The First-Person Project

Jesse Hurwitz ’00

New York City

Senior Director of Monetization Products, Jump Ramp Games

Major: Communication

I grew up in Hastings on the Hudson, New York, and checked out Keene because it represented a nice New England town. I enjoyed snowboarding and outdoor activities. To go off to a college that was an hour away from the mountains was really appealing. My family and I took a tour of Keene State, then after the tour we walked down Main Street and the town jumped out as a place I’d like to spend time.

By the time I got to college, I thought my focus was going to be around advertising. I was heavily interested in the advertising industry, and Keene had communication classes, marketing classes. I really enjoyed Keene State. The class sizes were good, you got the attention you needed, and I liked the life up at Keene a lot. I met a lot of great friends up there and was part of Phi Nu Delta. My fraternity brothers are some of my closest friends to this day. We all go to each other’s weddings, watch each other’s children grow up, and do guys’ weekends all the time. We’re a very tight-knit group of guys. Being in a fraternity and understanding how to live with 40 to 50 other guys is a really good life experience. A large piece of business today is being able to interact, socialize at a certain level. Having a group of guys who are very honest and will tell you exactly what they are thinking prepares you for the real world.

I was busy at Keene State. I played intramural sports, was in the finance club, had a radio show for a few years. Being an active member of student government was important to me so I joined the College Senate.

My first position after graduation was in New York City at HotJobs, an online job search engine that was later acquired by Yahoo. This was during the dot com era, when everything was heating up. I had an inside sales job, making a hundred phone calls a day. Very high energy place, and a younger group of people. It wasn’t a suit and tie job, but it was a good transition into the real world.

When the dot-com era fizzled out, I got an opportunity to leave the digital space and go to work for a wireless manufacturer based in California, USA Wireless. My role was based in New York City at first, but the job offered me a lot of time on the road. It was interesting – I was fortunate enough to travel the country. USA Wireless manufactures accessories for Verizon, so I worked with the regional managers and the regional accounts for Verizon around their accessory portfolio products. They moved me out to California for a couple of years, and I learned all about manufacturing and distributing.

Manufacturing was fun for a while, but that industry operates on very thin margins, and it’s highly competitive. I did notice a rapid growth in the number of people buying mobile phones. This was back in the days of flip phones, before smart phones, but there was a web gateway on your cell phone. All of these people were buying phones that had internet capabilities, so I realized that the digital world was heading in the mobile direction. I researched companies and set my sites on one in Boston called Third Screen Media. It was the pioneer in mobile advertising.

At first, they felt I’d been out of digital for too long and didn’t even want to interview me. So I wrote a 10-page business document on industry trends and what I’ve seen, and submitted that. I was called back, and they said, “Wow – after you took the time to do this, clearly we have to give you an opportunity to at least interview.” And from there I got the job. In my first job out of college, I was on the phone making a hundred sales calls every day. Doing that, you get a lot of No’s. One more “no” wasn’t going to stop me from pushing back.

Breaking into this part of the industry, mobile advertising, was exciting. I didn’t know where it was going, but I knew it would be big. During my time there, the iPhone was launched. That made access to the web from a phone very accessible. If Apple is building this kind of a device, you know that it’s going to be very big. I picked the right field.

While I was in Boston, I met my wife, Nicole. When we decided to move to New York City, I got a job with a small startup that had a proprietary mobile ad server, as director of business development. It was a good career move, and it led me to my next job with AdMeld, which was the first mobile ad exchange. This is where things started to get really exciting.

Mobile ads are sold via auction. When you open up an app in a smart phone or tablet, you’ll see a spot that holds an ad. The spot fires off a call, and hundreds of buyers bid on placing their ad in the spot – this literally takes place in 150 milliseconds. AdMeld was the leader doing this. They had a strong foothold in desktop computing and were looking to branch into mobile. I had an opportunity to join AdMeld in a role where I was able to culminate all my past experience in digital and bring a lot of knowledge about how to best take this desktop ad exchange and mobilize it.

