Kara Swisher

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Roadshow: CEO Pincus Not Selling Shares in Upcoming Zynga IPO

According to sources close to the situation, neither CEO Mark Pincus nor one of its principal venture shareholders, Kleiner Perkins, will be selling any shares in its upcoming initial public offering.

While big investors often divest stock in IPOs, not all do. It is a carefully watched number by investors, who are always wary of insiders who unload a lot of shares in an offering.

But such activity by the fast-growing San Francisco online gaming company will be watched carefully since Pincus has recently been painted in a number of press reports as the greedy Mr. Potter of Silicon Valley.

Among the allegations is that he runs a poisonously tough culture that tracks its employees’ output and performance via elaborate data models that require extraordinary amounts of work, along with nefarious list-making of who’s naughty and who’s not.

That big-brother behavior has reportedly included taking away high-ranking jobs and the sweet stock options that go along with them from those execs found wanting.

While there is no doubt Pincus is a hard-charging personality, his defenders note that it’s due to a belief that life at Zynga is a meritocracy and that his practices are not any more heavy-handed than those at other firms.

Indeed, Pincus has a lot of competition in the tough-guy tech CEO category from longtime legends such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who set the gold standard for mean, as well as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and now Google CEO Larry Page.

Pincus does not even rate in this pantheon, which is more typical of tech companies than anyone would care to admit or, to be fair, care to care about. With big benefits, vast wealth and much latitude, many in tech don’t mind the grueling work schedules.

After all, it’s not exactly ditch-digging, now is it?

In any case, sources said the coverage has hit Zynga staff hard, as well as Pincus, who has not responded due to the IPO’s quiet period. That’s in contrast to Groupon, the daily-deals site whose own rough process was rife with highly negative stories about the company’s prospects.

While those media accounts were more aimed at the business itself and less personal, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason vociferously defended the company in a controversial letter that was then leaked and published (to me and by me!).

Pincus will doubtlessly have a lot to say to investors who ask about the company’s culture and its possible negative impact on attrition, as some stories have charged.

His decision not to sell, sources said, was inspired by Zynga investor and close friend Reid Hoffman, who has sold very little of the stock of LinkedIn, where he serves as chairman.

The action all begins next week, according to multiple reports, when Zynga takes its show on the road in preparation for an IPO that is expected to value the company at $15 to $20 billion and will take place before the new year.

It will debut under the ZNGA ticker on the Nasdaq market.

While some have been worried about Zynga’s future growth, its past performance has been a lot stronger than other Internet offerings. In the first nine months of the year, the company posted $828.9 million in revenue, double the amount from a year ago, with net income of $30.7 million.

Pincus’s holding onto shares will be seen as a plus, of course, although he has sold a large amount of stock in Zynga’s history.

According to its S-1 filing:

“From our inception in October 2007 to date, Mr. Pincus, our Chief Executive Officer, Chief Product Officer and the Chairman of our Board of Directors, has purchased an aggregate of 149,197,328 shares of our common stock. To date, Mr. Pincus has sold an aggregate of 43,629,310 shares of our common stock at prices ranging from $0.42 to $13.96.”

Pincus now holds 91.4 million of Class B shares, 16 percent of the total, as well as 20.5 million of Class C shares, 38 percent of that group. Kleiner holds 65.2 million shares, or 11.2 percent, of Class B shares.

Other big Zynga owners, who might or might not sell at the IPO, include Institutional Venture Partners, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Venture Capital and Avalon Ventures.

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