They Might Be Giants

From Google to startups like Square, a look at seven would-be mobile titans

Naveen Tewari
Founder and CEO

Naveen Tewari got out of text message ads before it was too late. Sensing the limitations of the space in terms of scalability and engagement, InMobi’s CEO began in 2007 to focus on the then-nascent mobile-based Internet ad market (the company was previously called mKhoj). For Tewari as well as InMobi, the move was equal parts brilliant and lucky.

Today, InMobi, a mobile ad-delivery platform/network, is in over 160 countries, serving ads to nearly 600 million consumers.

Even with that huge base, Tewari believes we’re still in the earliest of early days. “I think in general, in some pockets, we have a rudimentary understanding of mobile, but we’re just scratching the surface,” he says. “Our understanding of user signals is largely primitive.”

At the outset, Tewari saw the growing mobile market in India as the best place to launch his company. A few years later, InMobi entered the U.S., where the company’s international experience proved helpful in assessing the strengths and limitations of the market, including how a PC-centric attitude can serve to slow mobile adoption.

“Sophistication in the U.S. is very high and the buyers are the most sophisticated anywhere, but they have a very strong Western bias,” he says. “The U.S. is the largest mobile market in the world, but other markets as a percentage of digital space are moving faster to mobile because there is much less loyalty to the PC.”

Tewari also sees the fragmentation of the technology market as a factor. In China, adoption is very fast since there are only one or two services. But in the U.S., he adds, “the challenge comes from the highly segmented market, which creates delays. Quite ironically, it seems the lack of segmentation in the market allows other countries to grow more.”

Thus, Tewari wants mobile ads to get a lot better, both from a creative and technological perspective.

“We are working on the idea that we should be able to predict what a user wants in the next minute, seven days, 30 days or even 90 days,” he says. “That’s what mobile should be able to give us. There is a lot of data around user experience that is nowhere near where it should be. Whether I’m standing up or lying down or sitting or walking, this context level isn’t there yet. If I know the user is walking, I’m better off showing more graphics than text.”

Going forward, Tewari’s enthusiasm for such precise targeting will surely be met by screaming from privacy advocates. But that’s a long way off anyway. For the time being, “we have to simplify mobile,” Tewari says. “What I mean by that is that mobile ads just have to work. Because they don’t always work, people have a hard time accepting their value. We are hard at work putting together a complete solution from creatives to optimizing both supply and demand side platforms. Hopefully a unified solution will allow people to see the value of mobile and raise CPMs.” —Charlie Warzel

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