10 Years Later: Thoughts From PubMatic’s Founders, Part 2

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

10th-anniversary-logo

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?

goel_amar-bwAmar 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.

kumar_mukul-bwMukul 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.

 

das_anand-bwAnand 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.


goel_rajeev-bwRajeev 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?

goel_amar-bwAmar 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.

kumar_mukul-bwMukul 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.

das_anand-bwAnand DasI 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.

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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?

goel_amar-bwAmar 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.

kumar_mukul-bwMukul 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.

 

das_anand-bwAnand 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. 

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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?

goel_amar-bwAmar 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!

kumar_mukul-bwMukul Kumar: I would tell the global PubMatic team to think big—really big—to keep pushing your limits, go get that customer, and go build that product!

 

das_anand-bwAnand Das: I like quotes, so here are a few that I would like to share with the PubMatic team:

“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.

goel_rajeev-bw

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.

10 Years Later: Thoughts From PubMatic’s Founders, Part 1

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

10th-anniversary-logoAs many of you already know, PubMatic was founded in 2006 by Rajeev Goel, Amar Goel, Anand Das and Mukul Kumar. What began as an ambitious four-person startup has become a global company with more than 350 employees across 11 offices worldwide.

This quarter the team here at PubMatic is celebrating the company’s tenth anniversary—ten years of innovating for the digital media ecosystem—and we thought it would be interesting to ask our founders to share their thoughts on PubMatic’s early years and how the company, and the team, has grown and evolved since then.

We hope you enjoy this inside look at our company’s origins. Be sure to check back as we continue to share more insights from our founders over the coming weeks!

Q: What’s your favorite memory from the first year of PubMatic?

Amar Goel: To this day, my favorite memory remains the first time I printed out the wireframes for version 0.1 of PubMatic (remember, this was ten years ago!). I remember having a big smile on my face because this was one of the first physical manifestations of our product coming to life and becoming “real.”

Obviously, it wasn’t really real until we started serving impressions and helping publishers, but seeing those mockups made the fact that we were doing this truly tangible for the first time!

Mukul and Anand

Mukul and Anand

Mukul Kumar: Although I have many favorite memories from the first year, one of the top ones is when we wrote our first ad server in Java. It wouldn’t perform as well as we wanted it to, so I sat up all night debugging the ad server only to completely rewrite the entire thing just a few days later.

My second favorite story is when Amar called me one day to say that it “would be nice to see how many impressions we served” (of course, we didn’t have any reporting tools at the time). I asked him, “why would anyone want to see that?” But after about an hour of coding I had written the first reporting interface for PubMatic.

Another good one was when we started hiring and a candidate from Bangalore wanted to fly to Pune for the interview. He asked me, “Who will handle my travel arrangements?” I told him, “Let me transfer you to the Travel Department,” and I transferred the call to Andy, who became the Travel Department for that call.

My last favorite memory from the first year are the times when Andy and I would watch the impressions served in front of us and feel great about the software—this was right after we developed the alpha.

Anand Das: There are definitely many favorite memories from the first year. As Mukul said, one of them is when we implemented the ad server in Java and our first customer—an online dating website—started using our service. The ad server used to go down a couple times per day and wasn’t performing to the level we wanted. Mukul and I used to be coding and monitoring the ad server and managing both sometimes continuously for 24 hours, although eighteen-hour days were the norm.

At that time I had a collarbone fracture with a rod in my shoulder that needed to be removed, but Mukul and I had agreed that we couldn’t continue with the Java ad server based on its performance. Two days prior to my surgery I started rewriting the code in C, completed testing and launched the new server in a day, monitored it for the next day and then checked myself into the hospital for the surgery.

Once I was out of surgery I remember the doctor asking me what an “ad server” was because I’d been talking about it after they administered the anesthetic. The first call I made after I regained consciousness was to Mukul to check on the ad server up time and I was thrilled that it was up and performing well. I remember I also interviewed the second engineer we hired from the hospital.

My second favorite memory from the first year was when Google refused to give us access to their Ad Sense reporting API, even after seeing a complete demo of our system. They gave us that news on February 26th, 2007 and we had our alpha launch with our first client scheduled for March 14th. That was the day that Amar, Mukul and I were very discouraged because our whole idea depended on getting data from the ad networks and using it for optimization. We only had two networks integrated at that time, one of which was Google Ad Sense, and without reporting API access we couldn’t do any reporting.

