Homegrown mobile advertising firm InMobi is taking on giants like Google, Facebook and Apple – and thriving
Microsoft, the software giant, is likely to take over inMobi, the Bengaluru-based mobile advertising company in the coming times, which can turn into Microsoft’s very first acquisition of a city firm. A top client of inMobi, Microsoft plans to expand their mobile presence and there is nothing better than gaining insights from inMobi, a company which primarily deals in the mobile aspect of advertising. Microsoft’s acquisition could bring about a massive change and growth in the company. “As of now we haven’t received any official email or announcement by our founders but it seems like talks with Microsoft are pretty serious and that would make a huge difference to the company and also the employees”, an inMobi employee said to Bangalore Mirror. Here is a throwback of our story about the stupendous rise of Naveen Tiwari and inMobi in the digital world.
Talk to Naveen Tewari for some time and there is a feeling that you are back with filmmaker Manoj ‘Bharat’ Kumar in his heyday. For nobility and patriotism somehow end up creeping into every other sentence of his. Sample this: “After I became an entrepreneur, I realized that I loved creating and disrupting things and that I had also got the privilege of doing something far deeper and meaningful for my country, India.”
The Founder & Chief Executive Officer of InMobi, a data-driven mobile advertising network with funding from Japan’s Soft Bank, Sherpalo and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is talking about challenges and how he overcomes them. “Entrepreneurship is synonymous to challenges. The only thing you can do is to work hard and overcome each challenge one by one,” he says. “You would fail at some and succeed at a few – but just keep going.”
And fail he did – once, right in the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey. The IIT Kanpur (Class of 2000) and Harvard Business School (Class of 2005) alumnus had started his career at McKinsey & Co as a Business Analyst before moving on to River Ventures (CRV), a VC firm, as an Associate. In the summer of 2007, he called his friend Abhay Singhal (IIT Kanpur) to meet him and by the end of the night they decided to do business together. They got two more pals, Amit Gupta (IIT Kanpur) and Mohit Saxena (IIT Roorkee), on board.
Tewari, 36, hails from a family of academicians. His grandmother was the first ever lady professor across all IITs. His father was a professor and dean at IIT and his uncle is currently a professor at IIT. “I think I was the black sheep in the sense I did not pick the so-called family occupation but instead followed my dream of entrepreneurship,” laughs Tewari.
“The four of us cracked our first idea at a small Mumbai roadside restaurant which then doubled up as our cafeteria and conference room,” he remembers fondly. That is when mKhoj – their SMS-based deal search engine – was born. It attracted $50,000 worth of investments from Mumbai Angels. But they had to shut it down by the end of the year and they decided to pivot their business. “It was the start of InMobi – something far bigger.”
InMobi acts as a link between online publishers (or content creators) and advertisers. To cite examples, the publishers could be company websites, merchant firms, blogs, brands, game makers or app developers. Tewari expands on his company’s revenue models: “Basically, we help people deliver the right advertisement to the right person, at the right time. For example, we help gaming developers in a big way to acquire millions of users and work with leading brands to help them find the right audience to tell their brand story. Apart from Miip, our revolutionary discovery platform, we also have other basic formats in place which includes banners, interstitial and interactive ads.”
Advertisers learn a lot about customers’ buying habits through InMobi. This is done by sifting through data that users constantly generate. InMobi’s prowess comes in handy with its technical expertise as well as its large network of operation centres. In all, 43 per cent of the mobile devices on InMobi’s network are located in North America and Western Europe. The Asia Pacific market accounts for 38 per cent, then Latin America with 10 per cent. The leading app categories are entertainment (36 per cent), games (27 per cent), news and lifestyle (24 per cent), and social and messaging (13 per cent).
Tewari and his team make their money by charging both, the developers and the advertisers, for their “matchmaking services”. These services are provided through 17 international offices that transact a whopping 138 billion ad impressions every month. Bangalore-headquartered InMobi boasts of a billion monthly active users. Along the way, it has also bought over mobile technology companies like Metaflow Solutions, Sprout, Overlay Media and MMTG Labs. InMobi which has 900 employees has crossed revenue of Rs 1,300 crore, according to one estimate. Today, among the big names on its client list are giants like Microsoft, Macy’s, Adidas and Yamaha. It was recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the 50 Most Disruptive Companies in the world, and is one of the largest mobile advertising companies globally. Among its main competitors are Google, AirPush, Apple, Millennial Media, Twitter, Acxiom, MoPub, Yahoo, Harte Hanks and now increasingly, Facebook.
Google somehow always intrudes into every other conversation with Tewari – after all, he is competing head-on with a global giant in the business. “One mistake that start-ups tend to make is that they get satisfied after reaching their goal. Entrepreneurship is all about never stopping,” elucidates Tewari in his typical philosophical manner.
“We lock horns with our completion on the very foundation of our constant innovation and disruption which keeps us multiyears ahead of them.” Every now and then, the pink papers are abuzz with news of Google planning to buy out the eight-year-old Indian firm. “We are not up for sale,” clarifies Tewari. “We are just getting started and have a long way ahead of us full of innovation and disruption.”
The founder and three co-founders have been friends since their college days and Tewari attributes the rapport between them as a major reason towards the success of InMobi. “When we failed and pivoted our business from mKhoj to InMobi or when we did not get any trained people to be hired with the required skill-sets as we were the first in the industry, and on many such instances in ourjourney – everyday we wanted to give up,” he wrote recently in the Economic Times. “But it was the power of four that kept us going. Whenever one of us was on a downward spiral, the other three used to make him believe in the then seemingly impossible goal and set him get going.”
Each of the co-founders brings a special skill set to the business. Singhal is the Chief Revenue Officer who concurrently handles global HR. He also helped in building InMobi’s Europe business for two years. As President, North America, Gupta helped InMobi in expanding its footprint to multiple markets across five continents. And Saxena is the Chief Technology Officer whom the founder calls “the very backbone of our business.” Apart from his co-founders, Tewari also some very good things to say about his father, Steve Jobs and Jack Ma (of Alibaba), all of whom he calls his “biggest inspirations”.
He acknowledges having “huge respect for maestros like Nandan Nilekani” and adds, “Bangalore, in fact the whole of India, is full of amazing entrepreneurs who have made it big or are in the process of making their mark and are yet so rooted and humble. You can just walk up to them wherever you see them somewhere and they will hang out with you like buddies. I look up to such people because you get to learn so much from them.”
A finely-tuned top-management team apart, Tewari says the company’s culture has also helped it to grow fast. “Culture is like a wind which is always present. You might not be able to see it but you can always feel it strongly. So the choice is between letting an unconscious culture crop up like weeds and consciously creating a culture we truly love. We chose the latter and lovingly call it YaWiO which means Imagination, Oneness, and Action.”
Having firmly established his company, Tewari now wants to help reduce the learning curve of other start-ups as they build themselves up. “In that process of sharing, we are sure we would learn a lot with their inputs and together we would take our nation to a different level, where a lot of new companies would create a culture which young India would be crazy to be a part of.” Aah… the Manoj Kumar touch again.