Naveen Tewari: Riding the unicorn

Along with existing investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sherpalo Ventures, this helped InMobi make its presence felt in the mobile …

Those who know Naveen Tewari, 41, as the founder and CEO of the Indian unicorn InMobi may find it hard to believe that the entrepreneur was completely uninterested in the business world for most of his student life.

In fact, had it not been for his serendipitous three-year stint with consultancy firm McKinsey and Co., and subsequently as the member of a McKinsey team that worked on a project of Reliance Infocomm (now known as Reliance Communications), Tewari would perhaps never have founded InMobi, one of the top global advertising technology companies.

Tewari was born on the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-K), which may explain his continuing love for academics and research. His grandmother, the late Krishna Tewari, taught algebra at IIT-K in the 1960s. His father taught electrical engineering there in the 1980s. “My bua (aunt) too was a PhD from IIT-K. And so is my father-in-law,” says Tewari.

Most dinner-table conversations at home revolved around how education can transform lives. While studying at IIT-K, many a time Tewari would land up in the class of the very same professor who had been at his home the previous evening, sipping tea with his parents. “I would find it difficult to skip their class,” he says with a smile.

Though he was also good at cricket and basketball, and once even considered professional sports as a career, Tewari ended up becoming a mechanical engineer. He had a simple plan in mind—go abroad to do a master’s in engineering and a PhD thereafter.

Life, however, had different plans for him. In his last year of engineering, a recruiting McKinsey team visited the IIT-K campus. “I had no idea what McKinsey was. All I knew was that they were a ‘Day 0’ company at IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management), which meant they were good. About 400 people applied to McKinsey. I too applied, and was selected,” recalls Tewari.

Tewari contemplated rejecting the offer since he couldn’t see the connection between McKinsey and academics. But his father urged him to take it up.

It wasn’t about the money. “My father felt I did not have the mindset and the temperament for research, where the gratification periods are very long. He advised me to do something that would excite me on a daily basis,” Tewari recalls.

His father was right. The three years Tewari spent at the consultancy firm were a game changer. The turning point came when he was part of a McKinsey team on a Mukesh Ambani project—the launch of the special price scheme Monsoon Hungama by Reliance Infocomm in 2002 (the Ambani brothers parted ways in 2005, with the telecom business, renamed Reliance Communications in 2006, going to Anil. Mukesh started Reliance Jio Infocomm in 2012, soft-launching services in 2015).

“This was my first experience of watching how a business was being built—up close and centre. It was also one of the biggest reasons to start InMobi. He (Mukesh) still remembers that I was part of the project,” says Tewari, who was just 23 at the time.

If the seeds of entrepreneurship were sown in part by Mukesh, it was Harvard Business School (HBS) that helped Tewari hone his business acumen. Tewari left McKinsey to do his MBA at HBS in 2003-05. Initially, he just believed that going to Harvard would get him a high-paying job, but he met many inspiring people and professors. One of them, Tarun Khanna, a professor, recently joined InMobi’s board.

After his MBA, Tewari had a couple of interesting offers, including one from McKinsey. But he found the offer from a venture capitalist (VC) alluring and even accepted it, only to develop “cold feet” a week before joining. It was not the job as much as the fact that if he took it up, he would never be able to leave the system. “These systems are built very smartly. You get golden handcuffs and end up buying an expensive car, then a home, then a dog—and you will never come out of it,” says Tewari.

You might think that refusing such a job required some amount of maturity for a 27-year-old business graduate. “No, I think it was stupid. It was rash,” says Tewari, who did not have his father to counsel him (Prof. Sachchidanand Tewari died a few months after his son joined HBS). A jobless Tewari found himself dipping into his savings. His wife, an engineer, helped.

Those were tough years, recalls Tewari. “The social pressure gets to you. I just wasn’t doing anything—almost nothing for two years. I was trying things but nothing was moving.” He joined a five-member startup but it did not work out. He contemplated going back to the US to take up a job but decided to wait another six months.

