Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

Social game firm RockYou looks inside for new CEO

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RockYou didn’t have to go far to find its new chief executive. It has selected its chief operating officer Lisa Marino as the new boss of the social game company.

Marino has effectively been running the Redwood City, Calif.-based company since previous CEO Lance Tokuda stepped down to focus on strategic initiatives in November. She led the company through a bunch of layoffs and pivoted the company from its ad network business toward a focus on social games. She also helped acquire two social game companies and filled out the management team with a bunch of seasoned game veterans.

In an interview, Marino said her top priority during the CEO search was to keep RockYou moving on all of its strategic priorities. The company exceeded its revenue targets for the fourth quarter by 40 percent and implemented its strategy to focus on social games for Facebook, where it still has about 19 million monthly active users.

“We applied a lot of duct tape and made genuine progress in our restructuring of the company,” Marino said.

Founded in 2005 by Tokuda and Jia Shen, RockYou started early on Facebook with simple apps such as birthday cards. While it grew to become a huge player in those simple apps, it also watched as Zynga took most of the market in social games with its farming and city-planning simulations, which gave Zynga an audience that is more than 10 times bigger than RockYou’s. RockYou branched out into ad networks under Marino, who joined the company in 2008. But the company figured out that the real money was in deeply engaging social games.

The transition to gaming started with the hiring of Jonathan Knight, a former Electronic Arts executive, as senior vice president of gaming in October. Knight and Marino decided to kill off most of RockYou’s game line-up. They acquired game studios TirNua and Playdemic and reset the bar on making more elaborate games. Previously, RockYou’s Zoo World games was the only major title that was bringing in lots of users for RockYou’s social games. Now Playdemic’s Gourmet Ranch is another big title that is popular with the Facebook audience of women ages 35 to 50.

RockYou has commissioned multiple titles, including a sequel to Zoo World and an unnamed title from John Romero, the legendary co-creator of Doom and co-founder of the new social game studio Loot Drop. Those titles will start to debut soon, and they show that RockYou will rely on both internal games and externally produced titles, said Steve Van Horne, chief financial officer at RockYou.

David Chao, a member of RockYou’s board and partner at investor DCM, said that Marino has successfully repositioned RockYou in social games, hired key talented, acquired new studios and so has quickly pivoted the company for fast growth. Marino joined to lead sales in 2008 and became chief revenue officer in 2009.

Besides Knight, RockYou has also added other key staff in recent months, including Greg Kearney, senior vice president of technology; Allyson Willoughby, general counsel; Katrino Osio, senior vice president of marketing; and Julie Shumaker, senior vice president and general manager of media.

RockYou has raised $127 million from Sequoia Capital, Partech International, Lightspeed Venture Partners, DCM and Softbank. Marino said the company is not planning to raise money in the immediate future and has a lot of cash to spend on its growth plans. Over time, the company will likely move into mobile markets as well.

RockYou has about 165 employees now and is feverishly recruiting to try to add more people, including server engineers and strong directors of its business units. Recruiting talent is currently one of the toughest problems, given the recovery in Silicon Valley and the war for talent among all of the major tech firms and startups, Marino said

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