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Mobile Insights with InMobi: Q&A with Kunal Nagpal on InMobi Exchange and In-App Programmatic Trends

Matt Kaplan
24 min read
Posted on May 29, 2020

Welcome to another edition of Mobile Insights with InMobi! This is our new Q&A series, where we sit down with leading mobile marketing and in-app advertising experts to get their take on the current state of the world.   

Note: Want to listen to previous editions of Mobile Insights with InMobi? Head to our SoundCloud page for more

For this interview, I sat down with Kunal Nagpal, GM of Publisher Platform and Exchange at InMobi, on May 1. In this 23-minute conversation, we talked about the current state of InMobi Exchange, how different demand-side platforms are coping with COVID-19 and what brand marketing looks like today. Tune in now to hear the whole conversation

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Full Interview Transcript

MATT: 

Hi everyone. Welcome to another edition of Mobile Insights with InMobi. As always, this is your esteemed host, Matt Kaplan from InMobi's marketing team, and today, very excited to have Kunal Nagpal join me. Kunal can you give everyone listening in a quick introduction?  

KUNAL: 

Sure thing, happy to be here Matt. Hi everyone. I am the GM for our exchange and publisher platforms. Basically means, I run the narrative of, what are we making? When do we make it? How do we take it to the market? And then once it's in the market, running that with the help of the different sales teams and the product teams. 

MATT: 

This is your, what, a month into this role, if memory serves me right? 

KUNAL:  

Yeah, just over a month. I used to run the client services unit before, which was basically our account management teams and our operations, everything from ad ops to creative services to the engineering, et cetera. I've given over that into a couple of other different units as I moved into this new role. Yeah, just short a month and a half. 

MATT:  

And can't be a better time to start a new role with all of us stuck at home, right? 

KUNAL: 

Course. I mean, a whole new meaning to battlefield promotions. It's been a challenge, but I love challenges. It’s good.  

MATT: 

So we're all stuck at home sheltering in place. What is your sheltering in place situation looking like these days?  

KUNAL: 

It’s been complicated. On the one hand, I kind of feel like I'm losing my sense of what is the right time to be working because I have a four year old at home and my wife also has a very, very busy schedule. So we've sort of carved out parts of the house where she doesn't see me for a few hours. I don't see her for a few hours.  

And you know, our daughter then has to be engaged by the two of us, and what that has meant is the hours are stretched. So I start pretty early. Anyway I started early for our global presence. I had to cover Asia time zones. Now I start early and then I take a break sometime in the evening, and then I sort of log back again in the night.  

Yeah, it's been a challenge, definitely been a challenge, but I've been noticing how my own usage of the apps have changed over time. Before we all went into shelter in place here in the Bay Area, I wasn't able to focus that much on, Hey I need to be a bit more conscious about my health. I should be thinking about e-education for my daughter, cause she goes to a preschool, but all those topics have now gotten a new meaning for us.  

I used to listen to a lot of music before, just that was my way to focus at work, with some music in the background on my AirPods. Now, music’s unfortunately gone out the window because there’s always so much anyway going on. But I'm using a lot more of my Peloton app. I'm using a lot more of e-education for my daughter. So definitely lives change quite a bit, professionally and personally. 

MATT: 

Yeah, absolutely. That's a lot. What it means to focus, to balance work and home life, it's definitely all over the place, so good luck to you.  

KUNAL: 

Yeah, thanks.  

MATT 

In your new role, especially overseeing InMobi Exchange, which is a big part of our business in North America, what are the big trends that you're seeing right now as it relates to InMobi Exchange specifically, and really just to the programmatic in-app space more broadly right now?  

KUNAL: 

Yeah, it's a little bit funny. I went to school at UChicago and I'm an econ guym and I remember professor after professor warning us that do not consider you as an individual as the average person and therefore try and extrapolate how life should be in any of the economic models. And yet, as I talked to friends and then I look at the data on our own exchange, I realize it's actually holding true. So on our exchange, we've been seeing some very intuitive things.  

A lot of our e-commerce advertisers have reduced their spends because they're just getting a lot of interest generally, as people stop going to the stores, they shift to online purchases, and if they shift on their own, then the need for an advertiser goes down to spend the money to get more users.  

We've seen that obviously, all travel advertising is down to zero. All hotels, all restaurants, all of that spending has been dramatically dropping. In fact, hotels is down to zero. 

But on the other side, just like I'm spending time and money on e-education for my daughter, e-education has become a huge aspect, and we're seeing many of these apps spending money on our exchange to create awareness in what has to be now a crowded field for the users. So that's gone up. 

Econ, health and fitness app usage gone up. Spends and the users that we've run some surveys on the users, those apps are doing pretty well. You've seen podcasts slash music apps usage gone up. You know, some of those things that you would have expected as people spend more time at home, that has gone up. 

