Mobile advertising company InMobi Pte. Ltd. is in its second avatar. It started in early 2007 in mobile search but after a short and dismal run, InMobi switched to the nascent business of mobile advertising.
Bangalore-based InMobi decided to make a bet on emerging markets in Asia and Africa and now has the second-largest mobile-advertising network globally, after Google Inc., with 77 billion global monthly ad requests, a metric that measures the size of an ad network.
The company recently received a $200 million investment from Softbank Corp., a Japanese media and telecom company. Other investors in the closely held company include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sherpalo Ventures. Following the most recent boost, the company is on an expansion spree.
When Atul Satija, vice president and managing director of Asia Pacific, joined the company in December 2010 from Google, it had six offices and about 200 employees.
Today the number of employees has doubled and the company is planning to open 25 offices world-wide. He spoke with Megha Bahree in Mumbai about hiring the right kind of people as the business expands, and ensuring consumers’ privacy. The following interview has been edited.
WSJ: What are your concerns as you expand so rapidly?
Mr. Satija: It’s almost a nonnegotiable business imperative to expand. Our challenge is to add depth in leadership, especially in new countries. We are starting offices shortly in Melbourne, Auckland, New Delhi and Mumbai. The culture of our company has taken us this far. But the question is how do we keep that culture alive as we expand. We still have the feel of a start-up, meaning you earn your promotion and we give it to you. We’re growing without too many policies in place. We need to keep those elements of trust and aggression.
WSJ: What sort of people are you looking for?
Mr. Satija: We need to hire people who are entrepreneurial and risk takers. But it’s slightly more challenging to hire risk takers in Australia and Singapore than in some other markets like China, for instance. People find it hard to believe that a start-up from Asia can achieve the kind of growth that we are aiming for, a revenue of $1 billion within the next two to four years. There was a time we were hiring frantically and we made some mistakes in the process. We realized we couldn’t hire just for skill sets and instead we needed people with a lot of positive energy, those who are smart and have a great attitude. Skills can be taught.
WSJ: What else do you need to do to achieve your target?
Mr. Satija: We first went from zero to a million dollars in revenue. Now we have set our next target at a billion dollars. We need to do the right things to get there. It’s critical to pick the best talent. We are also very partnership-centered, and we have to keep an open mind in order to find good partnerships to move the needle. A third thing we need to focus on is technology.
This is the one thing that’s directly in our control. We’re investing heavily and looking at acquisitions globally as well as building up in house.
We’re only worried that if we don’t invest in people and technology, even a small company that has made those investments can beat us.
WSJ: Are there any changes in the industry that could impact your business?
Mr. Satija: Privacy is becoming a concern. How we accept data from publishers will be something to be careful of going forward. One of the challenges with advertising in the digital world—either on a computer or a cellphone is ensuring consumer privacy. How does an ad network or a publisher ensure that the privacy of consumers is not compromised, while helping advertisers to reach the consumers. This involves educating all stakeholders—publishers, advertisers and consumers—and also building the privacy requirements into our product, policies and processes. InMobi is doing both of these.
WSJ: What are the dos and don’ts as you enter a new country?
Mr. Satija: Typically when a Western company enters a market outside the U.S., it goes in with a very strong point of view. For us, being based out of India and as one of the first digital media companies out of Asia, we can’t carry that mindset. We say, “let’s learn like a child in a classroom.” We have the luxury of a good product, so now how do we localize and customize it. Usually when we go into a new country, one of the things we will do is to go broad and shore up several easy accounts.
But when we went into Japan, for instance, our local team said instead of that approach we had to go narrow and try and win a few big-ticket accounts, instead of several small ones. This helped us build credibility before we went after the larger market. It’s important to find a good local leader and then trust him to give you insights to that market, even if you don’t initially agree with those views.
WSJ: What’s it like to compete with Google?
Satija: It’s a lot of fun to compete with companies that are very successful. We’re business-to-business and not business-to-consumer like Google, so it’s not a direct competition. And in a sense Google is still in the Internet business and has to protect that space. The only thing we worry about 100% is mobile.
WSJ: How realistic is your goal to hit $1 billion in revenue?
Mr. Satija: Just look at the statistics. The mobile-ad industry is growing three to five times, year-on-year, and we’re growing at the same rate, if not more. Companies that have achieved critical mass in terms of advertiser, publisher and consumer base, product portfolio, technology and business teams, are going to be able to ride the wave. The ball is in our court.
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