What Happened To The Founding Team Behind The Largest IPO Since Google

zynga early composite

Zynga wouldn’t have anything close to its meteoric success if not for its first mover advantage, which it picked up with successes like Mafia Wars, Zynga Poker and FarmVille.

That runaway success helped Zynga negotiate strong deals with Facebook and outmaneuver competition from companies like Playdom and Playfish.

In short, some of the earliest employees at Zynga are a huge reason why the company has done so well since.

What ever happened to them?

Justin Waldron is working on some unannounced games at the company

Justin Waldron, a co-founder of Zynga alongside Pincus, is actually still at the company and working on a new piece of intellectual property.

Waldron was one of the first founding members of Zynga, who joined because he believes Zynga 'had created was fundamentally different than what gaming had been, and would therefore be completely disruptive,' according to a post in Quora.

After a brief stint at Zynga Japan, Waldron is once again based in the San Francisco office to work on the new IP. It's pretty hush-hush even within the company, according to several sources we asked.

Michael Luxton, Zynga's former CTO and co-founder, is working on new products

Michael 'Lux' Luxton joined as one of the company's first chief technology officers. That was a critical point in Zynga's history as it had to keep up with the huge growth from its games like Zynga Poker, its first big hit.

But he's since handed over most of that responsibility to Cadir Lee, the new chief technology officer of Zynga. He's working in the products group in the company -- still a chief technology officer, but not the top one.

Co-founder Eric Schiermeyer is also still working at Zynga

Eric Schiermeyer was one of the first team that worked on Zynga Poker and was a force in development throughout the life of the company.

Like Justin Waldron, Schiermeyer is still working at Zynga -- though sources couldn't indicate whether he's working on tech or games.

Scott Siegel left to join Playdom, then PopCap

Siegel was a contributing developer for Café World, one of Zynga's top early games, and also the lead designer behind Word Scramble. It was an early mobile game that would eventually evolve into Scramble With Friends, Zynga's latest 'With Friends' game.

He left the company to join Playdom in September 2009, shortly before the acquisiton by Disney, and then left to join PopCap (acquired by EA) in August 2011.

Neil Souza tried a few social gaming startups, but now works at MTV

Neil Souza is another of Zynga's earliest employees, joining the company in 2007. One source said he was one of the key early developers at the company that we should follow.

He left to start a stealth social gaming startup in 2009. He now works at MTV, after Viacom acquired his company Social Express. Viacom bought the company to start building social games based on Viacom's brands.

Roger Dickey, the founding designer of Mafia Wars, is scheming something big

Mafia Wars was Zynga's first runaway hit and continued to be very popular throughout the entire life of Zynga. But they weren't able to hold onto Roger Dickey, the lead developer behind the title, when he left in July 2011. Dickey was also the founder of FishVille, a not-as-popular but still important game in Zynga's history.

Dickey had been an angel investor for the latter half of his three-year tenure at Zynga, but left in July to start his own company. He's brainstorming for a new idea right now and is in the process of collecting a thousand ideas and boiling them down to the four or five most interesting ones, a source told us.

Andrew Trader is an entrepreneur-in-residence at Maveron Capital

Trader was another of the co-founders of Zynga. He also worked as an operator at Mark Pincus' previous company, Tribe.net. He built and managed all of Zynga's business operations including revenue management, marketing, user acquisition, business development and strategic partners.

He then left to join Maveron Capital as an entrepreneur-in-residence. He's still based out of San Francisco and is currently working on a secret project, we hear.

Tom Bollich worked with Justin, Lux and Steve out of the 365 Vermont office outside of Mark's office, and was one of Zynga's earliest employees, a source told us.

He left the company in 2009 to start working on a side project called HugeMonster.

Sizhao Yang, co-creator of FarmVille, is now the chief operating officer at BetterWorks

Sizhao Yang co-founded and was the CEO of MyMiniLife, the original developer of FarmVille. Zynga acquired the company and rolled out FarmVille quickly, which was Zynga's first -- and largest -- hit. It's still a top-5 game and has more than 6 million players daily.

Yang came in two years into the lifetime of Zynga, so he shouldn't be considered to be one of the earliest original members -- but he still ran a pretty important game, according to one source.

Yang stayed at Zynga until October 2010, when he left to found BetterWorks, a perks service for businesses.

Zynga's marketing maestro Brandon Barber left to join Kixeye

Brandon Barber was one of the first Electronic Arts diaspora that Zynga managed to snag from its chief rival in 2009 -- which would become a growing trend over time.

He aided in Zynga's marketing efforts when he joined, which pushed the company to more than 200 million plus users across all its games.

Barber left to join Kixeye because he was interested in working on games that 'were really fun to play,' a source close to the company told us.

Dave Rohrl was an early game director who left to join Playdom

Dave Rohrl joined Zynga from PopCap, which would later be acquired by EA.

He came to Zynga pretty early, but he left before he was able to have much of an impact on the company because the company hadn't yet shifted to really focusing on game design, sources told us.

Rohrl left Zynga for Playdom in May 2009, where he ran most of Playdom's early flash social games. He's now working on some unannounced projects.

Co-founder Steve Schoettler is new the CEO of Junyo

Steve was one of the original founders of Zynga alongside Eric Schiermeyer, Mark Pincus and Michael Luxton. Along with those three and Justin Waldron, the team launched Zynga Poker, arguably its most successful and enduring title.

Schoettler created the machine learning team that processed Zynga's virtual goods purchases with fraud assessment. He also helped create Zynga's now incredibly powerful cross-promotional tools.

But after an extended stay at Zynga (more than four years!), he left to found Junyo, a startup that gathers a ton of data (like Zynga) about students, instead of gamers. Philanthropy!

Ken Chiu is now CEO of Funzio

Ken Chiu was another one of Zynga's earliest employees. He was the co-founder a social gaming company that was acquired early on by Zynga..

That was one of Zynga's first acquisitions, which would become a hallmark strategy for the social gaming giant. It happened in 2008.

Feeling the itch in 2010, Chiu left to found a new company.

Ritesh Khanna is CEO of Clipwire Games

Ritesh Khanna joined Zynga early as its 'Director of MMO games.' He had a touch for introducing role-playing elements in a game -- which would become a hallmark of all of Zynga's games in the future, including the 'level up' mechanic.

Those same mechanics even pervade Zynga's offices, with 'level up' being the term for a promotion under Pincus' reign. Khanna left to found Clipwire Games -- which also made RPG-style social games.

Who the heck is Scott Sherman?

Scott Sherman is listed as a co-founder of Zynga in multiple locations, such as Wikipedia, databases and other news stories.

But sources we've spoken to say he wasn't really a key employee at the company -- in fact, most had no idea who we were talking about.

Do you know anything else?

The list is pretty comprehensive, based on some of the industry sources we've spoken to, but there's always a chance we missed something.

Is there anyone else that should be on the list? Or anything we don't know about the original team? Speak up in the comments below or shoot us a message at [email protected]

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