How the co-founder of Nike inspired this LA tech luminary to start-up again

May 10, 2017

In June 2014, Jonathan Zweig sold his mobile advertising startup, AdColony, to Opera for $350 million. His immediate plans included figuring out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, and not much else.

Three years later, he’s back in business — literally.

AppOnboard, his latest project, is designed to help companies onboard users to their mobile applications via off-app tutorials, allowing those companies to acquire users more likely to make in-app purchases and spend their user-acquisition budget more wisely. 

“Users are given an opportunity to try out a particular app, and if the user wants to download the app, the company is getting a much higher-quality user, someone who is far more likely to spend in the game,” said Zweig, a UCLA grad who has been active in the LA startup community since the mid-2000s. “It allows companies to see where their ROI is and where people have issues with their tutorials so they can improve them.”

Starting up again wasn’t always the plan for Zweig. While taking time to enjoy the successful AdColony exit, Zweig began dabbling with investing, contributing to local startups Lucid Sight and Squeegy. After reading “Shoe Dog,” the autobiography of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, he realized how much he missed being “on the field,” so to speak. 

“In the book, [Knight] talks about life, and how it's essentially a game, and most people are in the stands, and very few are on the field,” Zweig said. “I started to realize that's what I missed about the AdColony days — being on the field, controlling your own destiny —  and I really yearned to get back out there. So I started attending gaming and app conferences, and really looked for underserved areas in the ecosystem that I know well.”

It didn’t take long for Zweig to identify an area that could be improved. Since the inception of the App Store, developers have struggled to attract and keep users on their apps, and once a user would drop off the app, the developers could only guess at the reasons. Zweig approached, Adam Piechowicz, a former colleague at AdColony, with the idea to build demos of apps that live outside of the app themselves. Within a few days, they had a working demo.

“We have technology that is tracking all the touches on a screen as a user goes through the AppOnboard demos,” Zweig said. “If someone drops off the tutorial, we can show the developers where and why people are dropping off. We know where they last touched on the screen, and that can help the product teams fix the tutorial.”

After demonstrating the concept to Zweig’s father, a man in his 70s who found the concept to his liking, Zweig and Piechowicz moved forward with their concept, eventually partnering with mobile game developers including LA-based Scopely and Jam City to create off-app tutorials for some of the most popular mobile games on the market. 

For the fundraising process, Zweig was presented with an opportunity to do something he didn’t have to do when he founded AdColony. 

“In the AdColony days, our investors came to us, and we never really did a Bay Area/LA circuit where we went around and pitched everyone,” he said. “This time I did the rounds and was able to speak with a lot of investors.”

Today, the company revealed a $4 million seed round of funding to go toward scaling the company. Joining Troy Capital Partners in the round are London Venture Partners and a number of VCs and angel investors from the mobile app ecosystem.  

“What really excited me about Troy Capital Partners was that from the second we started talking, they just got it,” Zweig said.

Headquartered in the Miracle Mile, the team now consists of 12 full-time employees. With the new funding, the workforce may grow to meet the demand, but a move is not in the plans. 

“I personally have made my home here and really believe in the LA ecosystem, both on the investment side and on the talent side,” he said. “I think you're seeing a lot of companies that stay here spurn acquisitions to stay in LA, and I'm just very proud of the ecosystem.”

Images via AppOnboard.

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