40 Under 40: Ampush
Nick Shah, Chris Amos and Jesse Pujji met in the context of Leadership in the Business World (LBW), a summer program for rising high school seniors interested in Wharton and entrepreneurship. That teenage bond survived through four years in Wharton’s undergraduate program. Not just survived, but strengthened by a dream of where they would go together.
“We had built up this vision for a partnership, and it was kind of our dream all along,” Amos says.
As dreams do, theirs got deferred for a few years. Amos worked in finance, first at Morgan Stanley, then with the Carlyle Group. Shah had been in New York and India with Morgan Stanley through 2009, with plans to join a hedge fund in New York. Pujji went into consulting with McKinsey, then finance with Goldman Sachs.
Then came the financial crisis. It was a natural time anyway for people their age—mid-20s—to go for an MBA, and the Great Recession certainly sped up the herd. Meanwhile, the hedge fund at which Shah had a job folded. In other words, for all of them, the crisis provided a moment to reconsider next steps. Shah recalls regularly calling his friends during this evaluative phase. What did he want to do next? What did they want to do? What about that dream, this itch, that all three of them still had?
The answer to that question was Ampush—but not before a full year during which the trio explored what pursuit would suit their strengths and backgrounds. They came to realize that they could apply their rigorous quant skills to an exploding trend: mobile advertising. Advertising was (and still is) going digital, toward real-time and programmatic ads served and embedded on social platforms, and driven by the flood of social, customer and other data. The business is going from “mad men to math men,” as Amos puts it.
“That just seemed fascinating to us and was clearly an industry in transition,” Shah says. “It hit all our core strengths.”
Founded in October 2009, Ampush focuses on delivering marketing ROI on mobile social platforms by allowing advertisers to target individual consumers and populations and place ads right in their content streams. They targeted the biggest social and mobile platform of them all first: Facebook. Crucial was Facebook adding Ampush to the Facebook Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer (sPMD) list. In fact, the trio geared nearly all of their company’s efforts for six months just to developing this elite relationship with Facebook.
Now, Ampush has more than 100 employees at its San Francisco and New York offices and $200 million on ad spend on its platform in the past year—a number that’s grown every year since the firm’s inception. The three co-founders bootstrapped Ampush with savings and have never taken an investor’s dollar (though Pujji notes that they receive calls every week about investment and reconsider it every quarter). They aim to scale to keep up with a mobile ad market that’s soared to $35 billion in 2014, from $18 billion in 2013, according to a recent VentureBeat article praising Ampush.
They’ve also expanded to serve ads on Twitter and have interest in other platforms, such as Google, Pinterest and Yahoo.
How have they managed to catch one of the biggest technological waves since the advent of the Internet itself? As many entrepreneurs do, Shah cites perseverance. Amos admits to the co-founders being “blind and naive” coming in and says they were wise enough to talk with a lot of people, ask questions and hire “super smart problem-solving people.”
Along those same lines, Pujji adds being at the right place, right time; the size of the opportunity was massive enough to absorb their early mistakes.
Yet to finish on nothing but positivity, Ampush’s success gets back to people—namely, the three co-founders and a bond of trust formed as high schoolers romping around Penn’s campus one summer. They’ve since given each other the freedom to make mistakes, while always “assuming positive intent,” Pujji says.