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Nabeel Hyatt, former Zynga Boston general manager, is newest investor at Spark Capital

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 9, 2012 09:00 AM

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When a serial entrepreneur decides to join a venture capital firm, you can have one of two perspectives:

"Great. One more VC who actually understands what it's like to try to grow a business."

"Rats. One less entrepreneur building a business in the Boston ecosystem."

I mentioned those points of view to Nabeel Hyatt yesterday, when we spoke about his decision to leave the Harvard Square outpost of Zynga, the Internet games developer, and join Spark Capital as a venture partner. He'd previously been the chief operating officer at Ambient Devices, a pioneering maker of information displays, and Teamtalk, a sports media start-up.

hyatt2.jpg"I do think it's important to ask yourself the question, 'Does the world need another VC?'" Hyatt said. "But in Boston these days, there are a lot more start-ups being founded, more angels, more VCs — and that's overall a positive thing. But I see a real problem in companies being successful at scaling. There are problems when things start to work, start to move, and you need to expand beyond just the founding team. I felt like joining Spark was the best way for me to influence that stage of things, to help entrepreneurs in making the transition from a nice good idea that might be starting to get a little traction, to astronomical growth, and something you can talk about becoming a billion-dollar company one day." (I should probably note here that Hyatt's last start-up, Conduit Labs, didn't manage to produce a hit game, and was acquired by Zynga for an undisclosed sum. The office grew from about ten people to 45 after it became Zynga Boston.)

Hyatt says he'll focus mostly on consumer-oriented companies. "I have a huge passion in mobile. It's still very much the wild, wild west there. Social and the web are also very interesting. Generally, the job is about looking for disruptive opportunities — something that changes in the market and allows a start-up to grow incredibly fast." He adds that he's also interested in the ecosystem of companies, like Zynga, that are using Facebook to reach an audience.

As for making gaming investments, Hyatt says, "I don't think I'll have a particular focus on gaming." He says he'll mainly be scouring Boston, New York, and the Bay area for prospective investments.

Hyatt's last day at Zynga was Monday. On Tuesday, he headed to San Francisco for the "Inside Social Apps" conference, and to meet with Sincerely, a Spark-funded start-up that sends printed postcards and greeting cards through the U.S. mail.

Hyatt helped start the OpenCoffee Cambridge gathering with Spark partner Bijan Sabet, but Spark wasn't an investor in Conduit Labs, Hyatt's most recent start-up.

Unlike many Boston-area VC firms, Spark has been growing lately, rather than shrinking. In January, it made Mo Koyfman a partner. (Like Hyatt and Sabet, he's a former entrepreneur.) Hyatt will start out as a venture partner at Spark before becoming a full partner, which he describes as a "three-month to one-year dance to make sure that everybody loves each other."

Here's Hyatt's blog post about the new gig.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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