Pincus and Zynga’s aggressive embrace of lightweight and addictive social gaming has turned the company into a leviathan of fun, attracting 300 million people a month to play its titles. Known as “casual games,” they are colorful alternate universes in which people, and their friends, raise avatar families in FrontierVille and crops in FarmVille. Those users spend real money to buy virtual goods to fill their imaginary places, stuffing the company’s real-world coffers to the tune of an estimated $500 million in 2010. In late December, one month after it debuted, City-Ville (thinkSimCity with a Garanimals vibe) became Zynga’s most popular game, with 84.2 million active monthly users, according to market analyst AppData. It is the fastest-growing app and social game on Facebook. Moreover, it is the fastest-growing game in history.
It is also a validation of Pincus’s exceptional entrepreneurial vision, one that few people saw coming. In 2006, when he and his cofounders developed the concept for an asynchronous online game you could play with your real-world friends, the idea was exotic and untested. And the distribution plan — hitch a ride on the backs of the still-evolving Facebook and MySpace — seemed equally risky. “Mark went up and down Sand Hill Road and didn’t get the deal he wanted,” recalls Fred Wilson, the New York — based venture capitalist who has invested in and with Pincus since 1995, including an early-stage stake in Zynga. “He said, ‘They all tell me that I have no expertise in gaming.’ “
You’re the best! Around! Nothing’s gonna keep you down!