That night Mukul and I had a frank conversation about Google’s decision and then we went home, but I couldn’t sleep. I started working on the idea of automating the browser to act like a human by logging into the website to access reporting data and I actually got a prototype working.

Mukul and I called Amar the next evening and told him, “We don’t need API access, we have a way out.” We ended up with a web-wrapping-based reporting solution on our end and launched the alpha without any glitches. It certainly boosted morale, and I remember Mukul and I telling each other that no power can stop us; if we want to do something, we will!

Rajeev Goel: Completing the specification for the first version of the PubMatic system, which I called the “Web Ad Optimizer”. It took a lot of work marrying vision with reality, but it was great to put down on paper what we could do so that Mukul, Anand, and Amar could turn it into code.

Another memory is when we were talking to an initial round of 15-20 venture capitalists to see if they were interested in what we were doing. They all said no; they didn’t believe anyone could make money charging publishers. While on the one hand that was discouraging, but on the other I knew that we were onto something unique and visionary. Given that most (certainly not all) VCs tend to move in herds, the feedback made sense.

Q: What did you envision for PubMatic when you started the company? Did you ever think it would be as large, global and successful as it is ten years later?

Amar Goel: When we launched PubMatic it was all about how to help publishers and give them new tools. We were the first SSP to launch—it was a very new industry at the time, considering we were the ones starting it. We were the first to bring RTB to the supply side. But even we didn’t realize how big RTB would be when we founded the company.

It’s truly exciting to see how digital advertising is evolving, and to be on the forefront of that. Programmatic is an uber trend, and we are so focused on making it real for publishers. It has been very rewarding to build a global company with people, cultures and practices from all over the world!

Mukul Kumar: I didn’t think it would be so big. We started a “startup,” then we began growing. I was very possessive of the software I wrote at first and was reluctant to give up coding after we started hiring engineers, but since then each year has been more amazing than the last.komliday36photo1

Anand Das: I didn’t think it would be so big and at this scale. As Mukul said, we started a “startup” and hoped that our customers would utilize what we were providing. Then we started growing and generating revenue, hiring people, opening up offices in various countries.

Even today I find it difficult not to code, even with all the engineers around—you need to keep the skillset sharp! But since then every year has been even more amazing.

Rajeev Goel: I could have never dreamed that programmatic and RTB would become a $50B+ industry, or that it would become the predominant technology for monetization of premium direct inventory as well as unsold inventory. So no, we did not envision that the opportunity would be so big or that we could build such a big company. We knew that the problem area we were attacking was generally a good space to go after, though.

I also did not think I would have the opportunity, along with Amar, Mukul, and Anand, to manage through so many phases of a company – vision, product-market fit, revenue scaling, profitability, cash generation. These are all very different chapters in the life of a company, and it’s rare that Silicon Valley startups move through all phases successfully.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since founding the company?

Amar Goel: Rapid change always creates challenges. When you’re growing super fast it creates challenges around scaling processes and people and being able to think broadly enough. I would say 2013 and 2014 were about super growth at PubMatic. Then 2015 was the opposite side of that as we faced some very tough decisions.

I am so proud of the team for working together and pushing so hard to get through these issues to return us to a position of strength today.

In 2007 when we launched externally we had thousands of publishers and shortly thereafter hundreds of millions of impressions flowing through PubMatic, the industry was so new it was unclear whether publishers would pay. We were confident they would since we were delivering revenue, but many investors thought that the publishers would never pay us Thank god those investors were wrong!

Mukul Kumar: Scaling the product to the next level, hiring the best talent and thinking about what’s next!

Anand Das: Definitely scaling the product to the next level before hitting the wall, as well as hiring the best talent and envisioning what’s next and then making bets in terms of technology investment.

Rajeev Goel: The product cycles in the industry are very short (RTB, PMP, audience data, header bidding, mobile, video, reporting, etc.) and there are a lot of innovation opportunities. It’s always a challenge to figure out what to do and what NOT to do. Of course, if you make the wrong call it can literally end the company – many companies that were around 10 years ago are no longer here because they missed the shift to mobile or they missed the shift to programmatic.

Finding the right team members and helping them scale as the company has scaled is also a significant challenge but incredibly important to get right. As discussed earlier, we have been through many phases of the company in the past 10 years, and success requires very talented, passionate, and flexible people at all areas in the organization. We have honed our focus on supporting our team members and helping them both to be successful and to grow themselves professionally, which is very rewarding.


