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Scaling to a $700M Exit: Zain Jaffer, CEO of Vungle (Part 2)

Posted on Thursday, Feb 13th 2020

Sramana Mitra: What year was that?

Zain Jaffer: That was 2006. I had been highly obsessed with internet startups for the last five years. It’s time for me to really enjoy myself and be a student and not get involved in anything. I needed a bit of a break.

The first few nights, I organized a party. There were too many people in the living room. Let me take these people to a nightclub and take commission. Before you knew it, I was running a party promotion company. I started doing that.

I didn’t stay true at all to my studies. I was doing little startups. Then I started the Entrepreneurship Society, which is now called King’s Business Club. I helped co-found something that was basically a consortium of the top 12 universities in the UK. We got all the societies together. We would promote entrepreneurship and bring hundreds of thousands of students.

I got a lot of pressure from my parents again. They told me to get a normal job. Go to a bank or do consulting. This was the time of the credit crunch. We’re in 2009. I was not getting any jobs.

One place I wanted to go to was McKinsey. I got through to the interview stages and they rejected me at some point. I remember crying. I worked so hard at this. I applied to Google, and I didn’t get in. I said to myself, “One day, I’m going to do business with Google and McKinsey.”

I decided to do a Master’s in Technology Entrepreneurship in UCL. I did that part time. I joined a startup. That startup was a disaster. It was by a guy called Jack Smith. He went on to become the co-founder with me. The startup was really disorganized. Things weren’t very transparent. The company didn’t go very far.

This is a very common theme when it comes to many startups. You’ve a good idea and team, but the dynamics aren’t there between the founding team. Unfortunately, the startup fails. Here I was, facing failure after failure. I didn’t get a job. I didn’t get a chance to get that big startup going.

We’re now looking at 2011. At this point when you tell people that you’re an entrepreneur, that really means you’re unemployed. In London, it was a really hard climate. We’re just trying to get through the bad recession at that time. I’m trying to raise money for the next idea because I really had no money left.

By this point, I’m running a video production agency. I needed a way to make money. I’m selling videos. I’m actually taking videos of how software works and I’m trying to sell them to people. It’s a distraction but I needed a way to pay the bills. I’m barely breaking even. I got a lot of credit card debt.

The mobile revolution begins. The app store comes out. I wanted to be part of the mobile revolution. I was filming all these videos where these videos are ads. What if I can take these ads and do something on a mobile phone? Maybe I can build an ad network? That’s the beginning. 

This segment is part 2 in the series : Scaling to a $700M Exit: Zain Jaffer, CEO of Vungle
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