Adam Singolda is taking his adtech company public through a SPAC. They’ve already amassed over $1B in annual revenue, and with over $500M raised expect to keep on growing to become a household name. The company Taboola, has raised funding from top-tier investors like Daily Mail, Yahoo! Japan, dmg Ventures, and Planven Investments.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Adam’s hiring process and the questions he will ask you
- Taboola’s business model
- Choosing a SPAC over a traditional IPO
- What execution really means as a startup
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Adam Singolda:
Adam Singolda is the founder and CEO at Taboola, the largest discovery platform, serving over 450 billion recommendations of articles, blogs, videos, products, and apps to over 1.4 billion unique users every month.
Taboola serves personalized content recommendations, partnering with the world’s top publishers, brands, and marketers to drive audience development, engagement, and monetization. Taboola also empowers editorial, product, and sales teams with solutions built around real-time page optimization, robust native advertising offerings, and more.
Adam has spoken on stage at TEDx, Collision, Kaltura Connect, Business Insider’s IGNITION, ClickZ LIVE, Advertising Week, 360i Marketing Summit, Web Summit, Landmark Ventures Media Technology Summit, Streaming Media, NAB, NewTeeVee, ELEVATE, Meetup, and MIT (Sloan). He has also appeared in broadcast TV interviews on Bloomberg West, CNBC, and Fox Business.
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Connect with Adam Singolda:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a really amazing founder. I think that the journey is going to be remarkable, the ups and downs; definitely, we’re going to be going through them, and I believe that you’re going to be very inspired with our guest today. So without further ado, Adam Singolda, welcome to the show.
Adam Singolda: Thanks so much for having me. I’m glad to be here today.
Alejandro: Originally born in Israel, the Startup Nation. How was life growing up there?
Adam Singolda: It’s great. You grow up in a culture where you feel like everything is possible. I call it the economy of good-enough. You can always try and fail, and something is perfectly fine. It’s really great. I grew up in a small town. My dad is a guitar player, so I was surrounded by art, music, and passion. Those were big things in my house. It was amazing.
Alejandro: Do you think that creativeness in being in a house like that really formed that entrepreneurial spirit of thinking about a future where you could put a gap in that and make things better?
Adam Singolda: I think it’s a big part of it mainly because I grew up seeing my dad working very hard with very little money, by the way, following his passion and love. That goes a long way when you’re a kid because now that I’m a parent, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter what you tell your kids; it’s all about what they see you do in behavior. It’s almost like a company’s culture, like a startup’s culture. Behavior is so much more important than a list of words that you can put on your bathroom wall. The same is for parents and entrepreneurship. To grow up seeing my dad with so much passion for music and my mom being such an anchor in our house, to me, was a special experience growing up. Now, I’m asking myself, “What should I do as a parent?”
Alejandro: Yeah. It’s funny that you put those similarities because I always say that children are like startups, but there’s no exit, and you only break even when they let you sleep at night.
Adam Singolda: I know.
Alejandro: So, good stuff.
Adam Singolda: Very true.
Alejandro: Amazing. In your case, Adam, you had that love for math, for computer science, too. Obviously, that led you into building your business, Taboola. Tell us about that love and how things came about for you.
Adam Singolda: Just a bit about myself—I’m married, two kids, one dog. Like you, I was able to convince my wife, around the pandemic, to move outside of the city. I live in New Jersey. What’s great about living in New Jersey is that it’s like the new West Village. It’s how you get to find your dreams. Now I have a Lego room, which is my office. I get a bit obsessed. I get to play with my kids and build Legos, which we’ve done a lot with different damage. [Laughter] Now, all of that is the latest. I moved to America 11 years ago. I started to roll out 13+ years ago at my parents’ house. It’s my first job, so I was never interviewed for a job before. I’ve kind of traded my own bubble early on. The reason I started Taboola was because I couldn’t find anything to watch on TV, and I thought I should not be looking for TV shows; the TV shows should be looking for me. We only live 24 hours a day. I was thinking about it as a search engine but in reverse. You go to Google if you know what you want, but what happens when you have an idea? What are you supposed to be doing next? That was my vision and my dream. I went to my mom, and I told her, “Mom, the future will be completely the opposite of search, and it’s going to be an information revolution. We should power accommodations for the open web.” She was like, “Son, what are you talking about?” She introduced me to this angel investor who she barely knew, but she said, “Maybe this guy can help you.” That was the very beginning of Taboola.
