Taboola is the latest company seeking to go public via special purpose acquisition corporation — more commonly known as a SPAC.
To achieve this, it will merge with ION Acquisition Corp, which went public in 2020 with the aim of funding an Israeli tech acquisition (Haaretz reported last month that Taboola was in talks with ION). The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter, and the combined company will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TBLA.
Founded in 2007, Taboola powers content recommendation widgets (and advertising on those widgets) across 9,000 websites for publishers including CNBC, NBC News, Business Insider, The Independent and El Mundo. It says it reaches 516 million daily active users while working with more than 13,000 advertisers.
The company had previously planned to merge with competitor Outbrain before the deal was canceled last fall, with sources pointing to the market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a “challenging culture fit” and regulatory issues to explain the deal’s end.
Taboola’s founder and CEO Adam Singolda (pictured above) told me that this didn’t lead directly the SPAC deal. But he said, “I always wanted to go public,” which wasn’t possible while the merger was in the works. Once that deal was called off, and with 2020 turning out to be a strong year for Taboola — it’s projecting revenue of $1.2 billion, including $375 million ex-TAC revenue (revenue after paying publishers), with over $100 million in adjusted EBITDA — the time seemed right, and ION seemed like the right partner.
“We believe Taboola is an open web recommendation leader which is well positioned to challenge the walled gardens,” said ION CEO Gilad Shany in a statement. “We were looking to merge with a global technology leader with Israeli DNA and we found that in Taboola. The combination of long-term partnerships built by the company with thousands of open web digital properties, their direct access to advertisers, massive global reach and proven AI technology, allows Taboola to provide significant value to their partners while also achieving attractive unit economics as the company grows.”
The deal will value Taboola at $2.6 billion. Through this transaction, the company plans to raise a total of $545 million, including $285 million in PIPE financing secured from Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baron Capital Group, funds and accounts managed by Hedosophia, the Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds and others.
Singolda said that the company plans to invest $100 million in R&D this year, and that he hopes to expand the technology into areas like e-commerce and TV advertising, with the goal of moving “beyond the browser.” More broadly, he said he wants Taboola to be be “a strong public company that champions the open web.”
“The open web is a $64 billion advertising market [according to Taboola estimates], but there’s no Google for the open web,” he said.
Yes, Google itself spends plenty of time talking about similar ideas, but Singolda argued that while Google has consumer products like search and YouTube that compete with other publishers for time and attention, “Taboola is not in the consumer business … We serve our partners, and it’s in our identity to drive audience growth, engagement and revenue.”