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Zynga Employee: I Can't Buy A House Because Of The Stock Crash, But That's Life (ZNGA)


Zynga headquarters tour

Zynga's stock has cratered to $3 from a high of more than $15, and that's upset a lot of Zynga's employees.

Many of them have come out of the woodwork to complain on Quora, a question-and-answer site popular with the tech set.

Anonymously, that is.

They've written that Zynga made them work long hours and drove them into the ground, and the only thing holding them back from leaving was the impending IPO and the fortune they would make in stock.

But now Zynga general manager Niko Vuori has come out swinging against those anonymous colleagues on the site. Here's the core of his argument, in his own words:

NO ONE IS FORCING ANYONE TO WORK HERE AGAINST THEIR WILL. If you are a top performer, you WILL be rewarded (no politics required). If you are not a top performer, it might suck a little bit. But you can vote with your feet, and just take off. 

Vuori is not saying that working at Zynga is a cakewalk. Zynga is a young company—which means everyone has to work hard. if you perform at Zynga, you are rewarded—not driven into the ground. But if you are just sticking around for the stock price, that's the worst possible reason to stay at the company, Vuori writes.

It's natural to be upset about the stock price. Vuori has had to put off purchasing a house as a result, he says. But he also says he knew what he was getting into.

Here's the full post:

I have worked at Zynga for just over a year now, and am not afraid to hide my real identity, unlike the other answerers on this thread. I was working on my own startup before joining Zynga, and am now the General Manager of FrontierVille. I’ll start by actually answering the question, instead of using this as an excuse to bash the company (or blow smoke up your asses about how awesome it is either).
How do I feel about the stock price drop – I don’t feel great about it, of course not. It sucks to go from $10 at IPO, to a high of $15, and then drop to $3. And sure, my theoretical net worth has been impacted. I had plans to buy the house I am renting at the moment – those plans are on hold now, since the RSUs for which I just hit the 1 year cliff for are not worth enough to put together a down payment. That’s a very real impact on my life and my plans. And while untold riches are always in the back of your mind (“What if we go to $20? What if we go to $100?”), you can’t control the markets, and if you miss, the markets will punish you. It hurts, and is annoying and frustrating, especially with all the bad press floating around at the moment, but I walked into this with my eyes open – no one promised me great wealth or a guaranteed share price. The only promise that was made to me was this – that Zynga is a meritocracy, and if I work hard and do well, I will be noticed and rewarded. 
With regards to that particular promise, I have been very pleased, and my high expectations have been fully met. I did indeed work hard, especially right after joining, to prove myself and to learn the Zynga way. Late nights and weekends were frequent in those first months, especially since we were launching something big at the time. The learning curve was steep. However, morale was high, the team had fun, and we were excited about what we were (and still are) doing. Making great games that excite millions of players every day is a rush, and being a metrics-driven company means that whenever you get something right, the numbers tell you so immediately. 
In specific response to Anon User with over 600 votes, and the second Anon User with over 100 votes, I am surprised by your experiences. That is not my experience at all. Of course, the culture does not sit well with everyone, no company culture is perfect. Yes, we work hard. Yes, we care about metrics and numbers. Yes, we all wish that Q2 had gone better and that the stock price was higher. But no one forces anyone to put in “years being worked into the ground” and no one forces you to “put your life on hold.” If the only thing keeping you around was the IPO after “three and something miserable years” then your priorities are all wrong. 
I will not speak for anyone else at Zynga, but what keeps me going is the thrill of making games that millions of people enjoy. What motivates me are the regular, quarterly recognition and rewards (and no, it is not for people “willing to play the politics game,” it is for people who are high performers). What excites me are the opportunities that lie ahead, beyond this single-quarter hiccup. 
The stock price, today, is a turd. We have $1.6bn in the bank, and the markets are behaving as if we are about to go bankrupt. Over the last 4 quarters, we generated $350M in free cash flow. At times like these, if you believe in the long-term prospects of the company like I do, you are happy that Mark Pincus has special voting rights, because it means we aren’t at risk of a shareholder revolt or a hostile takeover. It means we can focus on the future and build that share price back up, one great game at a time. 
I have no doubt that there are indeed individuals at Zynga who have had a rough experience, same as at any other company. Start-up life is rough, as is life at a freshly-IPO’d company with a brand new business model (just ask Amazon.com– how the hell do you make money selling books on the Internet?). Meritocracies can be rough too – if you aren’t a top performer, you see all your peers reaping the rewards while you are treading water. There are strategy changes, and there are re-orgs, and there are late nights. The markets love you, and then they hate you. You take one misstep, and everyone proclaims your demise. The news media picks up on the prevailing meme and broadcasts it over and over into the echo chamber. It can be tough on morale. But ultimately, the bottom line is this: NO ONE IS FORCING ANYONE TO WORK HERE AGAINST THEIR WILL. If you are a top performer, you WILL be rewarded (no politics required). If you are not a top performer, it might suck a little bit. But you can vote with your feet, and just take off. 
On a final note, Zynga has in the region of 3,000 employees. Not everyone is singing kumbaya around a campfire. Shame on Josh Constine and TechCrunch for posting one anonymous individual’s unverified account on Quora of their alleged experience on an unnamed Zynga game team and calling that “news.”

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