How can you build a company that's able to sell to Google? The key is not to plan for it. This past week, I spoke to Gil Elbaz, Founder of Applied Semantics and Factual, to discuss his journey throughout the data industry and how businesses can use data to improve the mobile experience. According to Elbaz, "if you spend too much time on the end game, it's unlikely that you'll get there." By focusing on the customers and following your passion for building something important, he believes success will follow.
Elbaz always had a passion for data and sharing it with the world. He wanted to build innovative technology and explore how the digital ecosystem could be different. After constantly learning and improving, he formed Applied Semantics. This software was able to analyze data from a web page and infer what types of advertisements would work best on that site.
The company originally received criticism from traditional ad players because they believed that this wasn't how the world worked. However, everything changed in 2002 when a major publisher started using his AdSense program. Greater traffic was being generated through AdSense, and larger companies were more wiling to take a risk on the business.
One company in particular was more than willing to take a risk on Applied Semantics: Google. Google acquired the company in 2003 and used it to develop Google AdSense. The purchase took the company by surprise, but was a very exciting time and well received by all.
After his experience with Google, Elbaz realized that large companies are establishing massive data moats. While this can be great for "data absorption monsters" and seem great for consumers, the large collections put other major companies at risk, and ultimately reduces the overall pace of innovation. Elbaz wanted to democratize access to critical data so that it could create a more level playing field, and innovation isn't hampered by a lack of access to data. He believed everyone should have access to "Google level" data and was determined to make this a reality.
Factual is a data company with neutral positioning that collects, analyzes, and then shares data with other companies who would not have access to this information. Through various engineering efforts, data is taken, mashed together into data sets, and then improved upon. The company gathers information about real places and transforms it into valuable APIs for other software and app companies to use in their own products.
Factual's neutral strategy is one of the many factors that makes the company so unique and successful. The company truly has the industry and consumers as its top priorities. Elbaz believes that the best way to impact the industry is to partner with multiple companies that sell advertisements and support all of them instead of competing with them.