At its essence, the Venture business is largely about people. It’s my job to get to know great entrepreneurs with bold visions and help them navigate the usually treacherous startup waters as best I can. It’s an understood occupational hazard that often times, things don’t work out as planned. But when they do, it’s very sweet. Particularly for entrepreneurs who have truly “lived” the startup journey and had the tenacity to see things through. Paul Marino, Dave Jakubowski and the Aggregate Knowledge (AK) team are just those kind of entrepreneurs. And I’m very pleased to have played a small part in helping them achieve their vision, culminating in this week’s acquisition of AK by Neustar.
When I first met Paul Martino sometime in 2007, AK was flying high on its initial idea, the notion of making recommendations based on implicit behavior. I was trying to figure what to start myself and so we exchanged ideas, and even briefly entertained the notion that we might work together. By early 2009, I had joined Foundation Capital as a Venture Partner and around that time Paul had decided to “bet the company” on helping advertisers reach their audiences online and in-exchange capture a meaningful share of the growing online ad budgets.
We kept talking on and off. Paul was ecstatic about the ad opportunity and yet seemed very frustrated with trying to get advertisers to “see the light”. I was a naïve young VC and so in my enthusiasm, I said to Paul, “you know what the biggest problem in AK is? Its YOU” Paul paused and calmly asked, why do you say that?”. I was on a roll, and went on to say, “Paul, its clear you don’t think much of your customers, and you don’t much about what they do”. Paul just looked at me and said, “so what kind of person would be a good CEO for AK”, and I promptly responded, David Jakubowski. Paul asked for an introduction, flew to Santa Monica the next day and within a week, had hired David as his President. My wife Pooja and I helped Dave and his then 7-month pregnant wife find a home in the Bay Area and a few weeks later, Dave joined AK full time.
By fall of 2009, Dave had settled into his role, had come up with his plan and was ready to raise a round of financing. I passed at that time but ended up leading a follow-on round in 2011. I strongly believed in the team and technology but also that the market was nearing an inflection point.
It seems we were a bit early. The Company did indeed have the best technology in the market but even by spring 2012, customers were not quite ready to adopt en masse. We had a pretty big miss against plan and the other investors and myself were wondering whether to push on.
But i still believed. I believed in David. I believed in the team. And that, in time, the market and customers would share my belief.
So over the next year, I led two additional financing rounds, making Foundation the largest shareholder in the Company. And the Company made a very smart choice and hired Rob Gatto to build a sales force that could sell directly to Brands.
From there, things moved quickly. A deal with Facebook, a few big-name customers and then, suddenly, the market was there. In the last 4 months, revenues more than doubled, interested acquirers emerged out of the woodwork, and the rest is history.
Needless to say, I believe that Neustar made a great choice and am very excited for Paul Martino, David Jakubowski, Chris Law, Rob Grzywinski, Matt Curcio, Steve Linde, Rob Gatto and their teams. It was a great outcome for a great team. Congrats guys. You totally earned it.