Stay tuned for more insights from PubMatic’s founders when we release the rest of our discussion, touching upon the changes they’ve seen in the industry over the last ten years, what they expect to see in the next five years, and some of the biggest surprises they’ve encountered during their PubMatic journey.

 

 

 

 

Header Bidding – Can It Be Contained?

This article is authored by Jeff Hirsch, CMO at PubMatic.

This article is authored by Jeff Hirsch, CMO at PubMatic.

I got you.

In truth, header bidding is already out of the box and there is no stopping it. Ad tech companies that built their business on controlling inventory access will need a different model as control moves back into the hands of the publisher. Many companies are scrambling to make sense of the new market dynamics and catch up, and the industry has taken some Wild West style responsive measures.

What does the proliferation of header bidding really mean for the ecosystem? For buyers, header tags democratize inventory (I’m intentionally staying away from the “commoditization” moniker), allowing them to gain access via the right tech to help ensure accurate auction dynamics. That’s good for buyers and is sure to bode well for digital spend, be it desktop, mobile or any other screen. For sellers, header bidding creates the opportunity for significant yield lift, with the caveat that the issue of tag management moves front and center, becoming critical to publishers’ success.

The next piece of the puzzle is wrapper/container technology. Basically, a portion of publisher-side ad serving has moved into the header of a page (even Google missed this trend), creating the new model for a programmatic world. If you follow the continuum along its natural path, the next wave will result in purposeful programmatic technology built to unify ad serving against all demand.

You think some tech providers are behind on header bidding? When you consider the need for a wrapper to do this right, that is likely a huge understatement.

To be truly valuable, wrapper technology needs to not only provide a container for all header tags, but also must provide easy-to-use and easily accessible management tools for publishers to be able to make sense of all their header demand. It should create a transparent environment based on the principles of access and fairness. Inventory controls should be back in the hands of the inventory owner. Supply-side tech companies should facilitate all of this, not limit it, and should therefore be completely open to integrating all demand in order to serve the best interests of the publisher.

For the record, PubMatic implemented our first header tag tech in 2012 and released our enterprise-level wrapper solution last year. We listened to the market and addressed the need early on, taking into account our customers’ needs above all else. Publishers are back in control and players (including Google) who have built businesses on their backs are officially being de-leveraged. Oh, did I mention that our wrapper features open-source tags AND publishers don’t have to pay a dime for it?

We are ahead of the game and putting our money where our mouth is. Ready to talk?

To find out more about PubMatic’s header bidding and Wrapper Solution, email info@pubmatic.com and stay up to date on all of the latest news by following @PubMatic on Twitter.

SEVEN Is The New One

PubMatic CMO Jeff Hirsch

PubMatic CMO Jeff Hirsch

Since we announced our comprehensive revenue automation platform, SEVEN, at DMEXCO last month, we’ve gotten a lot of buzz about our new technology offerings. After all, this was the largest set of technology releases in the history of PubMatic. In addition to stimulating deep conversations with our customer base, we have also fielded a lot of questions about the platform’s name. Perhaps most commonly, we’re asked why the platform is called SEVEN and why the company chose to move away from the “One Platform” positioning we’ve had for nearly a decade.

So, what is “SEVEN”? Well, if you want to get “technical,” seven is one more than six, three less than ten, the number of days in a week… And that’s about how important the actual number is to our platform… Okay, we did spend a bit more time on it than counting on our fingers, and I’ll explain that more in a bit.

Ultimately, the idea is bigger than a number.

For years the ad tech industry has been guilty of overcomplicating how we discuss what are already complex technology and offerings. That’s perhaps in part why many of us have been so focused on creating and naming a single-stack solution capable of solving all of publishers’ and advertisers’ needs in one place. It’s a noble notion, just not one that is specific to what our constituents are asking for. The best of all worlds is having a single source solution AND having the ability to address specific customer needs through a modular approach. Let’s dive a little deeper into this.

There’s no doubt that the concept of “one” was a popular one (pun intended). In fact, during the eighteen-month period from April 2014 to August 2015, the ad tech industry saw an explosion of solutions highlighting this concept: Neustar launched a DSP called “PlatformOne”; AOL rolled out its programmatic platform, “ONE”; MediaMath announced its “Bloomberg Terminal for marketing,” called “Terminal One,” and at PubMatic we continued to promote our “One Platform” message (“Every ad. Every sales channel. Every screen. One Platform.”).

