To celebrate 8 years of Publift, we chat with Colm Dolan, Publift's CEO & Founder, and reminisced about his nostalgic journey in building the company, exploring the valuable lessons he has learned while achieving prestigious awards, and engaging in a vibrant discussion about the current beacons of innovation guiding Publift's path forward.
Q1: Why did you start Publift and what was that journey like for you?
Colm: I think Publift was born out of necessity, really. At the time, I was working for a startup that lost Series B round funding, and I had to get a new job. I was looking to the comfort of Big Tech and I got a few interviews but couldn't get a job. I think I was really low on confidence. I always had in the back of my mind an idea of a startup business. When I worked at Google, we used to pitch optimizations to publishers, but they never really implemented those optimizations because of lack of developer skills and knowledge. And it used to really annoy me. it was in the back of my mind. So I was kind of at my lowest ebb and decided to start this business. I think luckily my girlfriend and wife at the time worked in the industry and knew a small publisher I met him we had an hour long discussion and I got a contract for $500 a month and they are still client today. he introduced me to another client got a similar deal and they're actually still a client today. So I’m pretty happy with that.
Q2: What has starting and scaling a business taught you as a founder?
Colm: It's been quite a journey. I said to a lot of people that it's been a spiritual journey because there's been so many ups and downs. It's really been like a roller coaster that I've had to learn so much about myself. The lows are really low and you think you're going to lose everything as part of the business that you've had. And we've been through a lot. Those are the things you really learn about your character and how you grow and develop from there. Again, the highs are never as big as the highs would be. So I think it's been so character building and just meeting a lot of great people along the way. I think that I always love the people side of the business and some of my best friends are people that work at Publift and clients. it's been a good journey that way.
Q3: What has been your biggest struggle?
Colm: Biggest struggle, I think the biggest struggle we've probably had is hiring. Getting the right people in the business is just so important. And we definitely have had made a lot of mistakes in hiring, but I think these mistakes were worthy and needed to be made. It's hard. It's very hard. And every book I've read, business books I’ve read always talk about getting the right people on the boats and it's all right. Whenever we have lowered the bar, it has been detrimental to the business and having one bad person on and they're not a bad person to clarify, they're just maybe bad for the business and don't fit into the culture and ecosystem.
Naomi: What are we trying to do to combat that? to make sure we're always hiring the right people?
Colm: The key to this has been not just settling like really raising the bar and keeping the bar high. And the people we have at the moment are really high barriers or very ambitious good fond. The people you work would have to be good fun and someone you get along with. So I think it's just learnings. It's about growing and learning and that's a big thing. Especially the next phase of our business growth is going to be when we're looking to double the business in terms of numbers over the next year. And I think it's going to be crucial to that. what I've seen so far is we are continuing to not drop that level, which is important.
Q4: “Onto some positivity. What has been your proudest moment?”
Colm: Proudest moment, I think getting recognition in terms of awards we won the Drum Award for technology a couple of years ago, 10 fastest growing startups in Australia. It’s pretty cool to get recognition from your peers and some people you’ve known in technology for a long time. Also, seeing young people grow and develop. A lot of people at Publift have been with us most of their journey. Like Adam, in Engineering, has been with us for seven years. Brock is probably six. Ben is four. These people are big leaders in the team and I knew Brock when he was a 20 year old kid, so seeing him develop into the absolute industry lead that he is absolutely spine tingling to see that. And even meeting people that used to work at Publift and know I met Dan who was one of the early guys at Publift. He now works over in L.A. I met him a few months ago and it was great to see him and see how he's developed and he was so thankful to his time at Publift. And also I think seeing some of the clients develop. Like over the years, you get to know a lot of businesses and listen to their struggles, hear their struggles and see their wins. So oftentimes, I feel like the partnership that we've had with clients, especially, we've got so many clients that have with us a long, long time when I originally signed them up and sold them the dream and the dream has been fulfilled and is still continuing. So I think that's really important that we are partnering with these people and we want to make a difference and we want a long term partnership and we've developed those consultative technological partnerships that have been really successful. I’m sure many of the clients would say the same about Publift and it is really an important part of their business now.