During this period, Tewari worked on the idea of mKhoj, aiming to monetize SMS-based search. He wrote a business plan and began meeting investors. It wasn’t easy. Then he met Sasha Mirchandani (co-founder of investor collective Mumbai Angels and now managing director and founder of early-stage investment firm Kae Capital). “I was by then accustomed to failures and rejections, so I had no expectations from Sasha either,” he says. This time, though, Tewari landed a $500,000 cheque. “Even today, it’s a lot of angel money,” he says.

Tewari got cracking. Within a few months, he got Abhay Singhal, Amit Gupta and Mohit Saxena, whom he knew from IIT-K or Harvard, as co-founders.

But mKhoj, launched in 2007, did not make much headway. “It would have been a decent business but never a larger business,” says Tewari, who decided to close it down and start InMobi in 2008. Tewari’s pivot from mKhoj to InMobi proved to be a good bet—focusing on the broader mobile ecosystem made better business sense. Investors, too, rewarded this move.

On 15 September 2011, InMobi and SoftBank Corp. completed a $200 million investment. Along with existing investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sherpalo Ventures, this helped InMobi make its presence felt in the mobile advertising industry. It speeded up its growth by making strategic acquisitions of companies in the mobile advertising space.

There was no looking back. In 2011, InMobi became India’s first company to cross the $1 billion (around 7,115 crore) valuation, earning for itself the appellation of a unicorn. “We were in an ultra-aggressive, ultra-growth phase from 2008-14. We never saw any failure in that period,” says Tewari. In 2015, however, there weren’t enough products to cater to, a couple of clients backed out, and business fell 25% on a quarterly basis.

Tewari, who acknowledges that InMobi was at the time a “darling of the media”, did not know how to deal with the negative media reports. To fix things, they innovated in three broad areas. First, the company rejigged its model by developing new products and setting up new lines of business to complement the core business. Between 2015-17, it laid the foundations for TruFactor and Glance.

The InMobi group now comprises three units—Unified Marketing Cloud, TruFactor and Glance. The marketing cloud unit, which accounts for almost 90% of the group’s business, is headed by Singhal. TruFactor, which provides security, privacy, governance and compliance services to telecom service providers, is led by Piyush Shah, who was inducted as a co-founder nearly a decade after the company was launched. The group’s business-to-consumer (B2C) unit Glance—which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify trending topics and personalize the screen experience for smartphone users—is yet to get a chief executive.

Among other things, Tewari credits employee loyalty for the group’s success. For instance, Gupta, who left inMobi to co-found bike-sharing company Yulu, remains part of the InMobi board. “We are very good friends even today and are neighbours in Bengaluru,” says Tewari. Nearly 41% of the employees of the 1,300-strong firm have spent over five years with it, he adds.

The company also supports employees with an entrepreneurial streak. It does not incubate startups but offers budding entrepreneurs workspace, especially in the initial stages. Additionally, it offers most of these people a chance to rejoin the company if their startups fail. “We call it the Boomerang programme. Every year, we have 20-25 people boomerang back to us,” says Tewari.

Going forward, Tewari is bullish about InMobi, which he believes is no longer just an advertising player but also a media and software company.

“Each of these units has the potential of being an over $10 billion company in three-five years,” he asserts, adding that he plans to list each of them. “InMobi Marketing Cloud is the most advanced. So, thinking about an IPO (initial public offering) for it is natural,” says Tewari, who plans to list it in the next two years. An IPO for TruFactor, he says, will not happen in a hurry since it is the youngest of the three units. On 25 February, InMobi said it plans to invest about $100 million over the next three years in it.

Tewari likens Glance, which has at least 36 million daily active users, to a “super-app”. He says 65% of all new smartphones in India today have Glance pre-installed.

The global mobile advertising market, valued at $31.98 billion in 2016, is projected to reach $261.72 billion by 2025, according to US-based market intelligence firm Reports Intellect. Firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon account for the lion’s share of the market but Tewari, who believes the worst is behind him, is confident of InMobi’s future.

What’s your favourite vacation spot?

Maldives, Bali and Goa; close to a beach and not too far from home.

What is your business philosophy?

