Why the Rubicon Project Will Win

As 2013 gets underway, I wanted to share a window into the Rubicon Project and what will continue to allow our team to win. The email below was sent by Frank (our CEO) over the holidays. The email is an embodiment of our cultural values. Wouldn’t you want to work for a company like this?

As for me, I’ve taken my $2,013 (look in Frank’s email) and donated it to the Student Conservation Association. By creating service projects for high school and college students in national parks, cultural landmarks and other green spaces, the SCA teaches young people important life skills while building the next generation of conservation leaders. The SCA gave me the privilege of working in three of our national parks. #payitforward

Best wishes for a fantastic 2013, Jay

Here is Frank’s email prefaced by our cultural values:


  1. Innovation:  We invest our thinking and resources into change that will propel the industry and company forward.
  2. Excellence:  We do things right, not always first.  If we can’t do it best, we won’t do it.
  3. Good People:  Pride drives us to win, respect and humility help us learn, and having fun celebrating our wins (big and small) keeps us energized.
  4. Competitive: We are driven to win and are highly competitive; externally not internally.
  5. Transparency: Knowledge is powerful.  Transparency keeps us honest.  We believe in the highest level of transparency possible with our team, investors, customers and partners.
  6. Active Communication: Communication makes or breaks relationships.  We will devote time and effort in making communication a priority.
  7. Accountability:  Personal accountability is the fuel that powers our overall system of accountability.
  8. Speed: We go fast but don’t hurry.
  9. Mistakes are OK: If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t moving fast enough.  Making mistakes is the key to innovating and learning.
  10. Test/Measure Everything:  What gets measured, gets done.  What gets tested, gets better.
  11. Community: We consider ourselves to be fortunate and believe in paying it forward to those in need.

From: Addante, Frank
Sent: Sunday, December 23, 2012 4:58 PM
To: everyone
Subject: Profit! = Bonus, Donation, Gift – Happy Holidays!
Importance: High

(warning, this is the longest email I have ever written.  thank you in advance for reading this on your holiday…)

Dear Rubicon Project Team, 


I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am to write this note.  I’m in Chicago with my family and today is the first day in a long time I’ve had to slow down, take a deep breath, reflect on the year and truly soak in a full appreciation for all that we accomplished together as a team.

I’m not going to go into detail on every one of our accomplishments in this email.  We’re a bit spoiled by our own successes, I go on to Yammer and it seems that every day we have multiple things to celebrate.  It’s a challenge in itself to keep up with all of the good news that is generated by all of your dedication and hard work.

Having said that, you know my philosophy for Rubicon success:

Great People innovate Great Products and great products attract Great Customers

It’s clear that we’ve made tremendous advancements in each of those categories.  There is no question that we have the BEST team, the BEST products and it’s proven by our customer roster and financial success.

2012 was a big, big year for us.  We accomplished something that no other independent company has, in our industry, at scale.  WE ARE PROFITABLE!  Let that soak in…  WE ARE PROFITABLE!  Not only have we achieved this important milestone, but we have done it with:

– massive revenue scale

– a pure-play tech, transparent business model

– low-margin fees

– continually making massive investments into our team, product and acquisitions

Profitability alone is a huge differentiator in our market.  That combined with the four points above make us elite.  Each of you should be very proud of this incredible accomplishment, but you should be admired for the way we did. We have always remained committed to doing the right kind of business in the right way.  It has taken a lot of discipline – and I’m so proud that we have also done it with an obsession for our long-term goals and a strong will to never cut corners.  I am filled with pride as I write this.

When our family picked up Allison and I up at the airport, they asked how I was doing and I told them that I couldn’t be happier.  I also told them that I needed to spend some time alone to write a note to my team to tell them how proud I was of them and thank them for making me the luckiest CEO in the world.

Through the years (and from some very direct people) I’ve learned that I have extremely high expectations, a low tolerance for inefficiency and very little patience.  I am almost never satisfied and always believe I (and by association) “we” can do better.  It’s rare that I am truly impressed and almost never satisfied.  I have to tell you, I am really, really impressed by what you have accomplished in 2012 and in the 5+ years since we have started the company.

This is truly a special company and it’s powered by a special team.

