Conduit Turns Toolbar Riches Into Massive Dividend

By Erin Griffith , written on September 14, 2012

From The News Desk

It's safe to say that Israeli internet company Conduit is flush with cash--last year it made a reported $200 million in profits on $500 million in revenue. The money is plentiful enough that the company today announced it will deliver a dividend payment to shareholders worth between $220 million and $320 million. This is a rare move for a venture-backed company, but then again, Conduit's shareholder structure is somewhat rare.

Each of its 400 employees, from CEO down to security gaurds, own equity. Employees make up the second-largest stakeholder in the company, owning a whopping 22 percent of its shares. Israeli startups are often accused of selling too early; Conduit is a rare example of one that's stuck it out, and the first to achieve a $1 billion valuation. As a result of its ambitious decision to go for broke rather than sell out early, the company is rewarding its employees with a payday.

It's not Conduit's first dividend, but it is by far the largest. Last year the company offered shareholders a $50 million dividend, which did not extend to employees without vested shares. This time around, even employees whose shares haven't vested will receive some sort of compensation, according to Sharon Reisner, the company's director of marketing. The price tag is also higher, so many employees will profit on the deal because the exercise prices on their equity is below the dividend price. The sales come in the form of a "co-sale," which allows shareholders to sell a piece of their holdings without leaving the company.

In the spring, JP Morgan bought a 7.3 percent, $100 million stake from Yozma, a shareholder that had previously netted a 200x return selling a smaller chunk of its holdings. The deal valued the company at $1.3 billion. (The company also raised an $8 million Series B round of funding from Benchmark Capital in 2008.)

Conduit earns revenue from the likes of Bing and Google via its search toolbar, which has been installed on more than 260,000 sites Israel. It's a somewhat passive form of income, and it doesn't hurt that the toolbars are difficult to uninstall. But the company isn't planning to retire and count its piles of money--it is reinvesting some of that cash into new engagement tools for publishers. The company bought a footer toolbar called Wibiya for $45 million last year, launched a slow-to-take smartphone app, and has plans for a new consumer web product in early 2013.