Podcast: Factually Speaking

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This week on AdExchanger Talks, Factual CEO Gil Elbaz recounts his role in the early history of digital advertising as founder of Applied Semantics, which later became Google AdSense.

During his years at Google, Elbaz says he was stunned by the company’s adeptness at aggregating consumer data and by the enormity of its investments in talent and computing infrastructure.

“It really got me thinking, back in 2007 when I left, that there’s a real potential that the small oligopoly of walled garden companies that have a tremendous amount of data can really stymie innovation across the rest of the world,” he says. “Twelve years later we’re seeing threats across every imaginable industry. With the data they can bring to bear on a problem, they can improve upon products, whether it’s financial, Amazon getting into healthcare, Google in entertainment – there’s really no industry that’s safe.”

Elbaz created Factual in part to support a democratization of data and help create a more level playing.

“As Marc Andreessen famously said, ‘Software eats the world.’ And, of course, software needs data to take it to the next level,” he says. “The founding idea was making high-quality data accessible by everyone so they can innovate on data-driven products. My belief is that all products become data driven over time, even stodgier businesses where things are done … manually.

At the time, Elbaz didn’t know that location data would be the focus of the business, only that it was important. Back in 2008, approximately 25% of searches on Google and other search engines had a location component. But location only grew more important over time with the iPhone’s launch and the rise of location-based services like Uber and Snapchat.

“There are huge benefits of being a data company,” Elbaz says of Factual’s data-as-a-service model. “You can solve so many problems through partnerships – [but] there are also challenges in that you have to rely on partners to show the value.”

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