CEO Tewari Sees 3-5X Revenue Growth For InMobi Mobile Ad Network In The Next Year

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InMobiNaveen Tewari is CEO and Founder of InMobi, a mobile advertising network.

AdExchanger.com: InMobi purchased Sprout last year of course. How important is rich media to successful mobile campaigns today? Can an advertiser have a successful mobile campaign without rich media?

NT: The importance of rich media is mostly determined by the objectives of the campaign.  Obviously for bigger brands with multimedia advertising strategies, the role of mobile is defined by the new dimension of interaction it brings.  To fully capitalize on mobile for these types of brands, rich media is a must have for at least part of the media plan.

This realization led to our purchase of Sprout.  That said  - performance banners will always be critical for reach and frequency impact and will always be important to pure performance advertisers such as developers.

What is your thinking around brand "awareness" dollars and mobile? Is there such a thing or is it all about direct response for the forseeable future?

It's both for sure and it all depends on the objectives of the advertiser. Coke will want engaging rich media experiences and will pay CPM. The next Angry Birds will want performance advertising and pay CPC. Clearly, InMobi built itself as a performance network between 2008 and 2010.  While performance advertising continues to grow and will always be 70% to 80% of the impression volume on any network, 2011 has seen a rapid transformation from performance to "brand engagement" advertising. Just to give you a sense of the pace of that shift, by the end of 2010, InMobi had about 50 Fortune 1000 advertisers running in the first 3 years of its existence.  In just a few months in 2011, we have seen that number increase 5x to 250 and we are not even into Q4 yet.

A final point on this question. I don't think "awareness" defines mobile brand advertising well.  With the interactive and social nature of smart devices and the amazing creative Sprout can produce, Mobile is best described as "Brand Engagement" advertising.  Consumers will still often interact, but brands will still see value in pure branding for those consumers who do not engage with the ads.

Thinking back to your early days at InMobi, did you ever imagine raising a round of $200 million for your ad network InMobi as you did with Softbank? And, when did you realize it was feasible and the right, next move?

I will answer this question on behalf of myself my co-founders Amit Gupta and Abhay Singhal who co-founded InMobi with me.

One imagines, or dreams, of many things as an entrepreneur. You have a vision always and no one, no matter what people say, gets "lucky" in the purest sense of the word. A great quote I heard once and always remember is "Luck is that place where preparation meets opportunity". Not even sure who said it, but that concept defines the InMobi journey.

What is so amazing about our ride here at InMobi is how quickly it is all happening. Not so long ago - only 4 years - we had little money, a powerpoint pitch, and a meeting with Ram Shiaram of Sherpalo Partners. At that point in 2007 my dream was to get the $500K to keep our vision alive. Then, as we saw signs of early success, to get $8 Mn from KPCB to grow our vision. It keep moving forward with new people joining, amazing leadership in the US and beyond who shared the vision, and more investment as needed. When did I realize it was feasible and necessary to raise $200 Mn? I realized it once I knew that what once felt like "mine" had fully transitioned to "ours" with 350 A+ people in the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Essentially I realized we had the global footprint, the talent, and the shared vision to compete globally with Apple and Google as a Tier 1 player.

Over the next year, what are some of the milestones you'd like to achieve with the Softbank investment?

We want 3x to 5x revenue growth in the next 12 to 15 months. We will achieve that in a few ways. First and foremost by expanding our role in the mobile ecosystem from "ad network" to an integral part of the mobile ecosystem globally. This includes successful deployment of Sprout's HMTL5 Rich Media technology making mobile ad creation easy and accessible to all. We also want our in-app mobile payments platform SmartPay to define InMobi as a "one-stop" shop for developers. We need to triple our staffing with top talent in all functions to go much deeper in key markets - especially the US and Europe. We need to successfully penetrate new markets such as Korea and China. Finally we need to find key technologies that are complimentary to our existing product, buy them, integrate them successfully, and scale them like we are doing with Sprout and SmartPay.

Of the $200 million, how much will be used to buy stock from existing investors and insiders?

I cannot provide much detail, but I can tell you the money is 100% committed to growing the business. Also this is guaranteed investment with $100 Mn now and $100 Mn in April 2012.

InMobi appears well-positioned in many countries outside the U.S. But, what are your plans for addressing the U.S. market in particular?  Is it a priority?

The US market is our #1 priority - make no mistake about it.  We are looking to hire at least 100 to 150 people in the US alone in the next 3 to 6 months mostly in sales and business development, but also in product and engineering.  Also you should know that although we entered the US marker late relative to competition, this was a strategic decision based on the level of competition relative to the pace of market growth and spending among advertisers.  We believe this strategy has worked amazingly well.  We now have a global footprint and revenue base that allowed us to raise $200 Mn and invest, at the right time, in the US market.  Our competitors, who lack the same scale and revenue base, will have a difficult time keeping pace.

It's worth noting that in just a year after launching in the US, we have gone from 300 Mn Impressions monthly to 6.5 Bn Impressions reaching 83 Mn consumers.  Even more to the point - the US is our single biggest market globally already.  We are a serious player in the US and will be a Tier 1 along with Google and Apple in this space.

Where are we with mobile audience buying today?  Obviously there are restrictions around cookies and device IDs. Does InMobi have any plans here? A mobile DSP?

We are working to solve the two greatest issues plaguing the industry currently.  This includes a) anonymous tracking capability across all devices and b) the associated analytics and reporting needed to help agencies and brands shift spend into mobile.  I cannot share more at this time, but look forward to following up with AdExchanger in a month or two with more specific details.  We know you and your audience are the right place to share this development.

Can you quantify the company a bit - revenues, profit, employees?

I can share a few stats. Some numbers for you:

  • Revenue:  Revenue increased 5x in the past 12 months
  • Employees:  350 People
  • Offices: San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo, Bangalore, Nairobi, Sydney

Looking at the competitive set, who worries you the most and why? Google, Apple.. another?

NAVEEN: Honestly we don't focus on the competition so much of the
market itself and what customers need.  This is by no means a "winner take
all" market.  The reality is that the market is growing fast, but we are
growing much faster as now have the financial means to firmly establish
ourselves as a Tier 1 player globally.  As for Apple and Google, they are as
much partners as they are competitors.  We play a critical role in
monetizing the iOS and Android ecosystem and already work with both
companies.  We expect this working relationship to expand and hope it does.
It's in the industries best interest.

Are acquisitions possible by InMobi? If so, what might interest InMobi - talent, analytics, more networks?

Acquisitions will happen.  While we will be opportunistic in this area, our focus is mainly technology - like Sprout or SmartPay - that can bolt onto our scaled global platform and contribute to a better customer experience quickly in all regions.

Follow Naveen Tewari (@NaveenTewari), InMobi (@inmobi) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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