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OutBrain – Discover What’s Next
If there is one thing you simply cannot miss about Ori Lahav, aside from his dominant physical presence (“I’m a big guy” he admits with a smile), it is his affection for lighthouses. “A lighthouse is a central theme in Outbrain” he explains, sitting in front of a long picture of a lighthouse that is decorating his office wall. “Both (co-founder) Yaron Galai and I grew up as navy officers. When you’re at sea, you must have some kind of reference point, and if you are heading toward that point – you know you are in the right direction. “Outbrain” – he concludes – “is the lighthouse for internet users to discover more interesting content online”.
With customers ranging from content publishers like CNN, Yahoo and Reuters to world renowned brands like American Express and those of Procter & Gamble, a “lighthouse” is perhaps a rather accurate description of the unique position Outbrain is at. Founded in 2006, the company has quickly expended from a small Israeli-based startup to a 450 employee company with offices across 16 countries, and is considered the world’s leading player in content marketing recommendation. To understand the magnitude of Outbrain’s success, consider the following datum: in 2013, 86% of American online surfers interacted with an Outbrain product, a number higher even than that of “negligible” competitors like Google and Facebook. It’s like David beating Goliath. Twice.
Outbrain is an online content recommendation service that helps websites increase the time spent by users on site by providing surfers with real-time recommendations to relevant content. Likewise, the service helps websites generate more revenues from advertisement of brands and marketers, which now increasingly use “content marketing” to build awareness to the advantages of their products. “Outbrain was created to solve two prevalent problems” says Lahav. “Back in 2006 when Web 2.0 was born, everybody began creating content and tons of new blogs came to life. The following year Youtube exploded. With all that content, you really couldn’t make a difference between what’s worth reading and what is a waste of your time. Secondly, we figured that online advertising was broken. People were (and still are) “banner blind”. There’s almost no way you’re going to remember the last banner you’ve seen, but we figured that there’s a good chance that you’ll remember the last piece of article you read. And if we could recommend the right article to you, and help advertisers make you remember and engage with their content, we could make many people happy”.
The solution that Outbrain introduced to the Web was so dramatic, that it literally had to re-invent the field of content recommendation…“the way Google re-invented SEARCH in an already crowded field with competitors such as Yahoo, AltaVista and Infoseek”. In classic advertising, the advertiser pays for the right to disturb or interrupt the user. However, Content Marketing – Lahav explains – goes the other way around: if you want to disturb the user and want them to listen, you must ensure that your content is attractive enough for the user. An increasing number of marketers and advertisers are shifting from interrupting the user to generating relevant, interesting content. And Outbrain is the platform to scale the traffic to your content.
As so very often occurs in the startup journey, not everything went smooth for Outbrain, who suffered an early failure with its first B2C product before growing immensely in the B2B realm. “Every pivot we made along the way, we always looked at the lighthouse and made sure we were striving toward it”, Lahav summarises. “Strategy changes, products change to fit the strategy, people change positions. But the one thing that doesn’t change is the lighthouse”. And that is, perhaps, the secret of Outbrain’s success.