Lance was born in Glendora, California, in Los Angeles County, where he spent his first seven years. After his parents split at age 7, he took to the road with his mother who moved and spent the rest of his childhood living in Orange County. However, his mother’s poor financial situation meant that Lance found himself moving from odd living situation to odd living situation with even stranger people, and often finding themselves homeless many times, where they would stay in churches, his mom’s van, or in hotels. It was this experience of instability that gave Zaal an appreciation for many of the things commonly taken for granted, like having enough to eat and a home.
Since age 9, Zaal spent much of his summers and many weekends with his father, with whom he would frequently join in working construction through his sole-proprietorship, often getting up at 4am and working 12 hour days to install phone and data lines starting at $1/hr. This experience influenced Lance deeply, as his father taught him work ethic, and the value of a dollar. Lance saved every dollar he made and began saving and investing at an early age. This, combined with the experience of living in poverty conditions with his mother gave him the drive to work hard and to change his life, to never find himself in that situation again.
During his final year in high school, Zaal enlisted in the Marine Corps on September 11th, 2001, upon witnessing the tragic attacks of that day. Lance chose to serve in the infantry, and the following year he attended boot camp in San Diego followed by the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, California. He was later stationed in Virginia as one of the founding members of the 3rd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST, and then Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as an infantry squad leader in the First Battalion, Second Marine Regiment.
He completed three deployments: the first to Baghdad, Iraq in 2004; the second to Cuba and Chile from 2004-2005 where he trained with Chilean Marines and Commandos; and the third a return to Iraq in Al-Anbar province and the city of Hit with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from 2005-2006. He left the Marine Corps in 2006 at the rank of E-5 (Sergeant), and was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, six letters of commendation, Iraq Campaign Medal, and others.
Zaal describes his first deployment as being witness to history, as his platoon stayed in one of Sadam Hussein’s palaces and met several key figures, including the first prime minister of Iraq, General Petraeus, Colin Powell, leading generals, ambassadors, and others. His unit in Baghdad faced daily attacks and had to operate on only a few hours of sleep a night for months at a time, as they were often attacked through all hours of the day.
The things Zaal witnessed overseas and the several friends he lost in Iraq made it clear how terrible war was. It reinforced how fragile and precious life is, and he never wanted to take it for granted again.
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Lance took 10 days of leave he planned to use for vacation and joined a local church group and headed to Slidell County and New Orleans to assist with relief efforts. There, he helped in the soup kitchen, taught locals how to use MREs, and worked on a tree removal team clearing trees from houses. Lance was actively involved in volunteering during his time in the service, as he volunteered at local schools, his church, a local children’s hospital, among others.
His second deployment led him to further his training in South America with Chilean Marines. This was the first time that Zaal felt he truly experienced another country’s culture outside of war. He was impressed with what he learned about the culture, history, and people of Chile and Latin America, which fueled his curiosity to learn more about the world and the people in it, which led him to study Latin America in college and embark on several trips abroad.
Lance applied to The College of William & Mary in 2006, weeks after returning from his third deployment in Iraq and attending summer school at the College. With poor grades from High School, he had an uphill battle to gain acceptance. To prove himself to admissions, he had to earn straight A’s in both their summer program and completing a 19-credit semester at the local community college.
He was admitted to William and Mary in 2007, where he studied International Relations and Economics, graduating Cum Laude in three years. His studies led him to Michoacan, Mexico, where he observed the Gubernatorial elections with his professor, George Grayson, a mentor to Lance and renowned expert on Mexico and Latin America who advised the US government, including US Secretaries of State. He also traveled to Chile and Argentina for fun, to improve his proficiency of the Spanish language, and to reconnect with some of the military members he had befriended two years earlier.
As a student, Zaal created a 501(c)19 non-profit veterans organization that sent care packages to troops overseas, helped new veterans transition into civilian and college life, successfully lobbied the university to reform its aid policy for veterans, and raised awareness in the administration and student body of veteran issues.
During his final summer in college, he interned at Booz Allen, serving as a consultant with their economic and business analysis team. This experience introduced him to the business of technology applications through work on many different projects, and took him to places like Penn State University’s Applied Research Laboratories and Camp Pendleton. Lance proved to be a valuable contribution to the projects at Booz Allen, so he continued to work for them remotely during his final year in college.
After graduation, Lance worked for Oracle Corporation for six months in business development before being accepted into William and Mary’s Flex MBA program in 2010. For the next three years, Lance worked full time while attending business classes at night. The most memorable experiences during this time were the three trips he took to study business overseas. These two-week long trips took him to India, China, and several countries in Latin America, where his class met with several businesses and learned about business there.
During this time, Zaal felt that William and Mary’s program was lacking in a few important areas, so he earned his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, a Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) from Villanova University, and attended a class on Internet Marketing through Harvard University, which he credits as the most influential and useful class. In business school, he started his first small business as part of an independent study on entrepreneurship, Taste of Williamsburg, in 2011.
During his final year in grad school, he was hired by Mythics Inc. from Booz Allen Hamilton as a Program Manager. During this time, he improved processes and policies to increase the profitability of projects from an average of 5% to more than 30%. Lance earned his MBA from William and Mary in May 2012, graduating Beta Gamma Sigma (top 20% of the class).
In the final months of his studies at William and Mary, he was laid off from Mythics and found himself unemployed. While Zaal was confident he would quickly find meaningful employment elsewhere, for the next two years he was unable to find work. Actively job searching wasn’t enough for Zaal, who decided to try and make the most of the unfortunate situation by investing his life savings into launching and selling his app, ITourMobile, in 2013.
However, despite his efforts, by spring 2014 he was broke, in debt, and still unemployed despite his efforts. He was suddenly reminded of the unusability of his youth and feared he may never recover. At the point of surrender, his businesses began to pick up. His app was getting more traction along with his tourist businesses. His situation rapidly improved that year, and 2015 put him in a place he would never be in working for another firm. The freedom of creating and turning ideas into real businesses was highly fulfilling, and Lance was finally able to make it highly rewarding financially.
Currently, Zaal balances managing his businesses and starting new projects while helping mentor other through Ignition Center, the non-profit he founded in 2016. He spends his time between residences in Williamsburg and Richmond, Virginia; and southern California during visits with his family.
His most recent projects include Mandela Coffee and the Junket software and application.