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[Interview] InMobi CEO Talks Strategy, China, and GMIC2012 With MobiSights

Naveen Tewari CEO InMobi

Interview: Naveen Tewari, CEO of InMobi

Naveen Tewari, CEO of InMobi, will be speaking at GMIC 2012 this year which has us excited.  I had the chance last week to ask Mr. Tewari some questions about himself, InMobi, and what he is expecting to see here in China.  If his responses here are a prelude, interviewing him on stage at GMIC should be quite insightful in regards to the industry’s current situation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and InMobi.

My professional journey started with McKinsey & Company where I worked on developing the go-to-market strategy for a large Indian conglomerate, as it entered the telecom sector. Later, I joined Charles River Ventures (CRV), a top tier VC firm focusing on early stage investing in software and communications. I have also worked briefly with a mobile VoIP startup in Silicon Valley. I am the Founder and Chairman of a US based non-profit organization, India School Fund, which has been formed to set up schools in rural India.

I founded InMobi in 2007 with the support of a few close friends. Since our inception in the Asia-Pacific region, InMobi has grown to become the world’s largest independent ad network reaching out to 578 Million consumers, in over 165 countries, through more than 93.4 Billion mobile ad impressions monthly.

How did InMobi get its start?

InMobi is what you could call a ‘Plan B’ success story. After the lacklustre performance of a mobile search business in India in 2006, we shook off the setback, revamped our business plan, and focused on the nascent gold mine that was mobile advertising. We also chose a more challenging path: Instead of establishing presence in the crowded markets of US and Europe, we embarked on a contrarian strategy targeting emerging markets in Asia and Africa.

Six years later, Plan B has paid off. Together with InMobi’s co-founders Abhay Singhal and Amit Gupta and our growing global team we’ve successfully turned InMobi into the second largest mobile advertising company in the world.  With offices on five continents, and over 400 employees, InMobi’s network continues to grow across markets.

We recently acquired US-based Sprout, a leading platform for creating mobile HTML5 rich media advertising, and secured a hefty US$200 million investment from Japanese media and telecom conglomerate, SoftBank.

InMobi’s growth, in market share and geographical reach is astounding, what do you contribute to this success?

Six key factors have led to our success and we believe also provide a roadmap to all entrepreneurs today.

a)     Take Risks: In less than one year, InMobi tried and failed with two business models before finding the winning strategy for the business now in place today.

b)     Think Global: Rather than attacking one market as most businesses do, InMobi focused early on multiple markets and was able to capitalize quickly when opportunity arose.

c)      Think Different: InMobi’s reverse market strategy was crucial to success.  Rather than battling multiple competitors in the crowded US market, InMobi scaled in Asia and Africa with less competition and entered the US and EU markets with a global competitive advantage.

d)     Hire Smart, Empower Fast: Hire the best talent across the globe and empower them to make decisions. True local knowledge makes a difference.

e)      Build a Stable, Scalable Quality Product: Focus on building a global quality product from India that can scale. Easy to say – very hard to do.  Most companies make the mistake of placing early sales ahead of long-term product.  This balance is crucial.

f)        Fail Early, Fail Often, Correct Faster:  Mistakes lead to learning. In the early days, you need these in lessons in abundance to find the best path. These early fast failures have InMobi poised to move past $100M in revenue in the next year.  Making mistakes at this stage is much harder to deal with, so young small start-ups need to maximize their time in this phase to fail and learn. But the key is to correct these mistakes faster.

Now that InMobi has offices in China, do you believe the strategy you’ve used in other parts of the world will translate over to the Chinese market?

The basic principles will remain the same. Unlike many Western companies, we have never believed in entering new markets with very strong preconceived points of view. Being based out of India and as one of the first digital media companies out of Asia, we don’t look at expansion with a rigid mindset. Our biggest strength has been our willingness to learn about every new market right from the basics. We have an excellent product so we look at how best we can customize it to the needs of the local consumers. We’re focused on investing in a strong leadership team that brings valuable local experience and dependable insight into the marketplace.

Following up on that last question, how has your experience been in China so far?  Do you have any insights for others that are looking to do the same?

We have seen 33% growth in the market over the past three months alone. The key is to know the market and your consumers. We are very invested in studying consumer patterns and mapping market growth. InMobi served over five billion mobile ad impressions on its network in China in Q1 2012. 98% of these impressions were served on smartphones – a testament to the mobile savvy local consumer base. Over half of these impressions (58.9%) were served on the iOS platform with Android devices catching up quickly with 36.9% market share.

Our consumer research shows that the average mobile web user in China consumes over five hours of media daily and mobile devices represent 34% of this time. This is more than time spent on watching TV and at par with time spent on traditional online. This time spent is dominated by activities such as entertainment, gaming, social media and search. What is also important to note is that one in two mobile web users in China are either equally or more comfortable with mobile advertising vs TV or online ads. This finding alone highlights the tremendous acceptance of the medium by local users and the resulting opportunity for brands to engage their audiences on this ubiquitous platform.

You will be one of the featured speakers at GMIC 2012, what about GMIC attracted you to this particular conference over the multitude of others?

As a growing company, it is critical for us to have a share of voice on key industry platforms that provide an opportunity to both share our expertise as well as learn from some of the brightest minds in the industry. Over the last three years, GMIC has brought together a stellar line up of industry experts to discuss the most cutting edge developments in the mobile Internet space. With China being a key growth market for us, it was a no brainer to be part of this important industry forum and take the opportunity to absorb the unique perspectives of industry leaders and influencers.

Can we expect any interesting news from you at GMIC 2012?

We are going to share our view of the future of mobile advertising from a creative, targeting and analytics standpoint. InMobi has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in our product and technology. As consumers continue to opt for smarter devices, we’re seeing extraordinary innovations in interactive mobile messaging that are specifically targeted to relevant audiences. We at InMobi are always working towards being a valuable contributor to these innovations, be it through our strategic partnerships with industry leaders or our progressive products. We are also firm believers in sharing our industry knowledge and consumer insights to ensure that brands can measure and increase the impact of their mobile campaigns while respecting the rights of consumers.

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