Israeli born ad-tech veteran Yaron Galai is currently at work on his fourth company, Outbrain, which serves up more than 3.5 billion pageviews a month to publishers like CNN, Fox and The Atlantic. “My two previous companies worked by interruption, which I hated. We were trying to get you to click away from a story on the kind of ad that personally, I ignore.”
Outbrain works to send “engaged” readers to publishers, meaning visitors they believe will actually enjoy the story they land on, then be likely to click through to other articles and visit the site again in the future. “The world is brainwashed by relevancy,” Mr. Galai said, chatting with Betabeat at our Midtown offices. “If you’re reading an article about Steve Jobs, and we send you to another article about Steve Jobs, or about the iPhone, yes that is “relevant”, but it’s probably not that interesting.”
Six engineers at Outbrain have created 30 competing algorithms which try to find the best content to serve readers. A master algorithm selects among their choices based on historical performance. “For our Ph.Ds, this is the fun stuff, coming up with a new approach, throwing it up on the network and seeing what performs,” he said.
Betabeat wondered why sites like Fox and CNN, which have massive amounts of traffic, would be using a service like Outbrain. “There have been some massive stories this year, Osama Bin Laden for example, that arrives at your home page,” he said. “But you might still have a part of your site, devoted to sports or automobiles, pockets that are under-trafficked and oversold, and that’s where we come in.”
Outbrain has raised $29 million in funding, most recently closing an $11 million Series C this February. The money, said Mr. Galai, is going mostly to recruiting new engineers and building out the R&D team, which is based in Israel. The real opportunity, as Mr. Galai sees it, is the evolution of personal privacy. “Right now we are cookie-based. We keep everything siloed on one site so what you do on CNN doesn’t apply to what we recommend on MSNBC. A lot of the insanity now about cookies and privacy is overblown. When the world comes to their senses, that will be a huge new market.”