Project Oski: Berkeley Haas-Founded TubeMogul Completes First Quarter as a Public Company

When online video buffs Brett Wilson MBA ’07 and John Hughes MBA ’07 met in an entrepreneurship class at the Haas School of Business in 2006, they had no idea how far their interest in working together would take them.

“We identified each other fairly early on as people who wanted to do something really great after we graduated,” Wilson told the Financial Times. The two first-year MBA students tossed ideas around for over a year, and in early 2007, landed on a winner – a web video analytics platform that would grow into international video advertising software company TubeMogul, now valued at just under $465 million as it concludes its first quarter as a public company.

From left to right: Toby Stuart (professor, Haas), Mark Rotblat (VP Media, North America, MBA ’07), Brett Wilson (Co-Founder and CEO, MBA ’07), John Hughes (Co-Founder and President of Products, MBA ’07), Keith Eadie (Chief Marketing Officer, MBA ’08), Michael Berolzheimer (MBA ’07)

After landing on their initial idea – an analytics platform – Wilson and Hughes teamed up with fellow students Keith Eadie MBA ’08, Mark Rotblat MBA ’07, and four others. Together, the group began building the product. “We were literally building it while we were at school,” Hughes continued in the co-founders’ interview with the Financial Times, “Every class was an incubator.”

In the spring of 2007, the team of six students entered and won the UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition (now known as LAUNCH). That summer, using their $20,000 in seed money winnings and working out of Haas’ startup incubator, co-founders Hughes, Wilson, and Rotblat dedicated their full-time efforts to building the first iteration of TubeMogul.

They used the networks they developed at Haas and through the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship to raise additional funds, eventually raising the $750,000 necessary to get the company off the ground. Among these early investors was classmate Michael Berolzheimer MBA ’07, now managing partner at venture capital firm Bee Partners. Berolzheimer heard the team’s pitch at the Business Plan Competition, and became personally committed to following their progress.

“It’s been a profoundly rewarding experience to witness the growth of a company from a team of two to a team of 300 all in the matter of a few years,” Berolzheimer told the Daily Cal. “They worked incredibly hard to get there, and I remain humbled by the small participation I had.”

With funding in place and growing industry street cred, TubeMogul’s founders made a name for themselves in the world of online video, using their early platform to track not only web video viewership, but also engagement and performance. According to AdWeek, their analytics platform became “something of a ratings alternative to Nielsen for web videos.”

Refining the TubeMogul model

Wilson and Hughes began to sense that if they wanted TubeMogul to become an industry giant, they would need to shift their focus. “Measuring video viewership for brands and ad agencies in the early days of the company really paved the way for us to create a more disruptive business in advertising,” says Eadie, now Chief Marketing Officer at TubeMogul. “Ad buying was one of the last industries that was relatively untouched by software and technology, and we set out to change that.”

Based on customer feedback, the founders transformed TubeMogul into a media-buying and video ad delivery platform – a one-stop shop for buying, placing, tracking, and optimizing video ads.

Today, TubeMogul’s software is counted on every day by brands like Allstate, Mondelez International and Lenovo to put video ads on every screen and scale their efforts globally.

As one customer, a maker of oral care products, put it recently: “TubeMogul’s software levels the playing field for us in digital video by enabling us to make smarter choices in real time — helping us optimize creative, targeting, and buying efficiency at a granular level to ensure we get the biggest bang for our buck.”

An image from TubeMogul’s IPO prospectus. The company employs more than 75 Cal alumni.

TubeMogul now employs 300 people (over 75 of whom are fellow Cal alumni) in 11 offices across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

TubeMogul stays loyal to Cal roots

Even as the company’s star continues to rise, TubeMogul remains deeply connected to its Cal roots. The company even nicknamed its IPO process “Project Oski” and included an image of the Cal bear in its IPO prospectus.

With its global headquarters located in nearby Emeryville, TubeMogul’s founders are regulars on campus, often seen recruiting from UC Berkeley’s talent pool and offering guidance to younger UC Berkeley startups. This semester, Rotblat, VP Media for North America, spoke in the Haas/Letters & Science course Introduction to Entrepreneurship, offering lessons on team building, product refinement and other topics.

Why stay so close to the University seven years after graduation? As Hughes explained in his interview with the Daily Cal, UC Berkeley opened the doors for Hughes not only to meet the other founders of TubeMogul, but also to connect with the passionate and talented individuals who built and funded the company from the ground up. In Hughes’ own words: “There really wouldn’t be a TubeMogul without Berkeley. It was critical to our success.”