Alejandro: Wow! And why coming to the U.S.? What prompted that move?
Adam Singolda: I thought it’s going to be important for a journey to succeed in the U.S. as an anchor for our business, to look for product/market fit, to see that big and medium organizations would consider working with us as our accommodation partner. It was also a personal dream of mine to move to New York when I was growing up. So it was a combination of the two. Having fun in New York was great. Just, personally, as you think of doing anything for a long time, being in a place that you can have a good time and learn new things matters too. I thought New York is the headquarters of the media business, which would be a great place for us to be.
Adam Singolda: We have offices in 15 countries now. Israel being the biggest one with our product in R&D, mainly in Israel. But I’m here, and that’s like our headquarters now.
Alejandro: What ended up being the business model of Tuboola, Adam, so that the people listening really get it.
Adam Singolda: We power accommodations for the open web. You’ve all seen us before if you’ve been on CNBC or the Today Show, US Today, CBSI, you’ve seen our accommodations that suggest things you may like, more from CNBC and more from NBC News. If you click on that, you discover either news from the site that you’re on or information from all around the web. It could be a product, or it could be another piece of information from another site. The business model is that we work with publishers long-term, exclusively, globally with some of the most amazing publishers in the world. We never charge publishers. We invest $100 million a year in creating services they might need, subscription services, analytics, editorial tools. The way we generate revenue is that when we recommend things to people, some of our accommodations are paid by advertisers, which is very similar to when you go to Instagram, and you scroll down the feed, some of the things you see are from your friends, and some of them are paid by advertisers. Then if you click on it, Instagram gets paid. It’s the same with us. If you click on a paid accommodation on our feed of accommodations, we get paid, and then we share that revenue with our publisher partners. That’s how the business model works. In 2020, we finished with 1.2 billion dollars in revenue, almost $400 million of ex-TAC, which is what’s left for us after we shared the revenue with our publisher partners, and over $100 million of just at EBITDA. So we’re growing profitably, and I’m so humbled by the opportunity to champion the open web and build a win-win company with publishers, journalists, small businesses, and support everybody to have a voice online.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. But, the first five years were not as easy. Now you’re probably looking back, and you have over a billion in revenue, which you need a special calculator to include all those zeros. In the first five years, it was not easy. There were multiple instances where you actually thought about even shutting down the company. What happened, and what kept you moving?
Adam Singolda: I think that for the first five years, almost five years from 2007 to the end of 2011, we faced having no more money. Remember, the only reason companies ever got a business is: no more money, and we faced that moment three times. Every time, we would get lucky. We worked hard for our luck. At one point, our CTO invested, and that helped other investors to want to invest. Other times, it was for different reasons. I think in many ways, it’s probably even Shaker culture because we were there, and many of Taboola’s now, people around the world, were there when we had ten people working for Taboola, 15 people working for Taboola, or something like that for the first five years. Just to give you a scale, in the first five years, we were 10 people, 5 people, 20 people. Now, we have over 300 people that apply for a job every day, and we hire 1.5 people a day, so about 45 people a month. Just to give you an idea of the scale. But many of us were there back then, so we remember what it was like when it was very tough. I think it has kept us very humble but passionate in working hard and execute and remember that being first is irrelevant, but being the best is the only thing that matters. I think that became important as we grew from hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in 2012 to over $200 million in revenue in 2014 and over a billion dollars now. It’s a bit confusing if you walk into our offices, now, in New York. There’s a big sofa that looks like a Lego. We have pianos in all the offices. We have a wall that’s all built by Lego, which I love Legos, as you know. It’s confusing to remember that there was a moment when we had money for only two or three months. So I really like this concept of being transparent. We have a Taboola University, so if you join Taboola, you start by joining our university. I joined all of them, and we speak about those days about how important it is to be a flat organization and a transparent organization, and we talk about mistakes and celebrate mistakes as you continue to work hard because the only thing that matters is execution and working as a team toward a single mission. Nobody cares if you were first, second, or tenth in what you’re doing.
