A Unicorn in NYC, Q&A with Adam Singolda

Up until a few months ago, Taboola may have been the best kept secret in NYC tech (Taboola raised over $117 million from Fidelity, Yahoo! Japan, Baidu, Comcast Ventures, Advance Publications and others). Taboola is one of the fastest growing b2b companies in the world, generating $200 million in revenue last year and reaching over 550 million people each month. Adam is an amazing Israeli entrepreneur, having served in an elite mathematical unit of the Israeli National Security Agency. Adam is also a close friend and Metamorphic advisor. He also happens to be getting married today, so don’t forget to congratulate him on Twitter, @AdamSingolda.

Where did the idea for Taboola come from? Going from the Israeli National Security Agency to content discovery and distribution seems like quite the career move.

I was fortunate to spend 7 years in the Israeli army where I was a part of the elite mathematical unit, working on some very cool and advanced projects. But years later, what I’ve cherished most about the experience are the relationships and people I met along the way. Some of those same people are leading important initiatives at Taboola today.

When I left the military and went home to live with my parents, I was trying to relax and “do nothing” for a while. What became frustrating to me was that although I signed up for more channels on my TV, I felt like there was nothing to watch. I realized that excessive amounts of content can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis and that all of us need help figuring out what we may like and never knew existed. We needed something that would help curate our day to day experiences, from what to watch to what to eat. I became passionate about this “discovery problem” affecting everybody around the world, and that was really the beginning of Taboola.

The foundation of our technology is a mathematical predictive engine we call “Aggregated-CTR” that serves as a “search engine but in reverse.” Instead of expecting people to type keywords into a search box while looking for information, we think about how that information could look for us before we are inclined to search for it. We examine hundreds of different signals such as geography, browsing history, social media trends, collaborative filtering, and more, to generate highly personalized content recommendations for every person on the web.

At what point did you realize that this was going to be a massive business? Was there a key moment or hire in the company when the business really started to take off and reach escape velocity?

It took us 5 years after first developing the technology, which was originally focused solely around video discovery, to generate the first dollar from what became our business model – promoting paid content from around the web.

In 2012, Taboola was earning about $100k+ a month, and by Q4 of 2014, that number spiked to a quarter of a billion dollars in annual run-rate. This growth is still new to us, and we feel fortunate to be a part of what could become a massive multi-billion-dollar market. We grew from 30 people to nearly 300 “Taboolars” in 3 years, which is unbelievable to me; the same culture, the same magic we had when we started, only 10 times bigger, in New York, Pasadena, London, Bangkok, New Delhi, and Tel Aviv. It’s amazing to think about… For me, it’s hard to look back and “acknowledge” our success, but I do feel it reinforces our journey and the quality of the people who chose to take part in it.

I’m convinced there will be something in the future that helps us discover things we may like from beginning to end; there is just too much for us to do right now. Doesn’t it feel like the past year moved so much faster than 10 years ago? I want to fix that.

What’s been the hardest part about having a distributed team from the start (New York/Tel Aviv)?

I chose New York for 2 main reasons:

(1) It was closer to Israel, where half of our company (the ninja engineering team) is based, and a 7 hour time difference is better than 10 hours if we had been located in San Francisco.

(2) Most people you (really) want to do business with probably pass through New York City a few times a year, and those who don’t… I’m not sure you need to be doing business with them right now, so it’s also cost effective.

So honestly for us, early on, it was just the right thing to do. I also think New York is a lot of fun, and that’s important too.

What’s the Israeli entrepreneur/tech climate like in NYC?

Before you even get to the Israeli part, New York is just booming as a hub for technology which is so much fun. The energy in New York is inspiring and people here are fearless. New Yorkers are smart but scrappy, and I find the city to be a magnet for innovation with a lot of access to whatever you may need — capital, prospects, reporters, people, etc.

Many startups are choosing to build their teams here, including more mature and successful companies like Etsy and FourSquare. And the environment is especially welcoming to entrepreneurs from around the world, given that many of us are foreigners here.

The amount of amazing Israeli companies in New York is growing at a rapid pace,    adding almost ten new startups a month. We’re all helping each other along the way, and our shared success demonstrates the innovation of Startup Nation, including companies such as Kaltura, Tayke, Talkspace, Innovid, Playbuzz, EyeView, and many others. We’re proud to be on that list.

We’ve seen a ton of noise in the app recommendation space since Facebook’s earnings report two years ago. Do you see this as the next big frontier for a platform like Taboola?

We have a multi-decade vision to index all the information that is out there in a way that  it can find us — relevant audiences — wherever we may be, on a website, in an app, through a TV interface, anywhere. In that way, Taboola will recommend applications, products, games, and many other things over the years.

Similar to the need we all have to be able to search for information if we know what we’re looking for, Discovery will be an essential part of our lives, helping us to manage the amount of information that’s out there. We will never have enough time to read all the books we want to read, or watch all the movies we want to watch. The question is what do we do first, and in what order?

This year, we’ve made a strategic decision to focus on our native offering and the next generation of personalization, to help our publisher partners drive meaningful mobile revenue and audience growth. As publishers strengthen their abilities to monetize, and drive audience growth, they’ll be able to better compete with Facebook and protect themselves against the possibility that the network may stop sharing the amount of traffic and users that it does today.

We’re now 7.5 years old, and I look forward to the next 7.5 years to come.