I hope all is well with all of you.
I write this letter in recognition of our 10 year anniversary.
When I think of the decade just passed alongside and mission, what comes to mind is NASA…believe it or not. NASA, one of the most important discovery companies in the history of humankind, was built on a dream: to study space and discover new planets outside of this one, where people can live.
People think Apollo 11 was an amazing success story, the realization of an ambitious vision. They think President Kennedy simply said, “find me a way to land a man on the moon,” and then a bunch of geniuses scurried around and figured it out. What many people don’t realize is that it actually took NASA 11 years, 40 flights, and hundreds of attempts before they managed to land the first man on the moon.
This is important—Nasa had to fail, and pivot, many (many) times to eventually succeed.
This story is one to which you, and everybody at Taboola can relate. I’ve said it before, and on our 10 year anniversary I’ll say it again—I think a company’s culture, is everything. That includes anything from iteration, to the joy of trial and error, risk taking and all the way to the type of people that choose to build something great, together.
Every person at Taboola brings a level of passion with them to work, a willingness to take on a certain level of risk so that together we help people discover things; from what to read, products they want to buy, one day—to even discover people they may need to meet (and more)—a truly personalized future.
Our challenge, while certainly less existential than NASA’s, is different—we need to build something that can be as powerful as a search engine, but in reverse. Instead of expecting people to search for information, information should find people.
By doing this we will empower the open web and the noble practice of journalism, enabling it to compete alongside the biggest social and search companies. It takes a very unique group of people who can work together, and sometimes fail together, to build what we were able to build in the past decade.
It’s a group of people of which I’m very honored to be a part.
Taboola has come a long way since we started—from a few army engineering buddies with a big idea, to now, a fast-growing company with 14 offices around the globe. The profound need for discovery, personalizing our current and future day-to-day experiences, and creating the ability for people to find stuff they care about but didn’t know of beforehand, has been elevated like never before.
Keeping the web open and independent is an important mission for you, me, and the rest of us Taboolars—we need to succeed.
I started Taboola because I couldn’t find anything to watch on TV. I thought that I should not be looking for TV shows, but rather TV shows should be looking for me. That was 10 years ago.
In a way that still amazes me, we’ve grown to 600 employees strong, we receive over 1,000 job applications a month, and hire hundreds of Taboolars a year in high energy offices. But don’t let our fun environment confuse you, throughout most of our journey, Taboola saw hard times.
From 2007 to 2012, we were building a recommendation engine with no revenue. That was hard. I nearly had to shut down Taboola three times. In 2011, I flew to Silicon Valley for meetings on the infamous Sandhill road. It was there that more than a dozen investors had chose to not invest, saying “kid, publishers will never recommend other people’s content.” And to be perfectly honest, I would have not invested in myself either—it was my first job, we had no revenue, and we were already 4 to 5 years in the works, trying to make it work without real success.
At the end of that year, we raised $1.5M from Marker Venture Capital to take our proprietary video recommendation technology and launch article recommendation, as well as allow storytellers to pay us to promote it. I thank Marker for their courage, it wasn’t an obvious move.
It was also the last time Taboola ever needed to raise money.
In 2012, we fulfilled our vision to not just build a “content marketing” company, or “a “native” company, but a “discovery” company that goes after the most important currency out there—user attention.
Initially, these were not easy times, but these non-trivial 4-5 years helped us define our culture and what it means to be a Taboolar. We started holding weekly meetings around the world, talking about our values, our failures, and victories, making it perfectly okay to fail, but to make those failures learning experiences so that we could all improve and focus on (ninja style) execution.
From 2012 to 2016 we grew fast, from over $100K+ a month in revenue to over half a billion a year while being profitable with most of the money we’ve ever raised still in the bank. As part of this fast growth, we were fortunate to attract some of the most innovative investors around the world such as Fidelity, Comcast, LVMH, Yahoo Japan, Baidu and others.
10 years into this crazy journey, I’m convinced that I’m right when I say it’s all about the people and their ability to execute as a team. You can copy a company’s logo or their go-to-market strategy, but you can’t copy a company’s culture. Our unique culture is the single reason we’re here today to tell this story, and think about the next 10 years.
Many leaders of this company are people that joined with little to no experience, coming from all different backgrounds. As an example, our VP of Asia Pacific was a chef before joining Taboola, while some of our senior execs joined as sales reps, account managers, or even interns.
What they all have in common—what all Taboolars have in common—is passion, intelligence, and kindness. They have fire in their eyes like something you only see in movies. We’re a company of founders—a startup of startups. That’s what I’ve felt every day in the past 10 years coming to “work.”
While my background is encryption and engineering, I know now that competitive advantage in this century is not having a particular technology or product, or employing people with fancy CVs—but rather the ability of a group of people to work together, execute their ideas—and have a great time doing it. That’s how a company keeps on generating amazing products and results again and again.
In the next three years, in times where large consumer-facing companies are growing strong (and perhaps too strong), we will devote ourselves to keeping the open web even stronger; empower publishers with advanced technology to grow their revenue, engagement and audience; and give brand marketers advanced targeting capabilities like video and content products in a credible and safe environment.
We (really) need to succeed, as the future of this beautiful internet we’ve grown to love and rely upon, is at risk.
In the following seven years, Taboola will expand itself into new galaxies, going wherever people make decisions to discover things—and offer them a personalized experience.
I want to thank you and everyone that helped us co-create this story; from employees that are with us now or have been in the past; to all of our investors, our early angel investors and early VCs who invested when it was not an obvious choice—Evergreen, Pitango, Marker—to reporters we’ve been talking to about this industry during the past 10 years, to our growth investors who believed in our ability to build something that can be as big as search or social, to our publishers, marketers, and partners all over the world.
I feel humbled to be a part of this group and story, and I look forward to the next 10 years together.
May we all discover things we may like and never knew existed.
Founder & CEO Taboola
When you think Taboola—you just have to imagine…