Zain Jaffer: Just to set the context, Vungle was recently acquired by a private equity group called Blackstone for $780 million all cash. The transactions closed towards the end of 2019.
At that point, we started a company called Vungle and were producing video ads. We didn’t know what to do with these video ads. We were charging $500 to $600 per video ad. It’s basically an agency.
The unique differentiator is we’re building video ads that showcase your mobile app. I went around pitching VCs. No one was interested. I learned that there was an incubator very similar to YC. This incubator had one spot left. They were advertising this spot on TechCrunch and announcing a $120,000 investment in each company for this cohort.
I was getting scared now. I looked at the applications, and thousands of people were applying. I tried to find every reason why it’s not going to work. I don’t come from America. I didn’t go to Harvard. I’m not an engineer.
My co-founder put out his mobile phone and said, “Start speaking.” I was on camera and was saying crazy things. I was saying that we were going to build an ad network. We stopped recording and we decided to start advertising with video online.
We figured out how to target the actual judges. We were able to target all their connections. A lot of these people came from Google and Facebook. We were targeting their colleagues. There was this one guy called Gokul Rajaram. He’s known as the godfather of Google AdSense. He’s the guy you want to get in touch with if you’re in the advertising industry.
We needed a way to reach Gokul. He started a company after he left Google. That company was acquired by Facebook for $50 million.
We targeted all of Gokul’s connections. When you’re browsing LinkedIn, a picture of Gokul would appear. It would say, “Urgent message. Gokul needs help.” They click on this ad and a video pops up with me and my co-founder pitching. It was posted inside of Facebook’s internal discussion boards. I think Mark Zuckerberg even came to him and said, “What is going on?”
One day, I got a call on my phone. It was one of the guys at the incubator, Angel Pad. I was getting super excited. I said, “You saw our video ads. When can we start?” He said, “Take those ads down right now. You have no idea what a mess you’ve made for Gokul.”
After two days of not hearing from them, we started sending out more videos and pretty much harassed them. Eventually, Angel Pad called us, “The program starts on Monday. Pack your bags and come here to Silicon Valley.” We got into the incubator.