Gaming is a huge increase. It has already seen a huge increase, which is again intuitive. If there are more people sitting at home and they can’t do many of the things that they would have liked to do, like going out for dinner, going out for hikes, whatever activity they may have been indulging in before, now they're trying to pass away time with some more games, so gaming industry on the app side has seen unprecedented boom in both the users and the time spent on those apps. So yeah, those are sort of the broad things we have been seeing. 

MATT: 

 Yeah, it's interesting. We all need to stay entertained and connected somehow. And mobile was, at least for me, filling that role beforehand. And in a way, I feel like this has just accelerated what I was already doing, and that sounds like I'm not alone in that.  

KUNAL: 

Yeah. And you know, it's by no means a scientific poll, but I was talking to a few friends of ours, and before we all went to a shelter in place, I was increasingly very conscious about how much time I'm spending on my phone. Both the Android and the iOS gives you those stats of how much time you spent in hours and minutes and in which app, et cetera. And I was very consciously trying to keep that down, with this hypothesis in my head that it's just not healthy to be spending so much time on the phone. 

And yet after the shelter in place went in place the Bay Area, it's not just a question of I don't have a choice. I will have to spend more time on the phone as I get on calls with colleagues around the world. It's also actually now coming to my advantage because on my iPad now, my daughter is learning stuff. That will count towards my screen time. 

I am spending time on a Peloton app. It will count towards the screen time, but I know I'm actually being healthier by spending that time. So it's required a mindset shift also to be okay to spend more time on phones.  

MATT: 

Yeah, I think the whole idea of what a good balance in your life should look like is just inherently so much different now than what it was because what else were you supposed to do? 

KUNAL: 

Exactly. 

MATT: 

It's interesting that you spoke about some of the different trends that are happening on the advertiser side as far as which brands are in and aren't marketing right now, and all that certainly makes sense.  

Kind of further down the buy side, if you will, I know that InMobi Exchange is connected to a lot of different DSPs, demand side platforms. And I'm curious, how have they been reacting to the pandemic and what have you seen from them over the past, say, six weeks? 

KUNAL:   

I think you could probably break this down into the following sort of discrete paths. There are some large DSPs that invariably are acting like anybody who operate in oligopoly, where if you are large enough you will tend to attract more of the advertiser mindshare, especially in times like these. And so you have Google DV360. You have The Trade Desk, you have Amazon's A9, MediaMath, some of these players, and obviously you also have Verizon Oath in that list.  

They are large DSPs and they've always had a very large diversified pipeline of advertisers who always want to work with them, and so they are doing better than what you expected, all else equal. Because by virtue of their size, they're able to maintain the relationships, if not enhanced, with those advisors. They are doing relatively well. 

Now having said that, the brand advertisers are not spending money, which again makes sense if you're going to sit at home, what's the point of me trying to sell you a new car or a new mattress? There's not a lot of buying that was going to happen, at least while you're inside the house, and maybe for a few more months. So brand dollars have uniformly dropped across the ecosystem and we’ve seen the same. And so even these large advertisers are not immune to that. Sorry, these large DSPs are not immune to that. 

Then you have sort of a second category, the smaller, medium business advisers who used to work through different DSPs. Those DSPs are now disproportionately hit.  

SMBs are under huge stress right now. Their business is obviously hugely impacted by the shutdown in various states in the U.S., but also they never had the financial strength to ride out and therefore continue to do many of the things that they would have liked to do in a normal situation. 

What that means is any DSP that was overly concentrated on the SMB side is now hit more. Now I won't go into those names, but we've seen those DSPs drop spends up to 70% in some cases.  

The third sort of category of DSPs has been who did not necessarily work with SMBs, but were very vertical specific. Certain DSPs have always focused on the retail sector. Certain DSPs have focused on the travel sector. Certain DSPs have focused on location as their big focus. As you can imagine, all three of those aspects are now hugely impacted.  

Stores are shut, so there's not much retail spending. Yes, retail brands are trying to move you to online, but A) not every brand has a great online presence, and B) even if they did, it's still requires a large supply chain that is impacted with workers at home.  

Obviously travel is down to zero, so those DSPs are really, really struggling. In fact, we've had some conversations with a couple of our partners that we have great relationships and they’re not sure they will come out as standalone entities after this thing ends. And it's quite sad, but it is reality for them to live through.  

And third, again, location. If everybody's going to be sitting at home, there's not a whole lot of location-based selling to be done. I can't sell you, as an advertiser, if you've come to me and say, Hey I'm a location-based DSP, let me give you this service to show how the users are going through to McDonald's or going through into a Gap store. 

That is not happening anymore. The users are not going outside of their houses. So that's sort of a third category of DSP that we've seen have, and they're very, very disproportionate impacted in these times.  

