Haegwan Kim: Let me start by asking your personal definition of success?
Naveen Tewari: Not that I’ve thought about it, but let me try and give you some bullet points on how I think about success. I think the first thing foremost is the ability to make an impact in changing the world. And if you can make an impact in the world then you are successful. The key questions are the magnitude of success.
It depends on what’s the magnitude of people that you are able to impact with what you’re doing. And that to me is a criteria of one level of success. The second level of criteria of success, which is very personal, it’s are you content with life, are you happy with life, are you satisfied with life? If you are satisfied with life irrespective of whatever you have done, you’re successful.
Because all of us are trying to achieve that level of satisfaction in life, and if you achieve that then you’ve done it. So, I look at success across those two dimensions.
HK: Interesting, let’s talk about a bit more professional thing. You’ve already achieved so many success in terms of business, especially mobile advertisement. what you mentioned is the impact on our society by the advertisement in the mobile industry not only in India, but also in Japan, Singapore, UK, United States and so forth. What was the key element to succeed InMobi?
NT: I think a couple of things. One certainly we were always very governed by the fact that let’s do something that’s big. If we had taken this whole plunge of trying to go ahead and taken an entrepreneurial direction in life, then let’s not do something small. Let’s make sure that whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do something big. That was one part of it. We have always had this at the back of our mind that we’re going to make something big. The second, I always believe that if you have to do something big you can’t do it yourself only.
You’ve got to have a team together. And so getting a variety and a fantastic set of people together to help solve a problem which is going to be impacting billions of people in the world, if you can sell that vision to people and have them come together and solve that problem, and those people are fantastic, it makes your life much easier and you become far faster and you grow far faster. That was the second. The third is if you’re doing that then you also want to ensure that you’re sharing this success of something with everybody.
So, you’re not keeping every output of the success to yourself, you’re actually sharing with people. That’s the third. You share it with people in the form of equity that people get so that when things become big they’ll also gain from it personally in terms of wealth creation.
They’re all fairly well motivated to do that. The fourth, we’ve always questioned the traditional way of doing things. If you look at traditionally you would say that let’s focus on one country and do this this way. We came out and said, yes, focusing on one country is fine, but I think there is a fundamental reason why we can focus on more than one country. Most of the people disagreed with that when we came out and we discussed it with people who we really trust, they disagreed with us to say that you should go outside of one market as two markets because you’re a small company. Now the point here is that I’ve always believed that you have to question the tradition and you have to do things based on the first principles, things that make sense. It makes sense for us to essentially do things parallel as against doing them in order. And that is what we have done.
We have gone out literally like an explosion, and we said we’re going to go everywhere and we’re going to do this. Yes, it’s hard to execute but then that’s where the previous one comes in that you go and get great people to come and participate in this great vision who then work together with you to create this larger business. Those are points which come to my mind as I look through this.
HK: I have some questions. At first you said drawing the big picture is one of the key facts to success of Inmobi, and I was wondering as the CEO of Inmobi, do you focus on the details of each project or just you set general trajectory? For what do you spend most of your time?
NT: Well, I think it depends on what state of the company you are in. As an individual I only have 24 hours. When we were a smaller company of what, 15, 20 people, I would be far more detail oriented. As the company grows your vision is remaining the same and maybe at times your visions also expands with it because you’re seeing success and then you say, all right I’ll take the next leap.
And so it happens as a result of that today my level of involvement on the detail is not that much. It is less so but I then have to specifically make sure that I have times set out for myself which is – let’s call it the time to think, so that I can plan the next time, while I have this fantastic set of people, who would be very much detail oriented. So, the thing is the following, if you have to create something scalable and large, you can either focus on the process and measure the output or you can also go and make sure that the input is great, and in our case the input is people. If you can ensure that the input, which is the people who are coming into this organization are superlative.
Then you don’t have to bother about focusing on are you doing your work or not, is the numbers coming or not, are you going and doing your sales calls or not. I don’t have to do that. The effort is on hiring and if you actually focus on getting the right people in, your effort on getting into the details and monitoring things goes down. That allows you to give you the time to essentially think about the next thing, and think about what the company should do next and lay that plan out, and then look at things not at that same level if the things were not being handled by great people.
HK: When InMobi was small, I can easily guess that it’s tough to gather great people you can trust. How did you manage the human resource and gather core members?
NT: The very very initial team is typically found off people that you know, and those that know you, because somebody who doesn’t know you at a very early stage is not going to trust you. So, it’s all about as you rightly said, it’s about the trust on the core team. In the beginning the core team that came together were the people that I need. They came together and we basically found a team who then executed and showed some success. Since then we could then go out and talk to people who probably we didn’t know that well.
