Startup Mafias

Travis May
3 min readMay 14, 2024

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Acxiom acquiring LiveRamp. In retrospect, while there’s so much of the journey I remember fondly, the part of the journey I’m most proud of is the incredible alumni network: today, there’s still a tight network of ex-LiveRampers building thriving businesses. More than half of the first 40 employees are CEOs of startups or executives at larger companies.

Included in the LiveRamp alumni are founders, CEOs, and key executives of a collective ~$25 billion of market cap: Airbyte (founder/CEO), Above Data (founder/CEO), Arbital Health (CCO), Cloudinary (CCO), Cred (founder/CEO), Datavant (founder/fmr CEO), Deduce (founder/CEO), Demandbase (CFO), Estuary (founder/CEO), Fabius (founder/CEO), Facet Wealth (founder/CEO), Fermat (founder/ceo), Fractional AI (founders/ceo & cto), Guild (CFO), Integral (founder/CEO), Magic Patterns (founder/CEO), Medallion (CTO), Nielsen (CFO), Olo (CCO), Orchid (CTO), Peerwell (founder/CEO), Portable (founder/CEO), Rippling (GC), Rubrik (Chief Product Officer), Safegraph (founder/CEO), Shaper Capital (founder/CEO), Superhuman (co-founder), Ternary (founder/ceo), TravelJoy (founder/CEO & cto), Windfall Data (founder/COO), Zapier (Chief People Officer), and Zendrive (founder/ceo). [And let me know who I missed!]

And — even a decade later — there are still several execs in key roles at LiveRamp who joined in the early days.

Five years ago, Auren Hoffman wrote a post about startup alumni networks and his hypothesis on why LiveRamp’s Mafia has been successful. Like PayPal, his view was that great startup mafias come when:

“(1) the company had a successful outcome but not crazy successful; (2) the company went through a bunch of trying times (and almost went out of business); and (3) the employees built a company that was super enduring and even prospered post-exit.”

I think this is definitely true for LiveRamp. A few other factors that I think have driven the success:

  • Extremely high talent density. We hired generalist talent really well across teams — and the median employee was extremely talented. So it’s not shocking from this perspective that they have been successful since.
  • Extremely high entrepreneurial density. One of the traits we hired for was ability to handle ambiguity, and being a general self-starter. Again, not shocking that this team has been successful since.
  • Opportunities for massive personal growth within the company. Many employees had exponential moments of personal growth within LiveRamp, because i) LiveRamp grew exponentially and ii) it biased towards promoting from within. So many people learned to take on stretch positions and skyrocketed in the responsibility they could handle.
  • A tight-knit community. Many LiveRamp alumni are still in close touch and many close friendships were forged within the company — which has helped build a strong network where there is a lot of co-investment, joint brainstorming, and teaming up that happens between former LiveRampers.
  • No massive talent exodus post-exit. Many great people from the early days are still at LiveRamp, and departures happened very gradually over the last decade. That means that when people ultimately left, they left for a great opportunity — rather than a moment where they felt they needed to leave.

It turns out that many of the traits that made LiveRamp a great company have also made it a great alumni network. It’s amazing to see what this team has accomplished in the last decade, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the decade ahead.

LiveRamp’s office in 667 Mission St., circa 2014.

Update: And Auren Hoffman just wrote a great reflection today on lessons from LiveRamp, here.

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Travis May

Entrepreneur, Investor, and Board Member. Founder & Fmr CEO of LiveRamp and Datavant.