Peyman has done two startups in the ad network and content network field, and this discussion takes us through that journey.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Peyman Nilforoush: I was born in Tehran in 1980. That’s the year after the revolution hit. I was raised in a very insane environment. There was a war for over eight years. We were there for a lot of it. From then, my family migrated to Toronto, Canada, which is where I grew up most of my teenage years up to adulthood. I ended up launching our first company here.
Sramana Mitra: When did you start that first company? What year was that?
Peyman Nilforoush: It was 1999 at the height of the market.
Sramana Mitra: You were very young at that time. You were still in college when you started this?
Peyman Nilforoush: It was me, my co-founder, and brother. I was starting college. I was starting Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto. My brother, who is five years younger than me, was just in high school coding HTML websites.
We were in our parents’ basement. He was building HTML websites for two shows that were very popular at that time – South Park and Family Guy. It blew up and became popular. I don’t know if you remember the web back then. There was no blog. There were discussion forums.
Millions of people went to his website. It was called SPDownload. It was this amazing community that became quite popular over time. At that time, he was in his early teens and was getting advertisers on his website. He was this 13-year-old kid making $10,000 a month.
This ad network said, “We will host your website. We will pay you $15,000 a month, and then we’ll split ad revenue with you.” My parents were wondering what my brother was doing. Is he dealing drugs? I’m like, “No, this is real. There are brands online that want to advertise.” That’s where our story started.
Sramana Mitra: Did you ever finish college?
Peyman Nilforoush: I went to the very last year of college and then I dropped out.
Sramana Mitra: Your brother?
Peyman Nilforoush: Same. He took business administration and then dropped out as we started the company. There was a period of time where we were both working full-time and going to college. That was a pretty crazy time for us. Ultimately, there came a point where it was very difficult. We were grinding it out and going to college. There came a point where we had to make a choice.
Sramana Mitra: How long did this company last? How big did this become?
Peyman Nilforoush: We bootstrapped it from the early days of 1999. It was one of the first ad networks that focused on technology blogs. We had geeky nerdy sites. The business model was named vertical ad network. We ended up signing 250 of these technology bloggers.