But the reality is that in any case, for example, today I would’ve spent at least 40% to 60% of my time in hiring only, which means that I do a lot of effort and a lot of discussions in selling the idea and selling the vision. If great people are going to come and join you they’ll have very tough questions. I need to do my bit in hiring, in getting those people excited about our vision.
I think it boils down to the CEO or the founder or that core team spending a lot of time selling the vision, not only that, also letting people know that this is a professional entity, this is a global entity, our vision is large. Explaining all of those things are things that take a lot of time.
I think with each passing quarter or six months or something, we have been able to show success in the positive direction, success which is very fast growing. So, with time it becomes easier to get better people. But the effort required to get great people is quite a lot, and people probably underestimate in the world what the value of getting great people on the team and how much time one CEO needs to spend on making sure that he gets the best person on the team. But once you get the best person on the team you will actually be growing much faster.
HK: This is a more general question about India. There’s tons of countries and corporations who are now interested and crazy about the Indian mobile industry. Although InMobi is already a glbal corporation, can I ask your perspective on the future of the Indian mobile industry?
NT: Well, I think the mobile industry is a function of a number of people, numbers of subscribers, etc. In this country and in China if you look at these two markets, the population is 1.2 and 1.3 billion respectively, which means 2½ billion people. A large portion of those 2½ billion people never had digital devices in their hands, and they never had it. And in Africa, a billion people in Africa. Put the three together, this is 3½ billion people.
That’s 50% of the world’s population. 50% of the world’s population has never had a digital device. Mobile is going to be a platform that is going to basically give them that information access that they’ve never had in the past. And it’s already happening, 600 million or 700 million users in China, 600 million users in India, Africa is growing.
Now, with all of that the number of people that will have cell phones in this world is just really large. Then what happens once all of these have these devices in their hands, the next level of growth comes from what kind of applications you can give them. Is this only for talking? obviously not, people use it for text messaging, then people used it for checking some scores. Eventually people will use it for everything, from payments, in Japan you have little chips in mobile, which basically make payments possible.
So, Japan is a fantastic example of where the world has moved to and faster, because people have seen the success of Japan and clearly know what to do. Japan figure it out, everybody else is going to copy, and the copying is obviously faster.
The thing is, if this is the only device that people have, and given the level of GDP over capital in all of these regions, which is not very high, they will only rely on these devices and not on PC. And within internet connecting everybody together and giving them services which they will never rendered in the past, it’s going to create a very different level of economy which will create a different level of entrepreneurs, different level of services, different level of whatnot.
That’s why I feel excited. Like just in this emerging developing market, given that we have the advertising pipe, we would end up creating and helping create an eco system that could fuel entrepreneurship and employability which can be spread across billions of people. That’s what excites us about our own thing, and that’s probably why the emerging market is a far stronger story for mobile than probably anything else.
HK: There is also controversies about how nations are having restrictions, or intervention on the 3G connection. I think that India is much better than China, but what do you think about the battle between the national and the private sector?
NT: Well, I think that difference on region to region clearly. In India things move slow because it’s democracy. And so there is openness but then everything is open for scrutiny, it has to be done via a process. Things move slow. Things are improving, but at a slow pace. Having said that, that fight between the private and the Government always stays, and I think Governments are becoming smart enough to stay out of business, stay out of centre policy and stay away.
They did that with software, in 15 years at Google, we’re like a $100 billion business industry. Similarly it will be mobile. They’re not staying away that much from it given the whole 2G and 3G fiasco that’s happening here. But you know what, these things were delayed by a year or so, but it’s not going to stop the market. Similarly in China, they’re going to do a bit here and there, but once they let it go, whether it’s slow or fast, it will flourish. Now, whether you are the right person to gain success from it or not it’s not sure, but certain people will, there will be entities that will gain from it.
HK: Cool opinion. Final question, let’s talk about success again in a general way. What would be your advice to be successful?
NT: I think a few things. One, clearly one has to take a risk, and I think a lot of people in this world who are very very smart people don’t take a risk. Now, whether it’s a risk of trying something within your own job or the risk of trying something new as an entrepreneur, building something. People don’t take risk and I think that’s the biggest factor of… here I go back to my definition of success, making an impact or not. If you have to make an impact in this world you have to take some risk. You will have to go against the traditional boundaries of what people expect you to do and say this is what I want to do, and I’m going to do it.
If you are young, you don’t have anything to lose, go for it. Until today I regret that I started my company at the age of 27 or 28, I think I should’ve started it at the age of 22 because that would’ve given me six more years to make mistakes and then learn from it. So taking that risk, making those mistakes, moving fast and thinking of questioning the traditions are things which are required to be successful and making an impact. One other point I would make is, people tend to think small.
I don’t think when we started we knew that we were going to make something big. It becomes big, but if you’re not even thinking of making something big it will never be big. One of the urges that I have and I talk to people is, think big. Keep thinking big and take some risk, make some mistakes, success will hit you and you will make an impact.
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