Zephrin Lasker is CEO and co-founder of Pontiflex, a mobile and online sign-up ads platform. He has been involved with online marketing since its inception more than a decade ago. Zephrin is a serial entrepreneur, having launched Beautility.com prior to Pontiflex.
Sramana: Zephrin, let’s start at the beginning of your story. What is your background? Where do you come from?
Zephrin Lasker: I have always been somebody who has had problems with authority. I was born in a small town in north-central Chile. I came to the United States when I was 11 years old. My parents were expatriates. My father founded the first astronomical observatory in the Southern Hemisphere. We eventually moved back so that he could work on the Hubble space telescope.
My schooling began in Chile at a school my parents founded. It was the first international school in Chile, and instruction was bilingual. I was the first student in a class of five. It has grown to be a large institution with 1,000 students. That was the first time I was exposed to a startup environment. I saw growth to the point that the school became a self-sustaining entity.
I went to Reed College, which is a school on the West Coast in Oregon. I did not pursue any graduate studies. I graduated in 1994 and moved to the Czech Republic during was the early days of the privatization of the socialist market there. My future wife lived there, and I did not know what to do after college. When I visited, I saw a wide-open opportunity, so I moved there to see what was happening. I worked for an Austrian investment bank for two years, after which I moved to New York to join a different investment bank.
Sramana: What happened after investment banking?
Zephrin Lasker: My father was a scientist, so I got a lot of the critical thinking that comes along with a scientific background. At the same time, I was always interested in business. I was interested in the financial and marketing mechanics of business. I found as I went out into the workplace that business itself, specifically corporate structures, was invigorating to me.
I had worked in corporate finance, M&A, and eventually on the sales and trading desk. I was laid off when our trading desk was shut down due to the financial crisis in Southeast Asia. I received a generous severance, which I used to start my first company, Beautility.com. That is when I started working for myself.
Sramana: What was Beautility about?
Zephrin Lasker: The company was trying to leverage the power of the Internet to create an early Amazon.com around small modern design. I noticed there was so much consolidation in retail that regardless of the mall you went to, you saw the same four or five stores. I wanted to use the Internet as a platform for smaller designers who did not have the distribution scale of the larger retailers such as the Gap. We found about 100 different designers, but by the time we were raising venture capital it was March 2000 and things were blowing up. In the end, that company did not succeed. I learned a lot about entrepreneurship from that first experience.