Google acquired AdMeld, so I ended up working at Google, which was super-fun. You get to go to this company that everyone talks about. There are lots people riding around on scooters; there’s free food everywhere. It was exciting times. Google had an opening on the global strategy team for a mobile platform person, so that’s where I found my home for the next several years.

I got to travel the world. It was, How do we take the product offering we have, and does it make sense to bring it to these different regions? You name it, I’ve probably been there.

I left that job because I was at a point in my life where I wanted to take another run back in the start-up world. I didn’t want to have regrets in life. Google was an amazing place to work and I loved it, but I like being able to move decisions very quickly sometimes, and I wanted to try and jump back out and see if I could help build another company.

I went on to Adbrain, a London-based company that builds out device graphs to identify users across multiple devices, so its clients can target a person and not just a computer or phone. It runs off a probabilistic math model, and within a certain percentage, they can say, OK, we think this is you. I can show you a journey of ads. As vice president for the Americas, my job was to introduce Adbrain to the US market.

I was there for two years, and then it was time to move on. We were expecting our second child, and it made sense to go back to a big company offers perks like work from home days. It allows you a lot of family time and that’s important to me. I went to Facebook, which is clearly an exciting company to work for. My job there was publisher development, working with publishers – websites like Condé Nast, or Hearst, or Viacom – people that own their own content and want to monetize that content.

A year and a half later, I was ready to jump out of ad tech. I’d never worked directly for a publisher. I knew a lot about this mobile app company called Jump Ramp Games and I had insight into how well they were doing. The founders had the same type of vision that I did around advertisements and game-ifying mobile ads. I joined them as senior director of monetization products.

We’re an app that doesn’t make any revenue from in-app purchases. When you play other apps, they’ll say, Hey, do you want to buy an extra life for a dollar? or a sword, or a level? People get hooked, and they buy things. Most apps get 80 percent of their revenue from in-app purchases, and 20 percent from advertising. We make all our revenue from advertising. “Whales” are heavily monetized users, and “dolphins” are middle monetizers, and “minnows” make you the least amount of money. You’re always trying to figure out, How am I going to keep my whales happy? And on the flip side, How am I going to take a dolphin and make it a whale, and how am I going to make a minnow into a dolphin? You do that by creating these customized playlists of ads.

Jump Ramp has one app, called Lucktastic. Our users can enter contests, they can win prizes, they can redeem things, trips or gift cards or different types of offerings. The company is going great. We’ve built a really sophisticated engine on top of our ad stack. We’re seeing the difference every day. We’ve received large increases from changes we’ve made to the way we deliver ads.

Coming to the publishing side, my career has made a full 180. I constantly sat on the other side and made recommendations to people. If you do x, y, and z, you’ll see the results. And they would go and do a, b, and c, not what I told them. So this is an opportunity for me to take all my years of experience and actually put the rubber on the road and see if I was right.

I had no idea, when I was in college, that my career would look like this. We didn’t even have cell phones at Keene State. When somebody wanted to come over, they came to the fraternity house, or called the house phone. We shared internet. This field is constantly changing, which is exciting. No day is the same. I’m excited to get up in the morning and come to work.

On the home front, Nicole and I try not to talk shop too much: she’s a marketing vice president with L’Oreal. We have two boys, Max, 6, and Leo, 2. I’m a big kid. I ask my kids, “Who’s Daddy’s best buddy?” and they say, “Me, Me!” I love spending time with them. We do lots of things together – skiing, go-carting. We go to baseball and soccer games. Every morning I walk my older son to school. It’s one of the highlights of the day. Every Saturday night, we pick a different restaurant and go out for a family dinner.

I’ve gotten a little wiser over the years. I’m just really enjoying what I do, and learning how to balance family and work life is important. The work life has to be exciting. If you come in and don’t want to be there, people can sense that. It’s good to be up front, to put out a line that says, this is what success looks like, this is what failure looks like. And if we get to success, that’s great, and if it fails, it fails, and at least you set the goals up front. Those are things I’ve learned, but it had to do a lot with being in a fraternity and having guys around you who were going to tell you exactly what they thought. There was no mincing words. That’s something that transferred over from Keene State.