  • Think big, be entrepreneurial. Linear thinking is nothing but a delusion, one that also keeps us unhappy. Reality is non-linear. Create craziness.
  • Inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things by truly trusting them and caring for them. Create a clan.
  • Find a way to win and to make things happen. Create pride.

Favourite books

‘Hit Refresh’ by Satya Nadella; ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz

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InMobi- Curated and relevant content for all

Coming to his professional experience he worked in McKinsey and Company and then had a small stint in Charles River Ventures. After which he …

What is InMobi all about?

There used to be a traditional method of receiving feedback for your products, services or goods which were often not very accurate and also consumed a lot more time to receive feedback. To understand if a product is working or not in the market and to determine the customer experience in the market is a big hassle for any company. There is an agitation involved to track the costumers and it seems like a long process. But now with the advent of the internet it can be made simpler with the products and services like InMobi.

InMobi is a leading mobile marketing and advertising service provider that gives you real time analysis about your products and services with analytical feedback and growth rates from real behind the screen customers.

For the customers, it is a better option to be get featured advertisements based on their personal preferences and choices, a customised ad content that is suitable for the customer to choose from instead of a wide range on random advertisements that pop up for no reason or relevance with the consumers choice or preference.

How InMobi came into existence?

Four pioneer gentlemen, Mohit Saxena, Naveen Tewari, Abhay Singhal and Amit Gupta in the year 2007 to start InMobi but under the name mKhoj. It is based out of the IT hub Benguluru city. It started out as a way to make marketing easier for companies and cater to a targeted group of audience. So, it was first an SMS based marketing company but realise the demand in the online space it quickly moved to an Internet and mobile based marketing and advertising company.

Image result for inmobi founders

About the founders and the co-founders:

Naveen Tewari was born and raised in the city of Kanpur, his father was a professor in the Indian Institute of Technology, in the same city. Naveen Tewari continued in the same college where his father was a professor to get a Bachelor in Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering. He happened to meet the future co-founders of the company over here. Coming to his professional experience he worked in McKinsey and Company and then had a small stint in Charles River Ventures. After which he went to the Harvard business school to pursue a Master’s degree in Business Administration where he won the accolade of Dean’s award for his unprecedented leadership skills. Which is evident because while he was still completing his master’s degree he set up a non-profit organisation at the HBS that would fund for Rural school development in India.

Mohit Saxena was bought up in the city of lucknow, he was determined to take up engineering when he grew up though he was not sure of the area of specialization that he would be taking. As he grew up he went on to take up Metallurgy and Material learning since the indemand branches were not available. With that he worked with Tata Steel, AT&T Pacbell and the Virgin Mobile where he got to learn a lot and its experience came in hame handy to the startup of InMobi.

Abhay Singhal has done his Bachelor’s in engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. After which he worked as a project manager in Andale, Before co-founding InMobi he co-founded anather compony called TeN where he worked for about 10 years before he co- founded InMobi where he now is the CEO of the company.

Amit Gupta has finished his Bachelor in Engineering in Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur as well in Mechanical branch followed by an executive program in Harvard Business school. Speaking of his work experience he worked as a software engineer on Aditi, followed by Citibank and then a manager in Andale. He was then the founder and board advisor for Analyticworks, then the Mobile Marketing association after which he Co-founded Inmobi and now is also the founder Yulu.

Valuation and Investment:

InMobi received its recent funding from Softbank which was a $320 million which led it to join the elite group of the Unicorn club by becoming values at $1 Billion. The other investors include Kliener Perkins Caufield and others.

Journey so far:

InMobi started off as Naveen was exploring business opportunities in India and saw the huge growth in the mobile industry which was multiplying rapidly but he saw that there was a lacuna in the content creation area of the mobile industry, so he started formulating ideas in the same are and came up with a vague advertising plan for the mobile Industry. He shared his idea with a few other people and everyone seemed to think that it was a good idea so he went on to discuss it with his friend Abhay in the Bar over a few drinks and realised that Abhay too had been fostering similar plans in his head and that is when they knew that their destiny was sealed to start the Business together. They quickly put up a business plan and made it ready for the display of the Investors. They convinced their friend Amit to join them so that they could have an experienced team with expertise from every area. And also convinced Mohit who was working with Virgin Mobile to come join them as the CTO. With his agreement and a team put together they had a solid base and they were given funding because of the solid framework of the idea which led to the advent of mKhoj which was later converted into Inmobi.

