August 11, 2021

How Kaltura and PubMatic Built Resilience Into Their Company DNA

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In 2006, Rajeev Goel and Ron Yekutiel each founded a company, embarking on parallel fifteen-year journeys that would lead to recent, successful IPOs. Rajeev co-founded PubMatic and Ron co-founded Kaltura in lands far apart from each other (India and Israel) and focused on different markets (online advertising and video). Yet the two founders have taken very similar paths. Both companies emerged in the mobile Internet era, built data-first businesses, achieved accelerated growth during the pandemic, and had recent IPOs that christened them as unicorns.

Both PubMatic and Kaltura are also examples of how resilience can be rewarded. Their paths to success were, like most companies, sometimes treacherous and, at times, obscure. But leadership shows during crucible moments, and success is often defined by how companies handle adversity. Both PubMatic and Kaltura passed with flying colors as they overcame initial market skepticism, outmaneuvered industry incumbents in response to shifting customer needs, and survived industry consolidation.

When we interviewed Rajeev Goel and Ron Yekutiel in late 2017, their success was not yet fully assured. Yet the points they highlighted are hallmarks of their eventual success. In separate interviews, Rajeev and Ron struck common themes about culture, nimbleness, execution, and resilience that are relevant to all aspiring entrepreneurs.

Company culture is foundational

Both Rajeev and Ron highlighted company culture as the foundation for their success. Rajeev commented: “I learned pretty quickly that one of the single most critical things a company needs to become successful is a culture that fosters employee engagement. Motivating employees to give 110 percent can mean the difference between success or failure.” At Kaltura, Ron and the founding team defined the company culture even before the product and strategy, by embedding it into the company name. The name Kaltura reminds employees daily of the company’s commitment to “openness, flexibility, and collaboration.”

Nimbleness enables adaptability

Rajeev applies a nimble, experimental approach to strategy and execution at PubMatic: “Moving quickly, understanding what is working and what is not, abandoning failed strategies quickly, and shifting the focus to execution always wins over taking a lot of time to figure out the right strategy. Switching gears quickly is a science we have tried to perfect at PubMatic. We make sure we know what metrics will tell us that we are on the right path, and then we analyze them consistently. The key is not getting frustrated with failure. We don’t believe in penalizing failure at PubMatic because it makes people fearful of making decisions.” Rajeev resisted opening multiple offices and sought to stay lean so his team could collaborate closely, adjust seamlessly, and move quickly.

Ron similarly embeds nimbleness in his five pillars of successful entrepreneurial leadership – Envision, Enlist, Embark, Execute and Evolve. As a paranoid optimist, Ron “shoots for the moon” while “being very self-critical and preparing for the worst by continuously analyzing what could go wrong and how to mitigate bad outcomes. I analyze the fastest, cheapest, and safest way to our goal, then continuously assess progress while recalculating new possible routes by frequently zooming in and out – alternating between the big picture and small details.”

PubMatic and Kaltura both remained lean and resisted raising a lot of capital, a rarity in today’s high-octane startup world. PubMatic raised $63M and Kaltura raised $133M prior to IPO. PubMatic’s last financing prior to IPO was in 2013; for Kaltura the last round was in 2016. Added capital can encumber a business if paired with lofty expectations and high burn rates. By staying nimble with a lower cost structure, PubMatic and Kaltura adjusted quickly during industry downturns and emerged stronger when the market rebounded.

Execution is a core competency

Rajeev and Ron both highlighted execution as a core competency at their companies, feeling that this is often overlooked in favor of vision, strategy, and unique technology.

Rajeev asserted, “In our industry, being really good at execution is far more valuable than having the right strategy.” PubMatic focuses on product, customer experience, and sales efficiency. “When you go through high growth, it’s easy to focus on the sales numbers instead of how the customer is experiencing your product. We think carefully about how you scale up the sales organization to sell in a productive way.” As a result, PubMatic has the highest margins for its size in the industry.

Ron attributes his focus on execution to his background as a pilot in the military. “Years of training –putting the mission first, staying focused, working under pressure, paying attention to detail, learning resilience, how preparation and practice make perfect and how to zoom in and out from detail to overview – taught me to always lead from the front and set the example. Comradery and teamwork are key. Without it you will crash. Another thing I learned is the importance of being on time. It is naturally important for execution and team collaboration, but beyond that it reflects on the integrity of my word and sets an example for others to be true to theirs.”

Resilience & high aspirations are key to long-term success

PubMatic and Kaltura are both studies in resilience. Resilience is, first and foremost, a mindset of persistence in the face of adversity. Ron’s comment above oozes persistence and determination. Rajeev is a kindred spirit.

In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth shows that persistence ranks higher than intelligence as a key attribute of success. PubMatic and Kaltura have talented teams, but it is their resilience that sets them apart, and that mindset starts at the top.

Aspirations reinforce resilience as the payoff for persistence and must be high to be worthwhile. In shooting for the moon, Ron noted that he may consistently overestimate what the company can accomplish in a year, but he underestimates what they can accomplish in ten.

Both PubMatic and Kaltura have endured lean years. But they have both over-delivered in the long run through resilience and high expectations. It has been a pleasure to partner with Rajeev, Ron, and their teams over these many years. It has been a great ride. For PubMatic and Kaltura, we are confident that this is just the beginning of a long, successful journey.