Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Where in the World Is Owen Van Natta? Try Zynga…

After longtime Internet tech exec Owen Van Natta was ousted from his job as CEO of MySpace last February, after clashing with News Corp. (NWS) digital chief Jon Miller and also the other two top execs at the troubled social networking site, he seemed to drop off the map a bit to chillax and regroup.

Not for long, though, as the high-profile Van Natta (pictured here)–he was also a top exec at Facebook in its early days, as well as at Amazon (AMZN) before that–soon began doing mentoring and also unofficial consulting work with various start-ups in which he was an angel investor or had developed an interest.

Most especially, according to numerous sources, that effort has now been largely focused on Zynga, the red-hot social gaming company that has been on a growth and revenue tear of late.

Under CEO and founder Mark Pincus, that has included big new rounds of investment, renewing its partnership with Facebook after some contention, striking another deal to put its popular games such as Farmville throughout Yahoo (YHOO) and, reportedly, working on an even bigger deal with Google (GOOG).

It’s been a very active time for Zynga, which has been contemplating an initial public offering.

All that, sources said, has prompted Pincus to increasingly bring in Van Natta as an adviser to the start-up, focused mostly on strategy and operations.

And, said sources, that could eventually result in a more formal role, such as Van Natta joining Zynga in an official job, like COO. Many say that both have been seriously contemplating such a move in recent weeks.

In fact, at the recent Allen & Co. media confab in Sun Valley, which both attended, Van Natta and Pincus told many of Van Natta’s more substantive advisory role.

A COO job like that would not be a big leap for Van Natta, who was COO and close advisor to Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg at the nascency of the company.

Van Natta was key to some important early deals, such as bringing on Microsoft (MSFT) as an investor and staffing the young service.

In doing so, he formed a close bond with the then less experienced Zuckerberg.

Eventually, though, that relationship cooled, and Van Natta’s job shifted as more execs joined.

Van Natta left the social networking giant in early 2008.

He did a short stint as CEO of music discovery site Playlist later in 2008, but was put in charge at MySpace as part of an awkward troika of leadership by the following April.

Although he moved to reinvigorate the tarnished service, Van Natta’s job there was short-lived, After much internal wrangling with COO Michael Jones and product head Jason Hirschhorn, Miller suddenly fired him in a tense meeting earlier this year.

To be sure, to grab a big job at Zynga would be a splashy move for both the company and Van Natta, who has clearly seen quite a few of them in his Internet career.

When I contacted them to ask about Van Natta’s role, Pincus declined comment and Van Natta has yet to respond.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work