“One” speaks to the popular desire for simplicity in a complex industry. Ultimately, however, it also reflects the aspirations of technology providers rather than the actual needs of their customers. Tech vendors aspired to be the whole platform that customers could use without the need for any supplemental tools or solutions, and the concept of “one” that dominated our naming conventions for over a year highlighted that desire. (Interestingly, this concept can be traced as far back as 2011—and possibly even further—to the creation of the Japanese ad tech company Platform One, which then launched both a DSP called MarketOne and an SSP called YieldOne.)

Simplicity and the concept of one solution are not necessarily synonymous, however. The fact is that publisher and advertiser businesses are far too sophisticated, their needs too complex and varied, for any “one-size-fits-all” solution to succeed. Customers need the ability to pick and choose—to customize—the tools they need in order to address the specific challenges that they face, and the nature of our industry means that no two customers are facing the exact same set of challenges. Even a technology behemoth like Google isn’t able to supply everything to everyone and even if they could, there would be reluctance to be beholden to them.

Despite our industry-wide focus on “one,” many of us, and especially PubMatic, have spent years building the kind of solutions that our customers actually do need: namely, modular ones.

Why SEVEN, as opposed to Revenue Buster, YieldFixer—even SIX or TEN—or any other name for that matter? We decided on SEVEN as it represents the number of major inflection points in the evolution of technology in the media and advertising industry. Accordingly, our focus on innovation has meant that we have led many of those changes. From the first ad server to the advent of Real-Time Bidding for publishers, the automation of direct sold inventory to the ability to access analytics in real-time, we’ve seen myriad technological advancements that have accelerated the media industry. While some of them are of particular importance to us, we also recognize that they could number as few as three or as many as fifteen, depending on your perspective.

In short, SEVEN is the new name for the PubMatic platform that encompasses the wide array of technology offerings from PubMatic. There will be no EIGHT, there was no SIX, and the arsenal of products housed within our platform certainly numbers well over seven. Ultimately, it’s less important to fixate on our platform’s name than it is to continue to innovate technology solutions that help publishers and advertisers thrive in today’s rapidly evolving media landscape. Sometimes the best marketing is that which understands the power really lies in the ability to create a dialogue; if SEVEN has led you and your clients to have more conversations, then it has already been hugely successful. Keep having conversations about SEVEN, have a lot of fun with it, and continue being an important part of an organization that driving leadership in the industry.

And just remember, what you do at PubMatic matters.

 


 

Find out more about the PubMatic platform, SEVEN, or to learn about all of PubMatic’s solutions, visit www.pubmatic.com.

What Do Tainted Milk and Ad Fraud Have in Common?

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By Kirk McDonald, President, PubMatic

What do the food and digital advertising supply chains have in common? To most, it may seem like nothing; but, perhaps surprisingly, there are numerous direct parallels that can be drawn between them primarily around complexity and potential quality issues. These parallels are increasingly useful in understanding how both industries can conquer their biggest challenges.

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PubMatic’s 2016 Future Predictions (Part II)

2016 Digital Media Predictions

The Publisher’s Crystal Ball Part II: 2016 Digital Advertising Industry Predictions

In our first group of predictions, we discussed four trends on how we see consumer behaviors impacting the digital media and advertising industries in 2016. In part II, we’ll discuss what’s ahead in the New Year in terms of the digital advertising industry at large. Specifically, five industry trends are of note and will have a large impact on the path forward in 2016.

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PubMatic Ranked for the Fourth Consecutive Year on Deloitte’s 2015 Technology Fast 500™

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PubMatic is excited to announce that for the fourth year in a row it was included on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500™, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and energy tech companies in North America. The recognition showcases PubMatic’s 318 percent revenue growth from 2011 to 2014.

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PubMatic’s Statement of Marketplace Principles

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PubMatic’s culture of innovation and dedication to product and service excellence inspired the following marketplace principles. We believe that, while being first-to-market in a number of product areas is important, leading by example is paramount to driving growth and success for the publishing industry, as a whole. These principles underscore our collaborative approach to improving the content experience for consumers, while maximizing value of digital assets for publishers, and preserving inventory quality and availability for advertisers.

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