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The InMobi story: how an Indian startup became a global mobile ad network


Founder and CEO of mobile ad network giant InMobi Naveen Tewari has come a long way. Tewari is an engineer by training, studied at Harvard Business School, and worked at consulting firm McKinsey. In between all that, Tewari also had some experience working in startups while he was in Silicon Valley.

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Entrepreneurs being entrepreneurs, Tewari was very fascinated with the rapidly changing mobile internet. He wanted to build something which he could call his own. Tewari and his team started to dabble and among their first few projects was a VOIP application and also a chat application. But it was too early for the market back then. So the team started to question, “What are the things that could work? Maybe there’s a play for us if we were to build a fundamental service?”

These fundamental services range from mobile e-payments to advertising platforms. Therefore, with more interest in the advertising side of the business, mKhoj was founded in 2007. The name was later rebranded to InMobi to suit the international audience better. Tewari said “Over the period of years, we started to see success. We decided to go broader and into different markets and not just stick only to Asia. That’s how we expanded.”

InMobi has had many turning points. Tewari pointed out three. The first was when the team decided to pivot when their chat application wasn’t gaining traction. “Pivoting really lead to the next level of growth for us,” he added.

The second one was when InMobi received funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB), a renowned global venture capital firm. The investment gave InMobi a lot of confidence to grow and compete globally. The vote of confidence from KPCB also helped InMobi attract more talent to join the team. The third turning point was when InMobi received US$200-million in funding from Softbank which really helped the company scale quickly in various markets.

“We have doubled or tripled down on technology,” explains Tewari. “We have built multiple platforms to go after the entire value chain of the ad business. We made acquisitions too to fill that up. We have also deepened our strengths in local markets – in the UK, Europe and launching ourselves in Korea, China, and Japan.”

“We’re one of the largest mobile ad networks in China”

Today, InMobi can call itself a global company. Outside of India, it has offices and operations in Australia, Taiwan, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Russia, Germany, China and more. Despite launching in China only in late 2011, Tewari says that InMobi is “one of the largest mobile ad networks in China.”

An InMobi China PR representative later said the company is seeing 400-million impressions a day, serving 30 000 applications in China. Tewari believes that by the end of 2013, InMobi will be the largest mobile ad network in the country. “We have aggressively invested into China,” says Tewari. “It’s a big market, we can’t just fiddle around with it. We don’t want to lose.”

InMobi has offices in Beijing and Shanghai with more than 50 people running its China operations. When looking for talent, Tewari says that hunger and passion are the key things he is looking for.

Growing from a startup to a multi-national corporation, InMobi faces challenges like any fast growing young company would too. Tewari said that as a young organization with little processes it was tough running a global operation with 25 offices while keeping one culture, one system, and communicating clearly with everyone. “As a company what we faced was to showcase and tell people that we have a great product,” says Tewari. Despite the problems, InMobi has a great reception around the world. Today, the company is close to reaching 700-million smartphone users globally. InMobi was also recently crowned by MIT Technology Review as one of the 50 most disruptive companies in the world. “People expect great products coming out of Silicon Valley, innovations coming out of Silicon Valley, and probably didn’t expect that innovation to come from an Indian company,” says Tewari.

This article by Willis Wee originally appeared on Tech in Asia, a Burn Media publishing partner.

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