Obstacles faced and overcome

The company had not seen success for almost a decade and was facing the wrath of heat of the Investors. But despite all that still made it to the list of Unicorns and focused on better content delivery from the companies end.

It faced a lot of challenges with clients discontinuing from the services being provided by the InMobi application which shook a lot of people’s confidence in the company but InMobi

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Infosys Murthy couple’s story on celluloid now; Ashwini Tiwari to direct

MUMBAI: Filmmaker couple Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari have joined hands for a film based on the lives of Infosys co-founder N R Narayana …
MUMBAI: Filmmaker couple Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari have joined hands for a film based on the lives of Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy and his wife Sudha Murty.

The film will also be produced by Mahaveer Jain, a statement issued by the makers said.

Ashwini, whose credits include films such as “Nil Battey Sannata” and “Bareilly Ki Barfi”, will direct the new project after her “Panga”.

The story idea and concept was developed by writer Sanjay Tripathy. The film will chronicle the inspiring journey of Murthys and their contribution to the nation.

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Film on Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy in works

Filmmaker couple Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari have joined hands for a film based on the lives of Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy …

Filmmaker couple Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari have joined hands for a film based on the lives of Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy and his wife Sudha Murthy.

The film will also be produced by Mahaveer Jain, a statement issued by the makers said.

Ashwini, whose credits include films such as “Nil Battey Sannata” and “Bareilly Ki Barfi”, will direct the new project after her “Panga”.

The story idea and concept was developed by writer Sanjay Tripathy. The film will chronicle the inspiring journey of Murthys and their contribution to the nation.

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Inmobi wants to glue your attention to your lock screen

Inmobi, a Bengaluru ad-tech company that counts SoftBank Group Corp. among its investors, expects to add more original equipment manufacturer …
g_114855_naveen_tewari_280x210.jpgNaveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi

Image: Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images

InMobi calls it a ‘screen-zero platform’ and it isn’t an app that one can download and install. Instead the product, called Glance, comes factory-fitted on some makes of phones from Samsung, Xiaomi and two other smartphone makers. InMobi, a Bengaluru ad-tech company that counts SoftBank Group Corp. among its investors, expects to add more original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners soon.

Glance shows bite-sized content—largely vernacular, but also in English—right off the lock screen. When the screen is on, as when one presses the power button, instead of the lock-screen image, one gets content served up by Glance. “No search, no unlock,” promises InMobi’s promotional video for Glance.

“Consumers will move from seeking content to consuming what is shown to them,” Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi, told Forbes India in an interview. InMobi is well known for the mobile ad network it supplies to large companies, and for connecting advertisers and app developers—some 30,000 at last count—and publishers. And, the ‘showing’ of the content will become an increasingly sophisticated recommendation exercise, with the use of artificial intelligence, Tewari says.

For now, content is strongly curated and restricted to what Tewari calls ‘professional content,’ meaning content produced by genuine sources such as media houses and Indi production units that InMobi has partnered with for the purpose.

Typically, in 19 categories and counting, the content is between 10 seconds and two minutes long. It includes everything from news to short videos to single-player games, “which has been a big hit,” he says. “This is about micro-moments of consumption,” Tewari adds.

He hasn’t yet figured out exactly how the product will make money, but “this is a no-ads platform,” he emphasises. That said, opportunities exist, such as the launch of a car, for instance, or a new smartphone, which people would be interested in learning about, and might be amenable to watching in a video especially when served in such petit formats.

Tewari and his team have been working on Glance since late 2015, and pilot trials started in 2018. Over the past six months, the project has been ramped up to go commercial, and some 26 million smartphones had been sold through February with Glance installed on them. Of the users in India, 60 percent come from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and towns, Tewari says. Glance is already averaging 22 minutes of time spent on it by individual users. About 15 percent of users have chosen to disable it, which means that a majority of users have opted to use it.

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