Q5: What are some of your favorite memories at Publift?
Colm: The boat parties. Initially when we started, I remember the first boat party we went on where we brought clients with us and had an awesome time out on the harbor in Sydney, and we continued that. And sometimes it was with clients and sometimes it was with partners. most of all, as with Publift people, and it was a Christmas party and we just had a really good time every time. So that's really something I remember. Also remember a lot of overseas trips visit clients, to visit prospective clients, go to conferences. Again, these are places where we were speaking at some of these conferences where we got out of our comfort zone and really pushed ourselves to the next level. That's some of the great memories and visiting clients in faraway places and awesome to see the clients developing in Europe. Recently on a European trip, again, I just love seeing clients and seeing the energy that you get from them. in the US and Asia as well. It's been really fulfilling and very grateful again for that journey that they've been on.
Q6: What are some of the interesting things you've been working on? If we can touch on that.
Colm: Yeah, sure. I think the most interesting evolution over the last immediate period has been technology. We worked predominantly with small to medium sized publishers over the last four or five years. And that's been our sweet spot. the technology has got so advanced now that we're now talking to bringing that technology to a lot of enterprise suite of clients larger publishers are now recognizing that partners like us have built such an evolved ecosystem that they can get access to revenue a lot quicker by using our technology rather than delaying in the sprint reviews and any ideas that they have. Again, I think the industry has changed so much from when it started that it's about increasing revenue for us. But also there's a lot of other parts of the tech that evolved as well, including the speed of the Tech, Core Web Vitals and how much that had an effect on that. And it looks like that our technology is front and foremost and the resources we're putting into engineering now is awesome to see and it's something to look forward to over the next year.
Q7: When you started Publift your goals was to help publishers simplify revenue building through programmatic advertising so that they can focus on growing their audience. Do you think the goal has changed or evolved?
Colm: I think it's more evolved. because the ecosystem has become more complex. you have to be be very fast in terms of layout on the page and making sure that keeping in the Google algorithm rules. think there's a lot more competition now. So publishers really have to be more finger on the pulse with everything. But essentially, I think it's the same concept for us. Advertising has become more and more complex, so it's probably more relevant for publishers to outsource this to experienced partners and good partners. And I think it's harder to navigate for publishers now because there are so many partners like us now. And it's hard to pick which are good ones, which are bad ones, like we've got so many clients coming to us after really bad experiences. And I really feel for them because it's hard to trust anyone, especially small brands. Google is a big brand. They pay in 30 days. They're always going to pay.
Naomi: How do we solve those issues that you were talking about?
Colm: Publift.. we've always stuck to what is our bread and butter about being a morally good business. I used to always get very worried about competition but I go back again and again, and I've done this so many times, personally and professionally. I haven't backed myself. And now I've learned that I need to back myself more. backing Publift more. We've always got a reputation that we really care. And I think that's across the business If we make a mistake or something like that, we'll always do the right thing, think that's something I'm very proud of within the business, think in the long run, like clients can see the value of partnership. They can see that we're trying to improve all the time. And we're not trying to just make a fast book. I think that's the key difference between us. And I see competitors come and go and I know Publift is going to be around for a long time because we're continuing to evolve and improve and we've got that mentality and culture in the business.
Q8: If you didn't start Publift what would you be doing today?
Colm: That is a good question. That is a good question. I probably would have found some entrepreneurial journey in some way because I had a lot of ideas about the way things should be run how I think the world should be run and in control of your own destiny and having freedom and all of these things. And I think I’ve always had it in me because my parents ran a bed and breakfast. They were entrepreneurs themselves and I wouldn't have been happy doing what other people told me I think.
Naomi: All right. That's all the time we have today. Thank you so much for sharing that. It was really cool listening to all you have to say in your journey and yeah, what it's really all about. Congratulations on the eight years as well.
Colm: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. It's been nice to talk and reflect on the 8 years and again, very grateful for the opportunity the public has given me. So thank you. Thank you.