In many ways, InMobi is an ideal model for Indian startups. It’s an Indian unicorn that has successfully gone global and – unlike many unicorns in the tech space – it’s actually profitable. Through its network of ad publishers, InMobi reaches more than 1.6 billion users. On the Startup 101 stage at Tech in Asia Singapore 2017, InMobi APAC and MEA managing director Jayesh Easwaramony explained to Tech in Asia‘s Eva Xiao how the company has gotten itself into such an enviable position.
Profitability was “always around the corner for us,” Jayesh said, and as the mobile adtech market began to shift from the early fast-growth phase into becoming a more mature market, InMobi began looking to create scalable profitability. To accomplish that, InMobi drilled down into three core product areas it identified as having “the highest revenue velocity”: video ads, programmatic ads, and mobile remarketing.
Of course, focusing on those products meant scaling back in other areas of the business. One area where the company has cut back is in its customized solutions. Although InMobi still does some custom work for its biggest clients, he said, in its search for profitability the company found it’s better to focus on creating the best broadly-applicable and scalable products rather than trying to create something new each time a new client came along.
When it does work on custom projects, Jayesh said, InMobi prefers to focus on “moonshot projects” – products that may seem high-risk now but that have the potential to be of huge importance in the near future. Right now, he said InMobi’s working on “moonshots” related to augmented reality and chatbots. While those projects don’t offer much promise for immediate profit, they’re still important for the company’s long-term survival. After all, InMobi’s current product pillars – video ads, remarketing, and programmatic ads – would have been considered moonshots themselves when InMobi first began working on them.
How to win in China
Another major factor in InMobi’s hitting profitability has been its success in the biggest internet market on earth: China. From the drop, InMobi enjoyed a little bit of an advantage there – global adtech giants like Google and Facebook are blocked in the Middle Kingdom – but it was still a foreign company trying to make inroads in a market that’s famously difficult for foreign firms to succeed in.
So how did InMobi succeed where so many others have failed? “We entered China very fast,” Jayesh said, and embraced a China-first strategy with its local team. “We gave the China team a lot of independence to execute their strategy really well and really fast,” he said. The result was that rather than attempting to force its existing products into the Chinese market, it quickly adapted InMobi services to fit local needs.
For example, InMobi focused on variable pay ads rather than fixed pay ads in China, because that’s what Chinese salespeople were most interested in. And it adopted a reseller model even though that wasn’t a part of InMobi’s businesses elsewhere because the China team felt embracing that model was the right move.
This strategy also made it easier for InMobi to attract big, influential partners in China. Because the China team was allowed to move quickly and independently, local partners could join up with InMobi and still move quickly enough to keep ahead of compeititors in the rapidly evolving Chinese market. “What resonated with some of these partner companies was that we could execute together very fast,” Jayesh said.
At the end of the day, Jayesh said, “it’s very important to trust your China office and what they’re doing. That worked to our advantage.”
This is part of the coverage of TIA Singapore 2017, our conference that took place on May 17 and 18.
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