Alejandro: Absolutely. During those times where you were either out of money or running out of money, what do you think you learned about dealing with uncertainty?
Adam Singolda: I’ll say that I go back in time, and I was asking myself what kept me going, and some of it is probably just being naïve. It was my first job, and I was so passionate about doing this and changing the world by building a recommendation engine for people to discover what they should do next, kind of like a Google in reverse. There’s something beautiful about being naïve because I didn’t know better. I never had a job. I didn’t know what failure looks like. So I decided this is what companies should do; they should keep on pushing. The second thing is that having the team around me really helped—people that are incredible people where we complete each other, we appreciate each other, we push each other, and that was very helpful. My CTO was with me for 11 years and my COO and president for almost ten. We were all banded together. It’s important when you build your company if you listen to this as an investor or as an entrepreneur, it sounds like a clique, but it’s so important to make a strong decision about what your culture is and what people you want to join your company. For me, it was always about: not experience and about passion, intelligence, and kindness. I know I’m right because I looked around my management team at the guy who earns over $30,000 in revenue. Before Taboola, I was a chef. I was cooking for a living. My CTO before this was in security. He didn’t know what a CPM was or a CPC or revenue share with a publisher. He had never talked to a publisher before. They’re all part of the Avengers, from my perspective. They’re amazing. I know I’m right that experience is nice. It’s not important, but great people can learn what experienced people know fast. Those things really helped me during those days, the first five years, and still, help me now. We keep each other humble and down to earth as we’re building this rocket ship called Taboola.
Alejandro: Yeah. It’s very interesting the fact of going from chef to being such a leader in your organization at Taboola. I’m wondering here, as you’re thinking about great people and surrounding yourself by great people, especially getting someone that goes from a chef to such an important figure in your business, how do you identify someone that is great or that has the potential of being great within your organization? What does that look like?
Adam Singolda: My style of interacting with candidates who consider joining Taboola is 1) I share with them a real problem that I have. But, in general, you should also know that I care very little about sharing things that you may use against me because I feel like I can copy your logo or your website page, but I can never copy your culture and execution ability. So, again, I care very little about if you know I’m excited about eCommerce or video or gaming. Yeah, you should know I’m excited about it. So what? The distance between knowing I’m excited about something and actually being great at it is a world of difference. What I do is I pick a problem that I can share, not something too sensitive or that I can’t share, but I choose something that I can share, but a real problem that I have. And I share it with you, and together I want to collaborate on how do you think about this problem? Even if you’re not an expert in my field, it’s an opportunity for you to see how I think and for me to see how you think. So I do that, and I take an hour or two hours and maybe multiple meetings to walk through a real problem. I find that to be such a better use of time than you telling me about your resume, which you probably wrote really well and will mean very little to me. Especially, since I’m not from this country, I’m an Israeli, sometimes it’s harder for me to understand the cultural smaller things. I’d rather just get more raw and talk about experiences and get to know you, and you get to know me. The second thing I do is I try to get a cup of coffee or a beer and talk about life. I may share with you how I think about raising kids in America and how I talk to my son about The Avengers and the difference between good and bad, and then I want to see what you think about it. You might share something about you that you care about and are passionate about. It’s an opportunity to just get access to the human side of things, not only business. Then, I’m okay with making a mistake. I take a bet on people. If I have to take a bet, I bet on people. A lot of times, I find this to be the best way to discover people that are great for your journey.
Adam Singolda: The last thing I’ll say is that people who you took a chance on them long-term take a chance on you, and are more loyal, and are more direct with you, and they aren’t afraid of updating their LinkedIn every once in a while, to make sure someone is calling them for an interview. I just find that to be, at least for me, helpful.
