EX: Hey Naveen, InMobi is already giving the likes of Google and Facebook a run for money, congratulations. What strategy do you follow for such a niche?
Naveen: Thanks for your kind words. Our strategy is pretty simple actually. Just constant innovation, disruption and creating IP which I think are a key differentiator for any long term player.
EX: How did you get the idea of InMobi? How have the scenarios changed since its inception?
Naveen: When we were starting-up, we knew we wanted to do something in the space of mobile tech while being based out of India. We started as a SMS based mobile search company called ‘mKhoj’ but unfortunately it did not fly as India was too immature a market in that segment. We then graduated from mKhoj to mobile advertising in the form of InMobi. I guess it was more serendipitous as against being planned.
EX: Was the path of success for InMobi smooth enough? Or full of ups and downs? How did you handle those?
Naveen: When we started in 2007-08, mobile tech was a virgin market across the globe, hence we had our own share of boons and banes. Being new to a yet to mature market meant not getting too many believers in your idea. We faced rejections from over 20 investors. The high was finally getting our first round of angel investment. The next down was our first business idea of mKhoj not doing well. We were back to the scratchpad but still focused on mobile tech domain. We got no buyers for the enhanced idea if InMobi in India. We took a long shot and our next high was getting the funding from san Francisco. Some decisions that we made were great while some were bad choices – as for any business. I have hardly heard of a smooth running business ever. Some of the bad choices included bad acquisitions, hiring people who were not the best fit and investing in them, launching in some countries and not doing well etc. While on the other hand our sane decisions included creating IP. We took the risk of entering markets like US and China. And today have a reach of over 1.4 billion unique users in over 200 countries. We are the leader in the China iOS market. So for me basically, the key is not to give up and keep moving, learning from your mistakes and keep innovating and disrupting. That’s how you learn and become better.
EX: How much initial funding you had for InMobi? Was it enough back then?
Naveen: After several rejections from investors and being famous in the market as the ‘boys with ppt’, when we finally received our angel investment of .5 million dollars, it seemed like we were on top of the world. Our office shifted from the our one room apartment which was shared by the four of us, to a small yet commercial space. In those days, to keep the costs down, we used to clean our own office. Irrespective of all that, slowly the cash drained away. Reality started kicking in when we saw that the market was too immature for our business concept and getting enough business was becoming a challenge. Looking back, I would say funds were not really a problem then, it was the market and our business concept being ahead of time.
EX: Employee satisfaction – this is something that’s making quite a buzz these days. Can you provide us a glimpse on the details.
Naveen: I am a true believer of strong values and culture being the foundation of employee satisfaction. Sadly, in most companies, values are unconsciously given the capital punishment to hang (on the wall) till death. We too faced a similar situation when we were growing massively and all of sudden we saw our productivity fall flat. On a deeper dive, we realized the reasons and our first step was to throw out ‘archaic’ thinking about People and Culture. We took small steps like banishing the Performance Management System, paying 100% bonus, stopping the ranking and rating system for people. We saw that generally policies are based on ill-behaviour of 1% people vs the 99% people who are cognizant in taking the right decisions. Hence, we banked on the 99% people and made our travel policy open – asking people to travel as if it were their own money and our travel costs came down drastically. Our reimbursement policy was made free of pre and post approvals. We eliminated agencies – InMobians started referring future InMobians and hence removed the funnel. We started building lasting relationships. We consider InMobi a family not of just 900 people, but over 3000 people including their personal families. Lastly, to foster holistic learning environment, we introduced a learning wallet of Rs. 50,000/- per head where InMobians can learn what they want to learn.
EX: Who or what have been your inspirations? Any book that you love reading again and again?
Naveen: The legends of India like NandanNilekani, Ratan Tata, AzimPremji and of course Steve Jobs from the west are my inspirations. They are an epitome of knowledge and experiences and are yet so humble that each time you meet them, you learn something new. My go to book for anytime re-reading is The hard thing about hard things. Just love it!
EX: Are you into social networking? What’s your sole purpose for using the same?
Naveen: I am hardly on social media. And when I am there, it is either usually to take a break or sometime for pure entertainment 🙂
EX: What, according to you as the Founder and CEO, is the basic and most important thing to make a startup stand and do well?
Naveen: I think, pure and raw passion which fuels the culture of an organization and constant innovation and disruption are the magical concoction for any startup to succeed.
EX: Are you a gadget freak? What all makes your gadget collection?
Naveen: Totally! My last crush was Amazon Alexa and my current interests are Drones, Oculus and Segway
EX: Unknown story of InMobi and Naveen Tewari
Naveen: When mKhoj was on a downward spiral and we had not only maxed out our credit cards, but also our options for funding InMobi in India were done, we wanted to take one last shot at San Francisco. But of course we had no money for tickets. So, Abhay (one of my co-founders and partner in crime) and I dressed up in our best business suits, went to a travel agency. He promoted me to them as a business tycoon who had to travel to US. All of this was just to get one ticket on credit. Convinced with Abhay’simpersonification, they gave us one business-class ticket. My first inclination was to sell it and get four economy class tickets for all of us (co-founders) to travel together, but could not have taken the risk, hence traveled alone. Lucky for us, we got the funding or else we could not have paid back for that ticket 🙂
RAPID FIRE ROUND:
a) Creativity, passion or hard work – what’s your mantra for work? > Disruption with Passion
b) Won a lottery of few millions, would invest in? > Start-Ups in India
c) Most inspirational book and most favourite quote? > Book – The hard thing about hard things.I would share a favourite dialogue instead of a quote – “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” – Mark Watney – from ‘The Martian’ movie
d) What car do you drive and what’s next on the wish list? > I live in Bangalore 🙂
e) Choice for travel and vacation, if time permits! > Antarctica