I’m sometimes called a serial entrepreneur, but that’s only because, before Zynga, I failed to create a sustainable company. After starting two companies in the ’90s, I had a social networking startup, Tribe.net, in 2003. One of the things I try to instill at Zynga is to fail fast, look at the data, and move on, and at Tribe I failed to do that. We came up with ideas purely based on intuition, and it could take us three to six months to build it and launch. Those bullets were expensive, and many of them were not on target. Tribe reached the point where the investors literally gave up, resigned from the board, and walked away. It was just me, my team, and a creditor. We ended up selling the company to Cisco and paying back all that debt.
One thing I learned is that while your vision should never change, you should keep trying different strategies until one works. If you can fine-tune your instinct and have confidence in it, then you can keep taking different bites of the apple and keep approaching the problem in different ways until you get it right. I did that with Tribe, pursuing the social opportunity from multiple angles. I invested in Twitter and Facebook and bought a social networking patent in 2004.
I think failing is the best way to keep you grounded, curious, and humble. Success is dangerous because often you don’t understand why you succeeded. You almost always know why you’ve failed. You have a lot of time to think about it. — As told to Brad Stone