December 9, 2020

PubMatic IPO - Early AI and Machine Learning Leader Goes Public

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AI and ML are all the rage today, but in 2013, when we initially invested, financial services and digital advertising were some of the few places where these technologies were beginning to be implemented at scale. We saw a fast-growing trend of human-brokered advertising placement being replaced with real-time machine-based decisioning, and began looking for companies in the sector that fit the NGP Capital profile: strong tech, defensible market position, proven fit, and confidence in the scalability of management.

I met the founding brothers, Rajeev and Amar Goel, when they had started Chipshot together (their prior start-up), and I had been impressed with their entrepreneurial chops already at that time. When they founded PubMatic, we actively sought out an investment in the company around the investing theme ‘applied big data and analytics’ as we called it back then – we saw the proliferation of mobile advertising as the monetization engine of the mobile app economy. Advertising was a half a trillion-dollar industry, and we understood that most of it would be shifting over time to digital, and most of the digital to mobile. As a global venture firm, we may have recognized more than others the value that PubMatic had in Mukul Kumar and the engineering team operating out of Pune in India. My partner Upal Basu is very active in the Indian tech and VC ecosystem, and he also knew Rajeev and Amar from before. Upal had also co-invested with Nexus Venture Partners and Helion Ventures previously, the US/Indian VC’s who provided the first institutional money into PubMatic. In the end, PubMatic’s presence in India has given the company access to talent, team culture, and advantaged cost structure and flexibility of PubMatic’s office there has really turned into a huge advantage for them.

We invested in PubMatic in 2013, it was announced 2014, and I have had the distinct pleasure of working closely with management and the board as an active observer since that time. The team and the Board of Directors are incredibly smart, competent, and collegial people. And, that is not an accident: Rajeev made company culture a key pillar of his company strategy from the start.

PubMatic has differentiated itself in the industry by focusing on transparency in the way it delivers value to publishers and advertisers, but transparency also permeates the way the team works with its board and the way management communicates with its employees. I have heard Rajeev mention multiple times that being open with folks is a key factor in getting them to fully engage in finding solutions, whether they be next generation advertising innovations, or overcoming problems that arise in the business

There are many great “lessons learned” that I have received from being an insider on the PubMatic journey over the past seven years. However, Rajeev, Amar and Steve have taught me two things that are particularly informative in our current COVID and uncertainty-driven times: the importance of investing in people, and the value in cultivating resiliency into the corporate DNA. Advertising is a notoriously competitive space, subject to fast-changing technological innovation. PubMatic has succeeded in part because it is a company built around people who can embrace those industry attributes and not be intimidated by them. They have a great team-oriented “bring on the challenge!” mentality that I think gives PubMatic a long-term competitive advantage.