Vungle's Co-Founders Hustle Their Way To A $2 Million Seed Round For In-App Video Ads
I hear the word "hustle" used a lot. Probably 10 times a day. It seems to be everyone's new favorite word.
As everyone hops on the "hustler" bandwagon, the definition of the word has started to get a bit fuzzy. More often than not, the folks using it seem to be stretching it to mean, "I talk to a lot of people and otherwise do all of the basic things I need to be successful, but with attitude!" when its true scope — at least as a slang word — is considerably more focused. To truly hustle is to do whatever it takes to make that next dollar, no matter how crazy or ridiculous.
Vungle's co-founders are just about the biggest (actual) hustlers I've ever met. They're building an in-app ad platform that uses short, movie-trailer-esque video ads to demonstrate other apps. Armed with nothing more than fistfuls of tenacity and a few crazy ideas, these two mostly-unheard-of British entrepreneurs have managed to raise a rather crazy $2 million seed round from some of the Valley's most coveted investors.
Vungle wants to put interstitial video trailers for apps within other apps. Waiting for that next level to load? Here — watch a 15 second ad demonstrating another app or game. Vungle will even build the trailer for you in under 24 hours; you just tell them which features you want highlighted.
Here's an example of one of their ads:
Their story really starts getting interesting with their mission to get into AngelPad.
AngelPad is an SF-based incubator founded by a handful of ex-Googlers. In addition to all the mentorship that such a program can provide, each company accepted into AngelPad gets $120k to get the ball rolling.
When Vungle's co-founders Jack Smith and Zain Jaffer got wind that AngelPad had just one spot left for its Fall 2011 class, they knew they had to do whatever it took to make it theirs. They could try to score a meeting with AngelPad's founder Thomas Korte, but time was short, and they were on the wrong side of the globe. They could've emailed Thomas a pitch, but with hundreds of other startups all vying for the same spot, there was no way to be sure they'd make it through the noise.
Instead, they found a way to have Thomas come to them.
Using a handful of techniques that he still seems to shy away from talking about specifically, co-founder Jack Smith found a way to build a Google Adsense campaign that targeted not Thomas, but Thomas' friends. "Do you know Thomas Korte?" the ads read. When clicked, the ads took the visitor to a page with a short video pitch of what Vungle was working on. Next to the video was a big button that read, quite simply, "Email Thomas."
They put up the site, launched the ad campaign, and… nothing. At least at first.
You see, Thomas had stepped out of the country and away from his inbox for a few days. When he returned, he was greeted by dozens of emails all asking about these crazy Vungle guys. Thomas called up Jack and Zain, as much to ask them to nix the ad campaign that was killin' his inbox as anything else. By the end of the call, he was convinced that these guys were just nuts enough to deserve AngelPad's final slot. "You realize this means moving to the US, right?" said Thomas.
Jack and Zain had their bags packed and were on a plane within the week.
Since arriving stateside in August, Vungle has managed to win the hearts (and dollars) of Google Ventures, AOL Ventures, Crosslink Capital, SV Angel, SoftTech VC, Dave McClure, Maynard Webb, Scott McNealy, and Tim Draper. That's a damned impressive roster.
For each investor, Vungle's co-founders seem to have some crazy story about what they did to get their pitch heard. Take 500 Startups' Dave McClure, for example. Knowing that McClure was planning to visit AngelPad HQ and that he was a huge proponent for (and investor in) Twilio, Jack made sure to be wearing a Twilio shirt on the day Dave arrived. He bolted to be the one to greet Dave at the door, used the shirt as a conversation starter, then "jokingly" gave Dave their elevator pitch while they were, in fact, in an elevator. Sure enough, it worked.
While I'm not completely convinced that Vungle's ads will be a hit amongst app users (making people wait 15-30 seconds in between levels, even in a free app, seems like a solid way to tank your app store reviews), they claim to be overwhelmed with interested parties looking to give it a spin. If you're one of those interested people, you can find all of Vungle's contact info here.
(Oh — and be sure to ask them about how they set out to find cheap housing in SF and found themselves temporarily living in a homeless shelter.)