What Do You Know about India’s First Unicorn?

The first Indian unicorn was the result of a pivot and "Today, it’s the largest mobile-first, independent, full-stack advertising platform in the world."

By name it’s InMobi. The company is a mobile advertising and discovery platform provider and has been in the news for various reasons: A 950,000 dollar fine for inadvertent privacy breaches; matters of senior level attrition; talks of acquisition by Microsoft or Google; a possible IPO, and for becoming the second Indian unicorn after Mu Sigma to become profitable.

Through all of its highs and lows there’s bound to be more news from InMobi, what with it taking on the duopoly of Facebook and Google in the mobile ad space.

That and the fact that it is India’s first unicorn means it’s an important part of the Startup India chronicle. Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi gives us more details.

Why did you decide to start InMobi?

The entrepreneurial bug bit me after Harvard, compelling me to start something on my own. I called my friends (now cofounders) from IIT: Abhay Singhal, Amit Gupta and Mohit Saxena. Mobile had to be at the core of our focus as we realized its capabilities early on, leading us to launch, ‘mKhoj’, a SMS-based search business.

We rather quickly pivoted to create something that would have global impact, and take India’s innovation story to the world. We rebranded as InMobi, a mobile advertising business which was born in 2009.

Besides revenue from advertisers how else can InMobi generate revenue?

The first 10 years of mobile advertising were about ‘mobile natives’ - organizations whose business models were mobile-first (like gaming, entertainment, cabs). Today, mobile novices, (traditional organizations) are compelled to enhance their revenue streams by monetizing data, which they haven’t before.

For example, telcos have user data which they want to monetize, OEMs are struggling with shrinking margins and are trying to convert their devices into media properties, ecommerce companies have user data about shopping preferences, etc. which they want to monetize. All these organizations are looking to advertising for monetization and they will need experienced partners to support them in this journey.

Over the next few years, InMobi will help redefine business models in the mobile ecosystem, through strategic partnerships with OEMs, telcos, ecommerce players and media companies.

How does it feel to be only the second unicorn to achieve profit in India?

InMobi is one of the few success stories that a host of startups can look to emulate as they chart their path towards profitability, and this milestone gives us immense satisfaction. Profitability was always around the corner. We were always focused on building scale and reach.

Yahoo has exited its public listing. Critics widely say it’s because the ad space is dominated by Google and Facebook, and Yahoo was unable to make enough profit in ads. How will InMobi survive?

The ad tech business is easy to start, but extremely difficult to scale and sustain. Scale and reach are important in this diverse, fragmented space. Most brands also prefer global players who have reach and have an array of products.

Google and Facebook lie at the top rung of the ad tech market. Both are massive players with mobile-only revenues of over a billion dollars. The next rung of ad-tech players, include global organizations, with a comprehensive ad stack with revenues greater than 300 million dollars. There are only a handful of such companies, including InMobi, who have been successful enough to break the 300 million dollar barrier, and continue to scale.

To continue to successfully grow, the mid-rung ad tech companies need to demonstrate three points:

1. A comprehensive and sophisticated advertising stack with a strong specialization in mobile - Today, InMobi is the largest mobile-first, independent, full-stack advertising platform in the world.

2. Breadth and reach across the globe to publishers, brands and audience - InMobi has global scale with 1.56 billion users and features amidst the top 5 players in US, China, Southeast Asia and India

3. Depth in tech talent – We have taken some tough decisions to become leaner, but we could not have achieved much without our diverse talent pool that is intrinsically innovative and driven by nature. Our unrelenting focus on building great products, execution rigor and investments in tech and talent has helped us build a successful and profitable global mobile internet business.

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