Nov 9, 2021 - Economy

Exclusive: Backed by NYT, OpenWeb becomes a tech unicorn

OpenWeb, a platform used by publishers to manage comments and user interactions, has raised $150 million in a series E financing round that values the company at $1.1 billion, its CEO and co-founder Nadav Shoval tells Axios.

Why it matters: OpenWeb's growth is driven by a realization from publishers that building direct relationships with their audiences online is a stronger value proposition long-term than being reliant on social media and search giants.

Details: The company, which was previously called Spot.IM, licenses technology to publishers that helps them moderate user comments.

  • It plans to use the funds to build more tools for publishers to create direct relationships with their audiences, Shoval says.
  • As privacy becomes a bigger issue, the company has doubled down on offerings that will help publishers collect first-party data from its users.

Part of its growth plans include expanding its sign-in products that push users to log into publishers' websites directly, allowing publishers to keep valuable user data.

  • The company plans to invest more in its data science teams and products to strengthen the algorithms that it uses to moderate user comments and engagements on publishers' websites.
  • OpenWeb today is based in New York, Tel Aviv and Kyiv. It hopes to expand its global presence with new offices in Canada, east Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
  • The financing will possibly be used for some acquisitions as well, Shoval says.

The round was led by investment firms Insight Partners and Georgian.

  • Other investors that participated in the round include tech investor Omer Cygler, Israeli-based investment group Harel, and Entrée Capital.
  • The company also brought in its first set of strategic investors to participate in the round, including The New York Times Company, ad giant Dentsu, Samsung Next and media personality Scott Galloway.
  • Galloway has joined the company’s board.

The participation from The Times is emotional for Shoval, who says he moved to the U.S. from Tel Aviv in order to court their investment.

  • The Times, he says, "holds us accountable to make sure we’re solving the right things."
  • "OpenWeb’s mission of combating toxicity in online conversations and empowering publishers to develop direct relationships with their audiences deeply resonates with us," New York Times Director of Corporate Development Matthew Lloyd-Thomas said in a statement.

By the numbers: The new round brings the company's total amount raised to around $225 million.

  • The company has booked around $80 million in revenue so far this year, Shoval tells Axios.
  • It works with over 1,000 publishers across the world.
  • The company currently employs over 150 people.

The big picture: Recent antitrust issues and privacy fights have pushed publishers to focus more attention on publishing via the open web, where they have more visibility and control over their data and user relationships.

  • "We want to create a more transparent environment by helping publishers bring back their audiences from social media," says Shoval.

Go deeper: Publishers see new life in the old open web

Go deeper