One of the reasons that I was excited to write this note is because of what being profitable enables us to do.  When I’m interviewing someone to join our team, the most important question that I ask them is “What does it mean to you personally if this company is successful?”  The responses usually range from pride in building something to money to career growth to learning…  Here’s my personal answer…

I have been very lucky to have built some very successful companies at a young age.  Many have told me that it’s been due to my own hard work and perseverance.  I think that’s part of it, but part of it is luck.  There are a lot of people in this world that work hard that haven’t had the same outcomes.  So, for me, i wanted to take all of that success and luck and pay it forward.  I wasn’t looking to start another “corporation” before I started Rubicon.  I was planning on taking all that I’ve learned in building great teams, products and companies and use those learnings to go build a non-profit charitable organization.  I hadn’t decided what that was, yet – but I knew I wanted to do something good for the world.  When I decided to start the Rubicon Project with Craig, Duc and Julie, I told them and our first investors that the following things were important to me:

1.  I needed to incorporate community and philanthropy into the company fabric

2.  I wanted to always put team first and build a culture that people admire

3.  I only want to build a business I am proud of – do it the “right” way, never cut any corners and always follow my gut instincts

We have been really good at all of these sometimes, sometimes we have lost focus on them…  But I can say with confidence that we have always been great at least one of them.  In 2013, I want to be great at all three.  It starts now.

I’d like to celebrate our big year and big milestone of profitability in the following ways.

1.  Give back to our team

2.  Give back to our community

3.  Invest in our culture

1.  Giving back to our team:  $2,013 bonus for everyone

– As a big THANK YOU for your hard work, commitment and loyalty – to celebrate our first big year of profitability – we are issuing a $2,013 bonus to everyone

– This couldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for each of your individual contributions and for each department and function of the company performing with near precision throughout the year — managing to plan and to budget in terms of revenue, expense and cash management.

2.  Giving back to our community:  1% of profits to charity

– when we formed the company, we made a commitment to give 1% of our operating profits to charity

– I’m personally very excited about this one because it’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for 5 years and we’re finally able to do it!

– here’s what we’re going to do:

A. I want to recognize and support EVERY ONE of the charities our team supports.  As such, half of our charity pool will be distributed equally to charities that each of you believe in.  (more details to come…)

B. The other half is going to go to a charity that is very very special to me, CASA

I’d like to explain to you why this organization is so important to me and why your contributions to this, through our profit proceeds, mean a lot to me…

CASA is a non-profit organization that serves abused and neglected foster children.  CASAs are volunteers who make a commitment of 2 years of their lives to serving 1 foster child at a time (yes, just one.)  It’s a very special organization – these foster children are dealt a bad deck of cards (physical abuse, sexual abuse, parents who are drug addicts, sometimes they’re babies left on door steps or in dumpsters.)  These children become wards of the court/state and are slung throughout the foster care system.  Basically, their “parents” are a judge who only has time to meet with them (in a court hearing) for only 6 minutes every 6 months, on average.  The children have social workers, lawyers, foster homes and foster parents that are constantly being swapped out and changed – the system is an absolute mess.  It’s so bad that a child passed away this year and the state refused to pay money to properly “dispose of his remains” let alone a proper funeral.  This child’s CASA pulled people together to raise money to give this child a proper funeral.  CASAs are the only consistent adult presence in these children’s lives and handle everything from their health care to education to ensuring they have proper food and housing.

I got to know CASA through my wife, Allison.  Philanthropy is very important to both of us – it’s one of the things that drew us together.  Allison left a very successful career in advertising and media to dedicate her life to philanthropy.  CASA is one of the organizations that she chose to be a full-time volunteer.  I shared with her that I really wanted to do more good for the world and it had been difficult for me with running a high-growth company.  I would often feel guilty if I didn’t dedicate all of my energy and attention to Rubicon.  I would also feel unfulfilled and guilty if I wasn’t giving back to those in need.  Allison and I came to an agreement that she would become a full-time volunteer so I could spend all of my energy on Rubicon.  It’s been a partnership that has not only been fulfilling for me but one that gives me extra motivation to work hard to make Rubicon a great success.

