Weekend news roundup

4 Jul 2011

Since Zynga announced plans to go public, the web has been afire with news and analysis about the social games company’s prospects and, in particular, its CEO Mark Pincus.

The restless millionaire

The San Jose Mercury News carried a fantastic profile of Pincus that offered an insight into what drives the Zynga founder, his previous start-up successes and how he turned a company he started up only four years ago into a giant heading for a US$1bn IPO.

Six years ago, Pincus was a restless millionaire, still looking to make his mark in Silicon Valley after attaining middling success with three early start-ups.

Today, he’s a king of internet commerce, credited with pioneering a new business model for online games while steering his latest company, Zynga, to Friday’s announcement of a US$1bn initial public stock offering.

Zynga’s success didn’t happen by accident. Pincus, 45, may look like the middle-aged surfer and weekend soccer player that he is. But the doting father of twin girls, who named his company after a beloved pet, has also bruised feelings and attracted controversy – even accusations that “scammy” ads fuelled Zynga’s early growth – while building the gaming juggernaut responsible for FarmVille, Mafia Wars and other immensely popular online diversions.

A real-life game of Empires & Allies

Like-wise, The Financial Times profiled Pincus, charting Zynga’s rise from small beginnings to a global digital media empire. Building and defending empires is the subject of Zynga’s latest hit title, Empires & Allies. It is also something Pincus is achieving in his real life in the booming social gaming industry.

A playful character himself, Pincus wrote a “Dear potential Zynga shareholders” letter in the company’s filing for an initial public offering on Friday, imitating the practice of Andrew Mason, Groupon chief executive, in the online coupon company’s recent filing, and Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, when it went public.

Like Google, he stressed a long-term strategy, saying the share offering allowed it “to invest more in play than any company in history”.

He pledged: “We will make decisions and trade offs that are different from other companies. We will prioritise innovation and long-term growth over quarterly earnings.”

That strategy will be harder to pursue in public, once the company is under more intense scrutiny, than it has been in private, but it has served Pincus well so far.

.XXX marks the spot, not!

Moving on from Zynga, The Observer did a great piece on the bun fight that’s coming with the opening up of gTLDs from the 22 gTLDs today administered by ICANN to a universe of top-level domains owned by individuals and organisations. It seems the controversy surrounding the launch of the .XXX domain was a sideshow.

In the early days of the web, most of the action was in the gold rush for domain names within the gTLDs. Large corporations were often slow off the mark and discombobulated by the discovery that domain names relevant to their businesses had already been registered by quick-witted entrepreneurs. Thus McDonalds.com was initially not owned by the fast-food chain and Nike didn’t own JustDoIt.net. And the chequered history of sex.com doesn’t bear thinking about. But after a time – and massive applications of money and legal fees – this “cybersquatting” became less troublesome and now no start-up will choose a business name without first checking that a suitable domain name is available.

Given that most words in most languages have now been registered as domain names, that explains some of the weird monikers that now abound in cyber space. Mention of Google, Plaxo and Zynga, for example, brings to mind Bertie Wooster’s observation upon learning the name of his chum’s newborn babe: “There’s some raw work done at the baptismal font, Jeeves.”

Maloney shows he has the Midas touch

The Sunday Independent reported how Irish venture capitalist Barry Maloney has done it again. Maloney – the Simon Cowell of technology investment – could be set to make a killing with the flotation of online retailer The Hut, which is set to raise more than €120m on the market after summer.

Maloney’s venture-capital firm Balderton is one of the largest investors in the internet shopping company. An IPO is likely to value The Hut at close to €350m.

Balderton invested €17m in the company with other backers at the start of 2010.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years