A ‘Made in India’ journey of a ‘Proud to be Indian’ brand, the InMobi story is one of ambition, innovation, and perseverance.
It was ambition that took the advertising technology giant to San Francisco for the launch of its flagship product, discovery platform Miip in early August this year, taking on bigger players like Google and Facebook. Ironically, there were rumours doing the rounds in early 2015 that Google was looking to buy InMobi.
But perseverance and the ability to dream bigger have been at the core of this unicorn’s story. As of 2015, InMobi is serving 8 billion advertisement requests per day.
It’s no wonder then that it is being called a disruptor in every aspect of its functioning.
InMobi’s three buckets
On a dreary afternoon, we caught up with InMobi Founder and CEO Naveen Tewari, and he told us what fuels this disruption.
The organisation breaks its thinking into three buckets. The first bucket deals with revenue generation. This takes up 60 per cent of their effort and 30 per cent mind share from an organisational point of view.
The second is what InMobi calls strategic bets. From a revenue perspective, this might be contributing 30 per cent, but from a mind share perspective, it takes up as much as 60 per cent. According to Naveen, a lot of executive time is invested in this bucket. Miip falls into this second bucket.
The last 10 per cent goes into something InMobi calls mood shots. Tewari explains that every idea that starts off as a strategic bet is born with a small team of thinkers exploring the feasibility of each idea.
Naveen measures success in moving these ideas to the next level of mind share investment while focussing on aligning them to a larger strategy, goal, and vision.
Small is the new big
“We have a notion that small is big. We strongly believe that the next growth curve will come for us if we are able to keep teams really small, independent, and self-sufficient with the ability to make independent decisions. So, let’s say a team of less than 10 people will do all the projects and make all the decisions. That is a big push from our side,” adds Naveen.
He further explains this saying that people once thought hierarchy was essential to control and manage situations. But in his view, young individuals today are going and creating their own companies. So, his goal is to recreate the experience for them here.
“People never leave for money; they leave when they don’t have autonomy. They leave when they cannot see progress and that they cannot make decisions,” believes Naveen.
Learnings from different markets
With Miip, InMobi became one of the few Indian technology companies of its stature to launch on a large scale in Silicon Valley.
As of now, the platform has officially launched in only three countries – India, the US, and China.
Naveen feels it is still too early to comment on how Miip is faring. He does however say that, “The initial rigour is very encouraging.”
Despite mobile being the only platform Miip operates on, the uptake numbers have been really solid in developing countries, while less so in developed countries. Naveen says:
“We haven’t found any massive differences in geographies, but rather small nuances of differences as to why Miip is successful in developing countries, as opposed to developed countries. For example, in developed countries, you can have mobile web and a bunch of similar offerings, but the markets in developing countries are focussed on apps. So Miip’s whole strategy is focused on apps in developing countries.”
But the firm is not looking at a newer market for the next six to ten months, according to this founder.
“We are being careful about every step we are taking towards either launching or taking the product to a new level. “
Miip’s larger vision
Naveen puts across a notion that every consumer wants Miip because it’s a user-first advertising platform. It’s more about discovery than just about showing consumers random stuff.
“We are really questioning the larger state of advertising and how advertising needs to happen. The current way people are bombarded with messages shouldn’t be how advertising is done. Rather, advertising should be so good that when it is not there, people start to miss it. They should be able to find value in advertising.”, he adds
While trying to change the construct of what advertising should be, Naveen says “Our bigger challenge is can we get consumers to love advertising?”
The year of the Chinese dragon
This year, Naveen was also seen trying to floor audiences in China with his Mandarin. So, has his Mandarin improved? He jokes saying it’s quite horrible.
But he leaves us with a few essential things to remember while trying to tame the dragon
- Break notions: When you get into China, one needs to do away with existing notions about the country. You cannot cloud yourself with that.
- Be very Chinese in your approach: The Chinese usually don’t send e-mails; they would rather use WeChat. Moreover, partnerships are struck over quick phone calls and the sales structure is very different. “You even give a percentage of the business as incentives, since they don’t work on originals,” adds Naveen.
- You need to be really fast and quick.
- From a global perspective, you really need to focus on your product. “Because a lot of companies in India are trying to win the market by deploying a lot more people on the ground while burning themselves badly. Capital and people have never won a business, at least never in the past,” says Naveen
- Chinese investors might be looking at India as China was seen 5-10 years ago. The same euphoria exists.
But will Miip ride India’s e-commerce wave?
InMobi soon realised that commerce in India will move to the mobile platform making it the third most important market for the firm.
“So, mobile commerce was a rather large factor. In India, it just coincided with e-commerce and m-commerce coming together, but globally it didn’t. So, the story started not because there was something happening in India, but the story was created that something was happening globally,” he says.
To this, we naively ask why India isn’t one of the top two revenue-generation markets for InMobi. Pat comes his response, “What is the size of the e-commerce market in India?”
Infrastructure continues to be a problem with connectivity and signals deserting phones in the busiest areas. So, how much of our potential would we have been able to tap if we didn’t have problems with our infrastructure?
“If the mobile infrastructure was better, you would have a very different level of entertainment consumption happening. So with everything getting delayed, people are getting delayed. As the infrastructure improves, the consumer will see a lot more movement in entertainment, health, education, videos; a far richer media fountain will get created,” says Tewari.
So what keeps Naveen Tewari awake at night? He summarises every founder’s nightmare by saying ‘good people leaving’.
Today, InMobi has over 950 employees in 24 offices across 17 locations globally.
But Naveen’s identity just doesn’t stop at InMobi. He is also an angel investor and a technology philanthropist. Having invested in his ex-colleague Atul Satija’s non-profit, Nudge Foundation, Naveen’s mantra for philanthropy is ‘Technology empowerment’.
Another fact people don’t know is how he founded a US-based non-profit India School Fund with 100 Harvard alumni to impart education in a village near Mathura.
In 2015, Naveen also angel invested almost $100,000 in nearly 25 startups like Zimber, Razorpay, Let’sVenture, and Innerchef. So, what does he look for in the entrepreneur of today?
“Today, the entrepreneur is trying to do things a little crazier and improving the world. The ability to improve the world is more important to me as against just trying to do the existing set of things, “ says Naveen.
He says that younger entrepreneurs aim much sharper and are much smarter than his peers were when they started, and are moving much faster because they are living in the mobile world.
He also believes that the talent in the market is much better.
As our meeting draws to an end, he is willing to give a piece of advice to young aspirants out there. This advice seems to be in sync with his experiences with InMobi.
“Focus on the product, since one will never win the battle through sales. While building your product, don’t refrain from thinking big and thinking global. “
And why not? Today, InMobi stands at a valuation of $3 billion, is one amongst eight unicorns in India, and a personification of the big dream any venture would like to see come true.
Below, we take a look at 2015, the year that was for InMobi: