Hagai Tal is the CEO of Plimus as well as a serial entrepreneur and active angel investor. He began his career with the Jerusalem Post, where he created their online presence and established their online business strategy during the late 1990s. He then was an early member of JDate.com before heading off to serve as an active angel investor and serial entrepreneur. Today he leads Plimus which offers companies a total service e-business platform. Plimus allows companies of all sizes to create online sales and affiliate partnerships through the Plimus e-commerce system and affiliate network.
Sramana: Hagai, let’s begin at the beginning of your story. Where do you come from?
Hagai Tal: I was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. I grew up attending normal schools prior to doing my mandatory military service. I earned my first degree in electronic engineering from Tel Aviv University and did my masters in England. After graduation I moved back to Israel and starting working for a communications company, which resulted in my taking a position with the Jerusalem Post. It used to be one of the Hollinger International newspapers. I arrived there in the late 1990s just as the Internet was getting started, and I was put in charge of the website for the Jerusalem Post. I was responsible for the business strategy for that portion of the business.
Through that newspaper I was exposed to the Web and various business models for Internet companies. I was also exposed to what was going on outside of the country with affiliate advertising programs and similar initiatives. We also used to sell the contents of our newspaper to relevant newspapers outside of Israel. One of the advertisers on the Jerusalem Post website was JDate.com, and through that relationship I got to know the founders of that company. They felt that I would be a good candidate to help them grow the business so they offered me a position with them, which I accepted.
I moved to L.A. to focus on growing JDate.com, and I was able to use my connections in the Jewish market to help establish that business. At the same time we also started to buy other dating sites, leveraging the JDate.com brand. We ended up having a portfolio of 30 different dating sites. The company went public in Frankfurt and then later moved to the NASDAQ. I was fortunately enough to be with that company from its early days up to the point where it had 250 employees. I enjoyed the process of taking that small company into a large company. I ran the online and affiliate marketing programs, essentially anything related to new business opportunities, including product evolution that was attached to new income.
I was so emotionally attached to the company that I was willing to change my last name to JDate if I needed to! It was a great business category to be in, and I met a lot of people who thanked me for being a part of something that changed their lives. In the beginning, the online dating category had a lot of skeptics. I think in part to our work we legitimized the category and made it a valuable resource for people to use to find new relationships. Today it is a respectable business category to be involved with.
I left that company in 2005 and moved back to Israel, where I made my first mistake and worked for a VC for four months. I quickly realized that working for a VC was not for me. For the next three years I personally invested in 11 different startup companies. My approach was to put money into the companies and then work in the company for three to six months to help them get going. Some of the companies had good stories, some had bad stories. Two of them now have Sequoia and Greylock Ventures as their partners.