Ex-Zynga execs explore partnership

Former Zynga executives David Ko, Colleen McCreary and Cadir Lee, who left the social gaming company as a group last month, may be sticking together.

The three are exploring the possibility of forming a new startup, Ko said. Working out of office space provided by Morado Venture Partners, the three have created a Web site under the name CCK Partners and have been bandying about ideas, he said.

“We’re thinking about doing something together,” Ko said at a meeting in East Palo Alto last week. “What’s been good has been the camaraderie.”

McCreary, in a later phone call, echoed Ko. She, Lee and Ko are good friends and really liked working together, McCreary said.

“A lot of people have reached out to us and said they’d love to work with us again,” she said. “We’re exploring taking advantage of that.”

She added, “The chance to work with those guys is one I couldn’t pass up.”

Despite their time together at Zynga, the three don’t plan on doing anything in the gaming space, Ko and McCreary said. Instead, they’re exploring building on what what they learned from Zynga in terms of the data analysis the company employs in its games, Ko said.

“We may not start anything,” said Ko, looking relaxed in blue polo shirt and jeans. “We’re just giving some time to think through what might be the next thing.”

For now, the arrangement is fairly informal, Ko said. While Ko, McCreary, Zynga’s former chief people officer, and Lee, Zynga’s former chief technology officer, are exploring what they might do together, each of the partners is free to go do his or her own thing. Their understanding is that they ought not stand in each other’s way if a better opportunity comes along before they decide on a plan.

“It may take a long time to think (things) through,” he said.

McCreary added that while they are “moving down that track” toward forming a startup — acquiring office space, meeting frequently and talking to advisers — what they are doing won’t be a real venture “until you really have a product or an idea.”

Ko, McCreary and Lee left Zynga soon after Don Mattrick took over as the company’s CEO. Ko, who was the company’s chief operating officer when he stepped down, said he left voluntarily because he wanted to give Mattrick space to form his own team. Ko said his decision was informed by having gone through several CEO transitions while he was a manager at Yahoo.

Formerly a rising star at Zynga who progressed over three years from overseeing the company’s nascent mobile games effort to becoming a top executive, Ko said he didn’t harbor any grudges against Mark Pincus, Zynga’s founder and chairman, who stepped aside as CEO when he hired Mattrick. In fact, he had plans to go to dinner soon with Pincus.

Pincus was blamed for Zynga’s rapid fall from grace. After dominating social gaming early on, the company has more recently seen its sales drop amid a decline in the popularity of its games. The company has seen numerous executive departures and has gone through two rounds of mass layoffs.

Ko said he didn’t have a good feel for how Zynga will do under Mattrick, but believes that Pincus will give him leeway to lead the company. While Pincus stepped down as CEO, the company remains under his effective control, because he has a majority of its voting shares. Pincus also remains the company’s chief product officer and is part of a two-person executive committee with Mattrick.

“They’re going to have to figure things out — ‘What do you do? What do I do?'” said Ko, adding, “It’s like a married couple.”

While he hasn’t yet launched a new venture, Ko is managing to keep himself busy. Among other things, he’s become the lead adviser to a gaming startup and recently joined the board of Audax Health, a Washington, D.C.-based startup that is working with health insurance companies to offer health and wellness apps and services to consumers.

Audax offers apps and a Web site under the Zensey brand that help users track their workouts and what they’re eating. The company licenses its technology to health insurance providers, most notably Cigna, to offer to their corporate customers for use by their employees. The company is exploring adding game-like elements to the app to encourage users to, say, lose weight or work out more frequently.

While based on the East Coast, Audax has an office in San Francisco and more than 30 of its approximately 100 employees work out of that office, according to the company.

Photo, of David Ko from a Zynga event in 2011, by Staff Photographer Gary Reyes.


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