On the other hand, and our final category of DSPs who focused on user acquisition around verticals like gaming or you have verticals like e-education, et cetera. All of those obviously are doing really well. And in that sense of having that spread of DSPs who've had a diversified business across the spectrum for the exchange has really shown us the strength of a diversified portfolio, if that makes sense.  

MATT: 

Yeah, I think so. I think there's definitely going to be some players that are, as you mentioned, going to get a boost organically, just being who they are and what space they are. But for other app categories, there's now dozens of videos streaming apps that are out there. There's hundreds of games. And so I think you definitely would need a boost to, to capture mind share while you can in this moment.  

KUNAL: 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.  

MATT: 

And of course complicating all the manners is just, there's a lot of people who are furloughed or out of work, and so they just aren't going to have the money to buy right now. 

KUNAL  

Yeah.  That's an unfortunate reality, right? The latest number show like more than 30 million people in U.S. have now filed for unemployment. That's just a staggering amount of jobs lost. Not just 10% of the population, almost 10% but I think that's 20% of the working population. 

That was never anticipated, ever. And I think the impact of that will be felt for many, many, many months, if not more than a couple of years. Hopefully it will bounce back faster, but it's just as a huge economic depression of the sort of consumer spending that goes down. And so obviously brands have to adjust to that new reality. 

But conversely, as a normal human reaction, in times of extreme stress, you want to take your mind away from these things. And that's when you sort of seek refuge, quote in quote, in games, in meditation apps and some sort of fitness apps. And that sort of explains that other side of the behavior that we are seeing on the exchange.  

MATT: 

Sure, yeah. I think regardless of your economic situation, we're all stuck at home. There's only so much that we can do. Playing a game, streaming something, cooking something, learning a new language, it's all good ways for us to occupy our time.  

KUNAL: 

Yeah. Exactly 

MATT: 

Obviously, none of us will know really how long the pandemic will last, but if you had to gaze into the crystal ball as it were, do you see some of these trends continuing years down the line? Do you think things will pick up again by Q3? What's your prediction? 

KUNAL 

I think there are two sides to this. The first side is as a secular trend, we have been observing year on year how the time spent on mobile apps has been increasing, whether we are time spent on your laptops and even your Chrome or Safari browsers on the phones. 

So that's not going to go anywhere. In fact, that only gets a boost in this time. Ask anyone how they're consuming their news. They're likely spending even less time on their laptop, on the news, but probably now have four news apps installed on their phone. So I think that that trend probably gets a boost. And that's just not something that will change.  

The other side is these sort of spikes, so to say, like the gaming spike that we've been observing. I think some of these spikes, if you look at the medium term (and I'm defining median term, they'll say end of Q3) you will continue to see some sort of enhanced activity.  

It will go down over time. A, as you know, these gaming companies also start focusing on retaining users versus just acquiring new users. And B, as we just talked about, like the economic impact comes into full force of unemployment, people will start conserving a lot more of their savings. And there are some very serious gamers out there.  

But even beyond that, some of these streaming companies who've seen a spike, fitness apps, music apps, you start adding up the subscriptions and it's not a small amount anymore. And so we think, at least by end of Q3, we will see some of that leveling happen, if not maybe a slight dip right after that. As the states reopen up properly, at least beyond Q3 as we look into that and plan for our own revenue, we’re actually anticipating a dip in these categories, to make up for this huge sort of artificial bump up that happened over Q2 and Q3. 

So longer term I think app usage continues to grow. In fact, as we just recently launched our connected TV offering, that side is just growing by like 30, 40, 50% right now. As you were saying before, as more and more people stream and as they remain at home, it's again intuitive to imagine if I have to watch content, video content, and I'm at home, I'd rather watch it on a big screen versus even in my app.  

That side is also booming and I think that's going to get even more of a boost. That’ll probably mean more cable TV disconnects and more of these streaming apps, cause now people have, as you talked about 15 minutes earlier, as your work schedule is completely out of whack, it's even more important for people to watch content when they want to watch it versus what's coming linearly, pre-programmed by the cable network. So it was the kind of thing we’re anticipating.  

MATT: 

Yeah. And of course a lot of the premium linear TV programming that people were paying for, sports in particular, isn't available anymore.  

KUNAL 

True, absolutely. Sports is off and even current programming is right now on hold in many, many places. So people are going to watch reruns and if they want to watch reruns, then they want to watch in a binge way, not waiting for a new episode every other week.  

MATT: 

And we certainly have time to binge. 

KUNAL: 

Exactly. 

MATT:  

Well, Kunal, it's been great chatting. Everyone, thanks for tuning in. Until next time.  

KUNAL: 

Thank you. 

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About the Author/Interviewer  

Matthew Kaplan has over a decade of digital marketing experience, working to support the content goals of the world’s biggest B2B and B2C brands. He is a passionate app user and evangelist, working to support diverse marketing campaigns across devices. 

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