Ophir Tanz is the Co-Founder and CEO of GumGum, the world’s largest in-image ad platform. Prior to launching GumGum, Ophir was CEO and co-founder of Mojungle.com, a mobile-media sharing platform that was sold to Shozu.com in 2007. The Makegood recently spoke with Ophir about entrepreneurship, GumGum, and the future of the advertising industry.
The Makegood: Looking at your background, you are the epitome of entrepreneurship. What is one trait every entrepreneur needs to have and what advice do you have for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Fall down seven times; stand up eight.” Building a high-growth company will be tough if you give up easily or have a strong aversion to uncertainty and instability. Dozens of decisions are made daily, and some will be wrong. The key is to identify, in an intellectually honest fashion, what is not working—and fix it swiftly. Sometimes, the fix is scrapping everything you’ve built and pivoting to an entirely new idea; other times, it means letting go of someone you like personally but who is not getting the job done. Operating this way requires courage because it can significantly add to your short-term workload. But being open to bold change is fundamental to success. That is why it’s so important to have unrelenting passion behind your ambition to build a company and solve problems. If you bring passion to the work, your resolve to “stand up” after falling down is largely instinctive.
The Makegood: Another thing quite evident in your background is your heavy involvement with the start-up and entrepreneurial community. Are there any start-ups that you are particularly fond of at the moment? What is it about them that separates them from the pack?
Successful companies are built in myriad ways, and their success is often a function of first-mover advantage, excellent customer service, removing steps from a previously cumbersome process, legacy positioning, etc. I am particularly keen on startups that have or are meaningfully working towards truly differentiated and defensible technology. Nearly all companies say they are doing this, but in reality, a motivated competitor can replicate most products relatively easily. I like technology that is difficult to copy, even with significant resources behind the effort. This class of technology is often based on advancements in basic science. In no particular order, these are among my favorites:
Deep Learning is advancing the field of AI in ways that are currently being applied by Google, Facebook and a handful of startups. Though far from mature, 3D printing and companies operating in that space, like Makerbot, present an exciting new frontier. Oculus, with its virtual reality headsets, could offer the massive leap forward in VR technology that people have long anticipated. The Leap Motion gesture controller is refreshing because, whether it succeeds or not, someday we’ll need to move beyond the mouse. In general, however, I am most excited by what I believe is a coming revolution in personalized healthcare. Technology will enable us to better understand our own physiology, both in real-time and based on genetic factors, allowing us to take steps to improve our health and longevity. I was an early adopter of 23andme, and the implications of that story taken to its logical end are mind-blowing.
The Makegood: You are credited with inventing in-image advertising. Firstly, can you explain where this idea came from? It seems obvious now that this should have been done, but what sparked the idea in your mind? Secondly, what is the best use of your invention that you have seen to date?
The initial thinking behind GumGum was twofold:
1) Images, which are arguably the most consumed content on the web, have not been innovated upon since the inception of the Internet. If one could determine their content and meaning, a world of opportunity presents itself.
2) Content licensing on the Internet is broken (as was evidenced at the time by the fact that publishers like PerezHilton.com were involved in serious lawsuits with photo agencies rightly alleging illegal use).
While building the first in-image advertising platform was always a part of the vision, in-image advertising was originally intended as a way for publishers to subsidize costly licensing fees. We eventually dropped the licensing component in favor of serving publishers by creating new, meaningful revenue streams and allowing advertisers to capture users’ attention at compelling, appropriate and fortuitous moments.
With regards to best use, we have two customers, publishers and advertisers, so there is a separate answer for each stakeholder.
Publishers: We love seeing publishers use in-image advertising as a means of removing highly invasive or comparably worse-performing advertisements from their web pages. Traditional ad banners are unseemly and rates have plummeted. Our goal is to return real estate to publishers so that more of the screen can be used for content while making page-views more lucrative.
Advertisers: We see so many innovative uses of the GumGum platform by marketers. I think the best are still the most obvious and straightforward. Cadillac capturing users attention when they are researching Cadillac or competitor vehicles (Cadillac Demo), Breaking Bad messaging show information when users are engaging with show content (Breaking Bad Demo), BP aligning themselves with Olympics-related images and their sponsored athletes (BP Demo). One of the coolest executions we’ve run recently was for Lifetime’s Witches of East End where we programmatically colored target characters’ eyes green (Lifetime Demo).
The Makegood: As a leading advertiser, how do you toe the line between informative and annoying?
If we provide a poor user experience, it hurts everybody we care about – publishers, users, advertisers – so we are painstakingly committed to creating the best balance between revenue generation and UX. We work to ensure strong contextual alignment between what users are engaging with and the brand messages they are shown. Beyond this, we use frequency capping, throttling and other ad suppression methodologies to ensure that users are not shown ads too often. Publishers can directly control these levers. Ultimately, when we do our job well, we create additive experiences, seamlessly linking our content with whatever users voluntarily seek out.
The Makegood: GumGum is your main project at the moment. How do you see it growing? What is your long-term plan for your latest successful company?
GumGum has invested heavily in image recognition and other basic defensible technology that lend themselves to a range of commercial opportunity. Our continued march toward becoming a leading media company is an expression of the unique technology we’ve built. The near-term plan is to continue growing our national and international presence, evangelizing the virtues of in-image advertising and our other in-stream products. The long view is that digital marketing, after nearly 20 years of the same tired ad banners, is undergoing major evolution. Programmatic has risen, the surface of possibility around big data has only been scratched, time spent on mobile will surpass other devices, native advertising has re-emerged as a meaningful strategy, TV will soon be delivered over IP. Given our strong, trusted relationships with many of the world’s largest publishers and time-tested relationships with leading brands coupled with our DNA as a forward-looking technology company, we feel we are well-positioned to deliver products that take advantage of where the world is heading to capture outsized value. As we did with in-image, we intend to unlock potential for publishers and advertisers in revolutionary, not evolutionary ways.
The Makegood: Thank you, Ophir