Playful PlayBuzz

The fun and funky Internet quiz site has surpassed sites like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post in popularity and user retention.

Playbuzz founder Shaul Olmert (photo credit: Courtesy)
Playbuzz founder Shaul Olmert
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Not only is Playbuzz – the quiz-based, contemporary culture website – a success story, it is a phenomenal one to be exact.
In a relatively short period of time it has become the application that wins most shares on Facebook – about 9 million a month – which is more than those of the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Fox News and NBC News put together.
Headed by Shaul Olmert, PlayBuzz offers a successful platform for advertisers to adjust their content to the form in which it is generally consumed nowadays.
Contemporary technology – smartphones, tablets and fast and convenient Internet access at all points around the world – has created a multi-tasking generation.
Today’s global citizens, from different and diverse age groups, consume information anywhere and at all times. What Play- Buzz did was design a platform that handles various types and forms of content and converts it to formats such as online quizzes, comic strips and Top Ten lists.
PlayBuzz cooperates with the largest advertising bodies in the world: MTV, The Daily Telegraph, Seventeen magazine, AOL, Fox and many others.
The company
In conversation with Olmert, he opens up about his obsession with creating content-based games. This began when he worked for MTV, where he created content-based games surrounding pop-culture events. The platform works best with short forms of text that users are consuming on smartphones.
Yet critics say that without in-depth articles, users are instead settling for superficial reading, never going beyond the headlines.
Olmert cites statistics that show that 24 percent of users read headlines of an item and abruptly move on to the next item. That 78% of users read only what appears directly in front of their eyes, and don’t bother to scroll down and just 22% actually finish reading the item.
But on the other hand, PlayBuzz has published data which shows that 93% of readers using their product reach the end of an item.
The entrepreneur
Olmert, 39, founded PlayBuzz in 2012 together with Tom Pachys. Having raised an initial $800,000, the company became profitable quickly, within 18 months, and employs almost 30 people in its Tel Aviv offices. Last July, it reported raising $3 million, led by Carmel Ventures – a venture capital fund that is part of the Viola Group.
The goal of their current funding round, according to Olmert, is to provide for long-term financial stability, allowing the company to rapidly expand to other markets.
The Jerusalem-born Olmert did not follow the common path of Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs: he did not study a technical subject, and did not serve in a technological unit in the IDF. Expressing himself eloquently, he explains that he studied media design in Germany and later at New York University; he then worked at MTV and for six months at Conduit, an Israeli publisher and networking platform; a short period that was not a wild success, and which Olmert marks as a kind of failure.
Olmert doesn’t look back on his “failure” in the conventional sense – that a failure of a person or company indicates their future credentials – instead he cites the cliche, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
The turning point
PlayBuzz has gone through many metamorphoses since its beginnings. The initial idea was to create a fun and interactive way for users to play games that also allows them to become informed of current events. At MTV, Olmert recounts, the goal was to get people to connect to information through a moving gaming experience.
One thing that hasn’t changed over time is PlayBuzz’s goal in establishing a B2B platform that could be used by content suppliers and advertisers, and adjust it to fit to any form of content consumption existing on the market today.
The company cooperates with thousands of advertisers using four to five of its virtual tools; it is focused on expanding its activities with the advertisers and creating more tools to better suit their needs.
Their advantage, says Olmert, is in providing advertisers with the tools to create gaming experiences for their clientele; in place of generating content for advertisers, it equips them with assimilation possibilities for different social networks and devices, including support in 17 languages.
As of today, PlayBuzz has no major competitors in the market – yet it is likely to face some competition in the future.
What has made PlayBuzz a huge success? Its website has become a database for all of this advertising content, which anyone can access – increasing content circulation, a feature that very much interests advertisers. This is accomplished via a clause in the connection contract with clients, specifying that content uploaded to the company’s website can be used by PlayBuzz without the need for reimbursement.
And so PlayBuzz has shot forward, with over 80 million discrete users per month, which in turn enabled the product to be monetized. The company quickly became the 20th most popular website online, with a limited staff of only six people.
PlayBuzz’s tools demand the involvement of advertisers in the process, which cannot be replaced by bots or a certain algorithm capable of generating quality content. This process is a hindrance to many start-ups – and though they may develop very efficient tools that provide advertisers with many options, they also require the manpower to operate them. In PlayBuzz’s case, there seems to be no problem in this regard.
The competition
It has been claimed in several reports that PlayBuzz engages in activities similar to those of BuzzFeed, a large, wildly successful media outlet.
However, this owes to a basic misunderstanding of both companies’ activities – as BuzzFeed, unlike PlayBuzz, specializes in content generation.
Olmert stresses that any notion of competition between PlayBuzz and BuzzFeed is mere fiction. Indeed, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has written to Olmert and urged him to continue doing what he does best.
Olmert has big plans to become the unchallenged king of content and the largest online advertiser; he doesn’t seem concerned about which platform advertisers eventually choose to use. The goal of his company is a commitment to improving its existing products, as well as to creating new ones.
Several initial contacts and offers were made to purchase the company, but thus far have been put on hold. According to Olmert, the company’s objective at the moment is to focus on its product – and in doing so, hopefully increase its future worth.
Personal considerations
Olmert – the son of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was recently sentenced to jail time – feels uncomfortable discussing his father.
As far as he’s concerned, Ehud is only father he has – so the question “How does it feel to be his son?” is redundant. When asked if being his son has affected his career in any way, Olmert doesn’t respond.
Yet one can assume that it did help him to an extent, such as in establishing early contact with advertisers. But connections will get you only so far; without a good idea at the right time, and the right team, plenty of talent and some luck, success won’t simply come knocking on your door.
The new year of 2015 is foreseen to be the year of content.
Good content is becoming a standard for every platform. In one instance affecting billions, changes in content were announced by Facebook, relating to real content of actual value to users.
Indeed, the need to adjust content to consumers and the tools through which they are exposed to it should be taken under consideration by every worthy advertiser.
The question as to whether this form of content impairs our ability to approach it in detail is a theoretical debate that is doomed to fail. Digital content will appear and be consumed in this form for, at the very least, the near future. It is important for written content and the technology which links it to its digital form create the tools that will enable consumers to learn about it in more depth, if they so desire.
PlayBuzz proves that the Israeli hi-tech industry does not draw its strength solely from advances in software, but also has room for the highest standards of content development and products.
Hi-tech and its start-up arena have long left infancy behind. We witness almost daily evidence for its mature and self-assured conduct; of companies that are not quick to sell their products, but believe in them and are able to cope with competition coming from well-established companies the world over.
In addition to Outbrain, Tabula, Wix and others, Israel’s outstanding start-ups are marching forward with confidence, towards becoming companies worth billions.