We caught up with OMGPOP chief executive Dan Porter, Zynga’s chief mobile officer David Ko and board member and Spark Capital partner Bijan Sabet to get the inside story of how OMGPOP’s sale went down. It’s been a whirlwind six weeks for OMGPOP, which transformed from an also-ran social gaming company into the maker of the most successful casual mobile game in the market right now. The company was picked up by Zynga today for what we heard was $210 million.
TechCrunch: So how did you choose Zynga over other companies that were talking to you?
Dan Porter: It was a bromance. Well, irrespective of this deal — and this isn’t the first time I’ve gone through this process — I met David Ko and Mark Pincus. Then I met a bunch of people on the mobile side. In my mind, there was this idea of Zynga. But here were all the real people and they really wanted to build fun games.
TechCrunch: Your company culture seems really different from Zynga. They’re known for being very analytical and data-driven and OMGPOP’s culture sounds looser than that. Is that going to work out?
Porter: Dave had this vision of having an environment that would actually let people be creative. We talked about how the Words With Friends group [who came from the Newtoy acquisition] could keep their culture. It was really, really sincere and I wouldn’t have done the deal otherwise.
I’ve said this before but we’ve only had one mission at the company. I really, really wanted to make a game where you sit on the bus and see everyone playing our games. This is the first time this has really happened. It is a really amazing feeling. And now we have the resources and support. At the end of the day, you’re making creative content and you’re putting your heart and soul into it. It’s so personal.
TechCrunch: How many press hits did Dan have to do before Zynga really picked up on this game?
Ko: This game was obviously rising on the charts very quickly. I’ve got a lot of apps and there was this moment where we realized how powerful Draw Something was. I said on the press call earlier that I was using Draw Something on my way from the San Francisco airport and Mark was playing it against his family and friends.
We’ve had tremendous respect for this team. They’ve been around for a couple years and we both want to differentiate ourselves by creating high-quality social experiences. These guys are literally focused on the same values. It was a meeting of the minds.
TechCrunch: Are all of OMGPOP’s employees going over?
Porter: Yes, they’re all fired up. They’re already changing their LinkedIn profiles.
TechCrunch: So what changes with the game now?
Porter: Starting tomorrow, we’re going to be adding cows. No really. So, Words With Friends has a chat feature and we’d like to focus on that.
We’d like to give people a better opportunity to capture their drawings. There should be a save feature for saving your pictures. I didn’t really get this idea until I was playing with one of my kids. You know how you like to save your kids’ pictures and put them on the refrigerator and they draw these crushingly heart-breaking stick figures. We’ve got to make this feature fast.
TechCrunch: How is the monetization of the game changing? It’s very front-loaded right now with paid app downloads and in-app purchases of color packs. But eventually, it may end up being far more advertising-dependent like Words With Friends.
Zynga: We’re not talking about changes in monetization.
TechCrunch: How many extra unique users is this adding?
Zynga: We can’t talk about that.
In a separate call, we caught up with OMGPOP board member Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital. Sabet has also led the firm’s investments in Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare.
TechCrunch: How much of a conversation was there at the board level about whether to go down the acquisition route versus stay independent?
Sabet: We had a lot of conversations. There were lots of companies that were interested in OMGPOP. But we saw that Zynga’s price was good for all shareholders and employees so the board was unanimous. Zynga kept all the employees, who are coming along and staying in New York City. Dan got along with Mark Pincus and David Ko. It just felt really right.
TechCrunch: Why Zynga over the other suitors?
Sabet: We all came to the same conclusion that it was a good offer and that we should take it seriously. It felt like everyone thought it was the right thing to do. Everyone also felt like Zynga was the most entrepreneurial partner of all the buyers. Dan Porter and Mark Pincus spent a lot of time together to make sure there was a cultural fit.
TechCrunch: What was it like to see this company through the years and then through this hit?
Sabet: This was a quite a journey. We were the first VCs in this company and I was the first outside director. We made our investment back in 2008 and we invested in every single round.
So I have all of this history. OMGPOP had some really cool games, but they never kind of broke out. They never got massive. So when Dan showed us this game, Draw Something, we all thought it was really cool. But we had no idea whether users would like it.
Then it became absolutely amazing. Every day, Dan would send out the stats from the day before, like what happened in terms of downloads or what celebrity had tweeted about it. Each day was more amazing than the previous one.
TechCrunch: Dan wasn’t the original founder though. It was a Y Combinator company originally called Iminlikewithyou, right?
Sabet: Yeah, we had invested $1 million when Charles Forman was still running the company. He was the chief executive and founder. It was a dating site that then pivoted into gaming. Shortly thereafter, Dan came into the company and then he became chief executive. A year ago, Charles left day-to-day operations but stayed on the board.
TechCrunch: What does this teach you as a venture investor about the gaming industry?
Sabet: The interesting lesson is that these things take time. These companies sound like overnight successes but they take awhile. We were the first investor in Tumblr, but it was not an overnight sensation. We were early investors in Twitter, but after one year, it had just 500,000 users. People can get seduced with the idea that these companies get their breaks quickly. This is a good reminder that if it doesn’t happen the first year, it can work out. It just takes time.
This team worked really, really hard and they built the most popular social game on the planet right now. Dan’s an unbelievably talented guy. Even after all of these years, they stayed on and worked really hard every single day. It’s not easy to do.
I hope they get the recognition. I know they’re all happy. It’s pretty cool. It’s Drawsome.