In 2011, CASA suddenly lost 100% of its government funding.  It was a potentially disastrous event.  After serving foster children for 34 years, these children were going to lose the only consistent thing they had going for them.  All of a sudden, CASA was like a fledgling startup all over again.  I joined the board because I saw it as my opportunity to take much of what I’ve learned and apply to a cause that was in real need.  The board stepped in, gave CASA the “seed” money it needed to rebuild.  I’m happy to say that starting from $0, the organization, through the passion of its staff, board and volunteers has not only rebuilt itself, but over that same period of time has also doubled the number of children it serves.  It’s truly an amazing story and I am so humbled to have been a part of it.  I’ve had the fortunate experience of seeing two organizations in 2012 accomplish what most could never have imagined.

When I started Rubicon, I dropped off all of the Boards (including one for a company I started) and advisory positions so that I could focus 100% on Rubicon.  I left space for a cause that I could truly believe in.  Now, 100% of my focus, attention and dedication goes to Rubicon and to CASA. I’m proud to be part of both.

With that said, I am humbled to say that CASA has chosen to honor Allison and I at their first-ever Gala  on May 1, 2013.  This “Evening of Dreams Gala” is an incredibly important event and milestone for CASA.  In part, it celebrates an important year for the cause and its mission to serve the 23,000 foster children in Los Angeles alone.  The event is hosted by Dax Shepherd at the Four Seasons Beverly Hill Wilshire Hotel.

More information here (website still being built):  http://casala.org/casa-of-los-angeles-first-annual-evening-of-dreams-gala/

2012 was an important milestone for the Rubicon Project and an important milestone for CASA.  As such, the other half of our charity pool is going to go to sponsor the CASA Gala.

We’ll be in the company of other recent supporters such as Disney, Mattel, Kaufmann and NBC.  Aside from this being a wonderful thing to be able to do for CASA, it will also help raise our visibility in our community – it’s a great opportunity to show how we’re using our financial strength to support our community.  One of our biggest challenges in 2013 is going to be recruiting A++ talent (almost 100 new team members in the plan) while keeping our cultural fabric strong.  I’m hoping that our show of commitment to CASA at this Gala which will host many business, technology and financial leaders – will help us attract other “good people” to join our team.

Allison and I have been big supporters of CASA, both with our personal time and financially.  We are so passionate about the cause and the dire position the organization has been in, that we dedicated our wedding this year to CASA and asked our guests to make donations to CASA in lieu of gifts.  Rubicon has also been a great supporter through donations of time for various needed skills, opening our office space up for training events, supporting the Glamour Gowns event and donation drives.  I’m excited, through this donation and through the Gala to merge two worlds that are very important and dear to me.

With our donation, we’ll also have two tables, seating 20 people.  I am looking forward to having 20 of you join me for this special event.  I’ll work with our Culture Committee to figure out a fair way to invite 20 (it’s a black tie event, so for those who may be wondering — yes, I will be wearing a suit and tie!)  🙂

3.  Investing in our culture:  Team Gift

– Team Gift:  We have a small gift for each of you to highlight one of our most important cultural values:  Communication.  We’re hoping to be able to get them in time to distribute at our first team meeting.  Until then, it’s a surprise!

– Rest and Relaxation:  As you know, we have committed to a mandatory shut down for U.S. operations the weeks of Christmas and 4th of July.  It’s important to me that everyone recharge.  In addition to you all deserving it, we all do our best work when we are less stressed.  This decision did not come lightly, we currently spend over $(xyz) a day to keep the company operating.  So, 5 or 6 additional days is a big financial commitment at our scale.

All in all, I’m happy that we are in the position that we are today.  Being profitable affords us more flexibility to invest in our team, culture and community in addition to innovation and technology…

All of the benefits and donations noted above to invest in our team, culture and community total over $1.5 Million!

A BIG THANK YOU to all of you for making this one of the best holiday seasons ever for me!

I can’t wait for 2013! It’s going to be an incredible year – our most ambitious plan ever to grow our team, culture, products, revenue and market share!  Driven to win.

Happy Holidays to You and Your Families!


P.S. – yes, this is public information – you are more than welcome to share…


the rubicon project

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