Tumblr Taps Vice Media’s Cavel Khan as Its New Chief Revenue Officer

He also boasts significant experience with Twitter, Microsoft

cavel khan
Cavel Khan is Tumblr's first CRO since 2015. Tumblr

Key insight:

Tumblr has a new chief revenue officer for the first time in years.

Cavel Khan joins the company in the role after serving as Vice Media’s senior vice president of client partnerships for North America. He started at Tumblr this week.

Khan had been with Vice since February 2019, following a little over five years at Twitter, where he was senior manager of client partnerships. Prior to that, he spent more than eight years at Microsoft in various roles, ending his tenure there as senior account executive.

At Tumblr, he will oversee global sales and sales strategy across the company, building and leading a fully verticalized organization including direct and programmatic sales, operations, research, development and supporting functions.

Khan will be based in New York and report to CEO Jeff D’Onofrio, who told Adweek that this will be Tumblr’s first CRO after its sales team was centralized into that of then-parent company Yahoo in early 2015.

D’Onofrio added that the search for a new CRO began in earnest in January, and bringing on Khan represents “our opportunity to get back into the market, do it independently and work with brands that recognize the value of good creative and a highly engaged younger audience. Combining those two is a real powerful proposition.”

Khan said in an interview that the move to Tumblr was a “pretty exciting opportunity,” citing the potential of a “super-engaged audience” on the platform, combined with parent company Automattic’s other holdings including Crowdsignal, WooCommerce and WordPress.

While it still hosts 500 million blogs and hundreds of billions of posts, Tumblr’s salad days came in the early part of last decade, when it was mentioned alongside social platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, enticing Yahoo to spend $1.1 billion to acquire the microblogging platform in May 2013.

Then-Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer said at the time, “We promise not to screw it up,” but the marriage never really bore fruit, despite initiatives such as enabling users to monetize their blogs and adding affiliate links via VigLink, both implemented in 2016.

Automattic agreed to acquire Tumblr last August, with the deal closing at the end of September.

Things have been in high gear under the new parent company, with D’Onofrio saying that Tumblr introduced its own ad server and supply-side platform earlier this year, enabling it to combine programmatic, its private marketplace and direct ad sales.

Tumblr also began using Automattic’s data center earlier this year, putting a footprint in place that led to cost savings, and D’Onofrio said the platform is receiving “more support on trust and safety than we ever had before.”

D’Onofrio cited entertainment and gaming as strong areas for advertising on Tumblr, saying of the former that the “rise of streaming platforms and their ability to reach audiences at home, on mobile, anywhere with entertainment offerings—those are folks that we’re certainly talking with and would like to do more business with.”

He also pointed to the strong gaming community and fandom base on Tumblr.

“That fandom that exists on Tumblr doesn’t exist anywhere else in that same way,” Khan said. “We’re building a culture for brands, not just selling ad products. Advertisers want to connect authentically. Brands want to be in the places where that audience is spending time and deeply engaged.”

D’Onofrio and Khan both noted the opportunity in Tumblr’s Creatrs Network, which launched in 2015 under director and head of creative strategy David Hayes. This internal agency matches creators on the platform with brands looking to create campaigns. At one point, it represented 35% of Tumblr’s revenue, D’Onofrio said.

Hayes, Khan and D’Onofrio plan to ramp up offerings at Creatrs Network, with the latter calling it a “secret weapon for us that we want to continue to lean into. We are excited about getting that rolling again in earnest.”

Creatrs Network isn’t the only thing Khan is excited about.

“A lot of learning will be taking place in 2020,” he said. “As we look toward 2021, it’s about putting the team in place slowly and in an effective way. Brands are going to be pleasantly surprised as we scale into 2021 and build this integrated program out.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.