Gotta love a rags-to-riches story. It’s even better when it’s a tech story that comes with a genuinely heartwarming twist.
It all starts with a small operation called OMGPOP. You might know it as the developer of the smash hit game app Draw Something. But the company wasn’t always successful. In fact, as recently as just a few months ago, it had one foot in the grave.
According to a source at SAI Business Insider, the company just couldn’t catch a break. None of its projects were taking off, leaving its CEO, Dan Porter, with a tough call: Go down in flames immediately or buy a little more time by laying people off. It was a difficult decision, one that would haunt him, but he made it. Several of his flash developers were let go.
For many businesses, this is where the story would end — a couple of more months of trying for a homerun, striking out, then ultimately ushering the rest of the team out of the ballpark. Case closed.
Not this time. OMGPOP hit the mound with two outs, bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th, and somehow managed to bear down and shatter the bat with a Grand Slam straight out of the ballpark. That’s basically what the company did with Draw Something, a social Pictionaryesque game that snagged 35 million downloads in the first six weeks and compelled Zynga to come knocking with $210 million in hand.
OMGPOP had made the big leagues.
If you were rooting for the little dev house, this next part will really make you cheer: Porter absolutely hated cutting his staffers. At the time, he even tried to find them other gigs, which alone makes him a pretty stand-up guy. But when the CEO got wind that Zynga was interested in buying OMGPOP, he rounded up the laid-off employees and scooped them back up pronto. He wanted them on payroll when the acquisition went through, so they could benefit along with all the other vested employees.
Word has it, he was wheeling and dealing with Zynga with one hand, while handling the re-hires with the other, with everything finalized within hours of each other. And in the end, every OMGPOP employee benefitted in some way from the sale, whether vested or not.
I’ll be honest, this story choked me up. We keep hearing about horrible working conditions in tech companies and their vendors, or discouraging things about businesses in all industries cutting people’s livelihoods without a second glance. And we take for granted that executives are supposed to be these heartless people who are only in it for themselves. So when someone comes along who manages to win despite the odds, all while taking care of his people (which is what leadership is really supposed to be about), it is incredibly moving.
Some companies spout off about not being evil — others live it.
[via SAI Business Insider]
UPDATE: Seems I might have been too hasty in lauding Porter. TechnoBuffalo reader @Nick called out the following: Porter Tweeted something rather negative and childish about the staffer who didn’t want to join Zynga. While I don’t condone this immature display, I’m genuinely not sure if it negates his actions on behalf of the rest of his company and re-hired employees. So I leave it to the community to decide: Is Porter deserving of any praise? Or did he effectively erase it by impulsively sending out this ill-conceived Tweet?
When Venture Beat asked him about it, Porter apologized and explained himself thusly:
Let me share my perspective on the record. The struggle to build and support Draw Something has been an emotionally draining and hard one. Many, many employees gave everything they had to make and support this game as it took off. These are guys and gals who will never be in the press, whose name people will never know but who are the kind of folks who work at omgpop and zynga and make the magic happen. It would not have happened if it weren’t for them.
When the game blows up and we have the chance of a lifetime to do something special, and one employee, who didn’t work on the product, and is more about his own games then the team, jumps in the press and becomes the story, it is very hurtful to all the people who are on team.
Working at a startup and sharing the ups and downs is a very emotional and bonding experience. To survive, everyone has to care about everyone else. When I saw how all the people who actually worked on the game felt after his article it was very hurtful. Sure it’s business. But when you give blood, sweat and tears on something and someone who doesn’t even work on the project, and prioritizes his own games as his own professional development over the team, becomes the story it is very demoralizing. It’s grandstanding and I’m sure i was overly emotional because I wasn’t thinking about Shay. I was thinking about the people who don’t get in the press. When I think about what the team at omgpop gave, yes I get emotional.
So was my language a little harsh in the tweet. Yes it was. But my point is that it wasn’t about Shay. It was about the 41 other people who made it happen. Those are the people I would throw myself in front of the train for and those are the people I want to celebrate.
In terms of hoodie – I spent almost ten years in educational non profit. I was a public school teacher in Brooklyn. I am passionate about social issues have given almost 1/3 of my professional career to working on creating equal opportunity for folks. I was so devastated by what happened in Florida that I wanted to do something through the game which is the main platform we have at the company. I do honestly feel like it can be socially relevant. I asked folks to retweet not to promote the game but because I felt like every company with a platform should do their best to help recognize social issues and do what is right in the world. I am really lucky that I’ve been able to do both – work with kids directly and work in business. As such, the things I leaned working in the south Bronx, east Harlem and crown heights Brooklyn with kids are always with me.
If you want the full low-down on what happened, you can click here for the story.