Debra Chrapaty: Here's Why I Left My Job As Zynga's CIO To Run A Startup

Debra Chrapaty Zynga CIO

Debra Chrapaty just announced that she’s leaving Zynga to become the CEO of Nirvanix, a well-funded enterprise startup backed by Square investor Khosla Ventures.

She was happy at Zynga, she told Business Insider, but left for two reasons. First, before she became CIO of Zynga in 2011, she had the career goal of becoming a CEO. And second, renowned venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, an old friend, called her and personally recruited her for Nirvanix.

Khosla had been wanting her to become Nirvanix’s CEO since November. That’s when she agreed to join the company as its chairman. The CEO role seemed to be custom-made for Chrapaty. Nirvanix is a cloud-computing service provider for enterprises. It’s claim to fame is storage, providing things like backups and archives. 

Chrapaty has a long history building out cloud-computing services, first at Microsoft and then at Zynga.

She’s actually been a powerhouse tech executive since the late 1990s when she was CIO of E*Trade. She also spent about 18 months at Cisco, running its multibillion-dollar Collaboration business unit.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

BUSINESS INSIDER: You’re known these day for your role at Zynga but you spent far more time Microsoft, seven years. How did you get that job?

DEBRA CHRAPATY: I got a call from Gia Scinto, still a good friend, who was a recruiter at Microsoft and is now a recruiter for Andreessen Horowitz. She said, “Sometimes at Microsoft we have great jobs and find great executives. Sometimes we find great executives and find great jobs for them. You’re a great executive and I’m going to find you a great job at Microsoft.” And she did.

I was there seven years and I ran all their data centres and networks, billion of dollars of infrastructure at mass scale. I loved it but my partner [Roman Pierson] had created a startup. Her board wanted her in the Bay Area and we were really sick of the rain.

BI: So you moved to Cisco, right when it was having one of its roughest years ever? What was that like?

DC: Microsoft was definitely a technically-lead culture, unlike Cisco which is a sales driven culture. I enjoyed my time at Cisco. Chambers is a wonderful person and I really felt like when I joined Cisco I was part of a connected culture.

It was just a tough inflection point for the company at the time. I think that John needed to retrench and he did. When he did, I didn’t feel I was right for the business. No hard feelings. 

I got the phone call saying, “Do I want to be CIO of Zynga?” and I did.  I loved every minute of it.

BI: So why did you leave Zynga?

DC: Prior to Zynga, after Cisco, I thought that my next job should be CEO. But when I got the call for Zynga I thought, why would I want to miss that phenomenon? So I took the job.

I wasn’t looking for a job. I knew [Vinod] Khosla for many years. He came back a few months ago and thought Nirvanix could use my leadership. I wasn’t ready to make a change, so I took the job as chairman of the board. This is about personal growth. It’s time for me to be CEO.

BI: You joined Zynga when it was super hot. It’s been troubled since then. What can you tell us about that?

DC: People see Zynga as a mature company, now that it’s public, but it’s still a really young company, not quite six years old. Young companies have fits and starts. It’s still really a startup. It had a dramatic rise, scaled up very quickly. Like at Cisco, it’s retrenching.

We forget when companies are at $200, $300 a share that many companies go through these ups and downs. Great companies. Zynga is in that phase. We remember when Amazon was at $10 a share and now look at it.

I think that Zynga has great leadership and they’ll figure it out.

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