A conversation with Rajeev Goel, Co-Founder & CEO; Amar Goel, Founder & Chairman; Anand Das, Co-Founder & CTO; Mukul Kumar, Co-Founder & Senior Vice President of Engineering
As part of our ten year anniversary celebrations this quarter, we asked PubMatic founders Rajeev Goel, Amar Goel, Anand Das and Mukul Kumar to think back on some of their memories and experiences of founding the company as well as over the past ten years of running it.
Continuing on our previous discussion about the first year at PubMatic, in this post our founders offer some insights into what they’ve learned over the past ten years and offer a few messages they would like to share with our team around the globe.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve experienced or learned during your time at PubMatic?
Amar Goel: Every day I spend at PubMatic reinforces how important people are. It’s amazing when I look around and see where we’re doing best, and it’s always in areas where we have great people working. That’s also where we have the most fun.
The other thing I’ve really learned at PubMatic is that different markets are truly different. There are a lot of similarities, it’s true, but I think it’s incredibly interesting to see how different leading publishers in the U.S. are from leading publishers in Europe or Asia. For example, most of the bigger display publishers in a market like Germany or France, or even Australia, are truly dominant in their markets, unlike in the U.S. That really impacts the mentality those publishers have and the types of solutions that resonate with them.
Mukul Kumar: I’ve been surprised on several occasions. In fact, each phase of growth has been very interesting and taught me a lot. The most interesting thing that I’ve learned is “Nothing is impossible.” If you want to solve a problem, if you have the will, then you can solve any problem.
Anand Das: Each phase of growth has been a learning experience. One of the things I’ve learned is that nothing is impossible, and as Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” I can say that we have lived up to both until now, and will continue to do so.
Rajeev Goel: The most surprising thing that I have learned, as a manger and leader, is the impact that culture can have on employees. Historically, I thought of employees impacting the culture. While this is true, a powerful and well-defined culture can have an equal or greater impact on employees, with respect to shaping their energy, attitude, passion, and drive. We are doing a better job than ever in understanding this and harnessing it, and I can see that our team is enjoying this tremendously.
Q: What are you particularly proud of when it comes to PubMatic?
Amar Goel: I am proud of this team for building a global innovator. We were the first SSP, we were the first to do RTB – that in itself is a lifetime of innovation. It took everyone working together to make it happen. Last year was a real challenge, and it says so much about the folks who stayed, and worked hard together, to work through the challenges and make us again one of the best performing companies in the space. Unified Ad Serving is another huge innovation that I think will drive another big wave.
Mukul Kumar: I am proud of the product that I built, the scale that the product can support, the performance of the product, and of course I am proud of the team that I have built. I am also proud of the rate at which we innovate at PubMatic, which keeps us ahead in several areas in the market.
Anand Das: I am proud of the team, the product that we built, the pace of our innovations, the scale we’ve achieved with our product and the overall scale of our business. We have seen lots of ups and downs in the industry and I am proud of our employees, who have helped drive the same pace of innovation throughout.
Last year was a challenge, and I am very proud of the fact that our team worked hard to get through the challenges and make us one of the best performing companies in the space.
Rajeev Goel: I am proud of how far we have come as a business over the last 10 years. Most Silicon Valley startups don’t get to product market fit. A small subset of those that do will get to meaningful revenue – even $10M or $15M per year. At this point, companies typically are losing so much money that they get acquired or go out of business. We’ve used a much longer-term approach, and we are one of the few companies in ad tech now generating cash on a quarterly basis. This is extremely rare. It creates a unique opportunity for me as CEO, for our leadership team, and for all of us as employees to think about how to steer the business and where to invest.
Q: Turning to the industry for a moment, what’s the biggest surprise for you in terms of how the space has evolved over the past 10 years? Where do you see our industry going in the next 5-10 years?
Amar Goel: Programmatic is completely taking over advertising. I like to say, “All advertising is going digital, and all digital is going programmatic.” When we started ten years ago, programmatic didn’t exist, and even when RTB started it was hard to see all digital going programmatic. I think this journey is only in its third inning, or maybe 5 overs for cricketers, so there’s a long way to go—especially when we look at the direction of the business and format expansions.
Mukul Kumar: The rate of innovation, from the perspective of both business and technology, has been amazing to say the least. The evolution of online advertising from ad-networks to programmatic to header bidding and beyond has happened at a tremendous pace.
Anand Das: One of the first changes in the industry was RTB, when we first started working on it and launching it in the market there were lots of questions on its viability, latency, adoption, etc. Now it’s de-facto in the industry. The next trends to have industry-changing impact were header bidding, then holistic optimization where one looks at all the inventory as a whole for revenue generation. In most of these cases we got there before the rest of the market. In the next five to ten years will see much more movement towards cross-device as mobile devices become more prevalent and new screens open up—think DOOH (digital out of home), connected TV, and other devices coming to market—and as video and other content consumption increases while the world gets more connected with smart devices.
All of this will lead to a more connected experience for the user, with lots of data for targeting; ads will be more relevant and personalized, and attribution will be possible outside of just the display world (think of tracking the interest level of a user who sees an ad on a digital billboard, then targeting that user on other devices like mobile, laptop, smart watch, etc. and tracking purchases completing the whole circle, with users in control of their privacy). We will see better algorithms for optimization, AI and other technologies enhancing the ad experience for the user and providing better ROI for the advertiser.
Rajeev Goel: The biggest surprise for me is that after ten amazing years of innovation, we continue to solve the same problem at its core – which is one of yield optimization and control for publishers. Of course, the technology and tactics are quite different and there are many nuances that continue to change. But at our core, we are solving the same problem. When you consider the leading technology companies, we can say the same for them – Amazon (solving e-commerce problem), Google (solving search and information access problem), SAP (solving enterprise automation problem), Apple (solving an individual communication and expression problem).
Q: And finally, if you could tell PubMatic’s entire global team just one thing, what would it be?
Amar Goel: Anything is possible! We never could’ve anticipated that we’d be able to say that we were helping launch an industry that would be doing tens of billions of dollars of volume and transforming digital advertising. Never forget the impact that a small, committed group of individuals can have. I can’t wait to see what we work together to do next!
“The universe has no restrictions. You place restrictions on the universe with your expectations” – Deepak Chopra
Always have high expectations and think big.
“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary” – Jim Rohn
Challenge the norm, break barriers, push your limits, take risks and make things happen, nothing is impossible.
Rajeev Goel: I would tell them to keep making the impossible possible. If you consider our actions and results over the past 12 months, we have done exactly this. We slimmed down our customer list, we automated the product to a great extent, and all with a smaller and better team. We made possible what in many ways we thought we couldn’t do a year ago (including myself). We only need to look at our own track record to inspire ourselves…
Stay tuned for additional content featuring insights from some of PubMatic’s longest tenured employees as they think back on the changes they have seen at PubMatic and in the industry over the past 5-10 years.