Alejandro: That’s very powerful. As we’re thinking about great people, too, you needed great investors, as well, to build this up. How do you guys go about capitalizing the business, and how did that look over time? We’ll get into the aspect that you guys just did recently, which I think is going to be very interesting for our listeners. Let’s talk about how you went about capitalizing the business and surrounding yourself by people that were aligned with your vision and with the path forward that you have created.
Adam Singolda: The early investors were people that had no experience—I never had a job before. In general, I feel that people who start a business, the first investors, usually invest because of you, not because of your idea, not because of other things. They choose you. That’s that the bet they take, and whether that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars for the A Round or the Seed Round or millions of dollars, it doesn’t matter. They choose you. You are the investment. Then, over time as we became bigger, we were able to attract investors that are looking for growth stories like Fidelity and Comcast, and others. I feel like the best way to look at raising money is always asking yourself: what stage are you in? Be honest with yourself, and in that stage, reach out to people that might find you exciting, and interesting, and relevant. Now, as we’re going public, we had a roadshow and talked to top investors. I was very excited to get people such as Fidelity, Federated, the head of Sophia, Bearing Capital, and others to agree to invest in Taboola, and we’ve raised over half a billion dollars between our Spac and PIPE investors as we go public, hopefully, soon. That’s more of a recent thing. In any stage, I think you always have to ask yourself: where, really, are you at, and against that stage, try to talk to people that would make the decision that would be good for you.
Alejandro: To date, how much has Taboola raised that is publicly disclosed?
Adam Singolda: Before the Spac, we’ve raised about $160 million. We barely used any of it, so we now have over $200 million in the balance sheet. We’ve been profitable for a long time. It is always important to us to grow profitably, so we can invest in ourselves. We can always make mistakes and be okay with that, be a part of the future, and be able to have that culture that you need to have and resources to do it. Then going public, we’re raising half a billion dollars between the Spac itself and the PIPE investors. That’s overall, how much we’ve raised.
Alejandro: Tell us about the Spac because there’s definitely a lot of talk about Spacs, and I’m sure that our listeners are going to really enjoy what has been your experience with Spac and how it came about.
Adam Singolda: I had a great experience. I knew Gilad, the Spac’s sponsor, from beforehand because they had a [19:25] fund, and we were in conversation. He invested in great companies in one day and five in others. I knew him; our chairman knew him. We always wanted to go public; for a long time, we wanted to go public. And there are many ways to go public. You can go public via Spac or a traditional IPO or direct listing. I got to talk to Gilad about it. It was very valuable for the team and for me to have someone we know and trust that would eventually join the board of directors and has experience in public markets. In a Spac product versus traditional IPO, what you get is that in the very early stages of going public, you talk about valuation, which investors you should go after, the process, the journey. It was really nice to have that conversation at the very beginning versus at the end. Together with Gilad was a good fit. I will say, also, Taboola is a technology company, but people do business with people, and if you think about working with someone for the next ten years, it was valuable to have someone we trusted and wanted to do this together with. That’s how we got to the Spac idea and specifically why we work with Ian and why they agreed to work with us. In an hour, we hope to be in the last stages of this process and soon be traded as TBLA on the Nasdaq.
Alejandro: That’s amazing! What an incredible accomplishment, Adam. That’s amazing. Obviously, here, we’re talking about some of the different stages, the different phases that the company has gone through, and this incredible milestone now of being publicly listed. There’s a word that is behind that, and that is execution. You guys have been able to execute well. You look at execution from maybe your own lens, a different lens. What is execution for you? How do you define execution?
