“We’re not just another mobile advertising company—we are a technology Powerhouse”—That’s InMobi for you. With 20,000+ global advertisers and 200 billion+ monthly ad requests, InMobi is one of those product companies in India that grew phenomenally in just 8 years and is a part of the exalted Unicorn Club. Meet Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi, a startup that you cannot ignore. He is here to stay and redefining the rules of the game.
Hailing from a family of engineers, Naveen is an alumni of IIT and Harvard Business School. He had a short stint at Mc Kinsey and some brief experience of working in startups in the silicon valley, before InMobi took birth in early 2007, when two friends made big plans, roped in two more friends, moved to Mumbai to work on ‘something’ which was still undefined. That idea lead to mKhoj, an SMS based search engine. This was then enhanced to form what is InMobi today. InMobi provides contextual, relevant and curated recommendations on mobile apps and devices and allows consumers to discover new products.
Like any other startups, things were not smooth for InMobi in the first couple of years. But what kept them going and staying ahead was to do things differently. Naveen specifically points out to three turning points in one of his interviews:
1. When their chat application wasn’t working, they decided to pivot. That gave them some traction.
2. Receiving funding from Kleiner Parkins Caufield and Byers ($ 7 Million in 2008), a renowned global venture capital firm gave them the confidence to grow and compete globally.
3. The funding from Softbank (amounting to $200 million) really helped them scale quickly in various markets.
As they expanded, it was tough to run 25 global offices, maintaining a single culture and one system for all. Moreover, according to Naveen, people expect great products from Silicon valley. They don’t seem to expect the same level of innovation from an Indian company.
How is InMobi Different:
Naveen’s success comes from his thoughts that are out of the box. He stresses that companies are growing phenomenally and traditional methods are not working anymore.
So how does he function differently?
- InMobi does not invest in traditional marketing. It has a team of 5 to 6 people who work on an innovative idea and launch it. If the idea works, they invest in it. That way a company can experiment with new products.
- InMobi has its own culture to manage its employees that most companies often ignore.
- They fired their recruitment agency and instead asked their people who they want to work with. Rather than sifting through chunks of resumes and choosing a few, they decided that the people they hire need to come from within. That way they brought down their recruitment cost from $3 million in 2013 to $30,000 in 2014.
- To nurture talent internally, they started the Founder’s Staff program in 2009 when InMobi was transtitioning from mKhoj. Naveen claims to have 90 percent success rate in this program. No one from their founder’s staff program has ever moved to another company but only to their own startup.
- Through their Live Your Potential program, they prevent attritions due to lack of opportunities. Once an employee completes 13 months in a role, a trigger is sent to them that displays various roles that they could be interested in.
- They don’t give too much importance to metrics and scores. Naveen feels that financial incentives don’t guarantee innovation. Organizations need to focus on the growth of their employees. When people are given the opportunity to fail and grow, they perform better.
- Rules create processes and policies which slow down a company. So InMobi has done away bonuses, annual ratings, travel budgets and instead focuses on improving the life of its people.
Despite their unique ideas, InMobi saw several mid and senior level executives quit. Moreover, it comes at a time when the company is struggling to raise funds and chart a sustainable business model that can cater to the massive development in the online and mobile advertising space. Moreover, its new product, Miip unveiled in 2015 also doesn’t seem to have taken off well.
Naveen believes that success comes only when you invest in your people, trust them and give them challenges. That way they can realize, experiment and understand what excites them most. Employees must be allowed to grow quickly, so that they don’t look outside for opportunities. If you wish to make it big, you must be ready to take challenges and bend rules rather than going by the book. What drives him constantly is the belief that they have hit upon something big. Despite all the problems InMobi has worldwide reach and is definitely an organization that many envy. To know more about Naveen Tewari and InMobi in great detail, look up here.