Peter Kafka

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Zynga’s Newest Deal: Snagging MySpace, Facebook Vet Owen Van Natta

Zynga, the dominant social-gaming company that seems to spend most of its time raising money, has finished up yet another deal: It has officially brought in Web veteran Owen Van Natta, giving him the title “Executive Vice President of Business Operations.”

Following last month’s hire of Allen & Co. vet David Wehner as CFO, the move will be interpreted as yet another signal that Zynga is moving toward a big-money public offering. Zynga officials won’t comment on the hire. But if they did, they would sidestep the IPO talk and mutter something about hiring a first-class team, etc, etc.

In any case, there’s no argument that this is Van Natta’s third high-profile Web company in two years. He was a top lieutenant for Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook until February 2008, and in 2009 he took over News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace, a job that lasted less than a year. Earlier in his career, he made a name for himself at Amazon (AMZN). He also popped in for a very brief stint as CEO at Project Playlist, a streaming-music company that has just filed for Chapter 11.

Kara Swisher sniffed out the hire last month, when she reported that Van Natta was spending a lot of time at Zynga in an unofficial role. She predicted a formal title in his near future, as Facebook prepared for both an IPO and head-on competition with Google (GOOG), which is moving into gaming and social networking:

Sources said [that] 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 adviser to Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg at the nascency of the company.

Zynga’s official bio for Van Natta:

Owen Van Natta is the Executive Vice President of Business Operations at Zynga. In this role, he is responsible for the company’s revenue strategy, corporate development, international expansion, and brand. Prior to joining Zynga, Owen was consulting for the Company across a number of critical business functions. Owen is also a member of the Zynga Board.


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