Adam Singolda: I think execution is a combination of dream big and go and do it. It’s a combination of never lose the ability to redefine your dreams, and that’s a combination of short-term and long-term to ask yourself: who can I be and how big can it be? And have the courage to go and do something even if I told you, you were going to fail doing it. If I told you in ten years that you’re going to fail, would you still do it? If the answer is yes, you’re doing the right thing. You’re having the right dream. That’s the first part. The second thing is having a culture and people around you that have a competitive advantage in going and executing against that dream. That, to me, is the DNA and the recipe that make great companies grow profitably and keep reinventing themselves. That’s what I’m looking at. It’s also wide-spun because, otherwise—at Taboola, I want to believe that all of us are co-writing the story called Taboola. We’re all co-founders. Now we have 14 co-founders at Taboola, and nobody is a second employee. To me, that’s such a great place to be because then, we can keep pushing each other and execute toward that thing. That’s what makes companies different. It’s not about my MBA experience or how great my resume is or how much money I have or how great of a name my investor is, for me, especially in today’s world, it’s so much about a group of people working together towards that one mission and be able to excite the market. For us at Taboola, it’s about looking at a $60+ billion open web internet that most of the advertising online that we all see is still banners that were invented 27 years ago. If you think about when the last time was that you clicked on a banner, it probably was five years ago by mistake. I think Instagram is a beautiful product and WeChat and Tik Tok. I think the future of the internet will look like them. That’s the journey we’re taking, being the recommender for the open web as it transforms from banners to feeds of suggestion, much like we’re seeing on social networks. That’s a big dream, and I feel like we have a good shot at doing it.
Alejandro: Talking about dreams, Adam, imagine you go to sleep tonight, and you wake up in a world where the vision of Taboola is fully realized. What does that world look like?
Adam Singolda: I don’t know if I’m able to think of fully realized. I’m less of a person that looks back and smells the roses and more about there’s so much to be done, so I don’t know if I can easily relate to the question, but in terms of big dreams we have ahead of us, and what would be awesome, we’re thinking about how we can expand our recommendation to be recommending anything. We can recommend eCommerce so you can buy through Taboola and how we can bring more TV experiences to the open webs of video and gaming. Then on the other side of it, how could you save the consumer Taboola beyond the browser, maybe on your connected TV at home, maybe as you buy a mobile device. We just announced a partnership with Samsung in Brazil, so if you buy a Samsung device in Brazil, we are your news feed on your device. That is awesome. Maybe one day, we should be in your car. I have Spotify in my car, but why don’t I have this broadcast in my car powered by Taboola? Over time, I want to be everywhere. That would be a great place where I would love to wake up and have Taboola on my car, on my TV, on my phone, and on the open web. That would be a great morning, and still, I would probably ask myself what else do we need to do?
Alejandro: I love it. Now, I’m going to put you in a time machine, and I’m putting you in this time machine where I’m bringing you back to 2007, to that moment where you were thinking about bringing Taboola to life, and you have the opportunity of speaking with your younger self, and you’re able to give that younger Adam one piece of advice before launching the company. What would that be and why based on what you know now?
Adam Singolda: I think the best advice I would give myself or my kids or anyone is: you live once, and if you have to make a bet, bet on people, which I told you earlier, and mainly because everything will change around you all the time. It’s the nature of life. We go up; we go down; new things happen. Especially as an entrepreneur, it’s amazing, and it’s so hard to explain the gap between your highs and lows. You have days when everything is amazing and days when everything is crap. You still have to be a mentally healthy person that’s driving this ship and keep pushing it forward. But the only thing that never changes is the environment you create around you and the people that you look to join you. That’s the best advice. That will never change. That is a very long-term decision you make. That is your anchor, people—that feeling you have when you enter the office or when you look at your emails when you interact with your clients. To me, the best advice is people. I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t want to succeed more during those five years. I feel like it was an important part of my journey to go through those experiences, to meet those people, to learn what good and evil look like, which I speak with my kids all the time about as we talk about [27:17] versus the Avengers, of course, every day, as we build Legos and things like that. I’m fascinated by superpowers and good and bad. So I wouldn’t change those things because they taught me so much. My advice would be, bet on people.
Alejandro: Amazing. Adam, for the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Adam Singolda: I’m all over the place. I’m on Twitter, Instagram. You can email me. I’m email@example.com. I’m employee #1, so you can Google me too. Feel free to reach out, say hi, and thanks for listening.
Alejandro: Amazing. Thank you so much for being on the show, Adam.
Adam Singolda: Thank you.
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