Google Ventures Leads $1.875 Million Funding Round in Native Mobile Ad Startup

Namo Media to focus on in-feed in-app ads

A lot of investor money has flowed to mobile ad startups, but much has been siphoned toward companies working on how to better target mobile ads or build ties between mobile and desktop users. Instead of focusing on how ads get distributed and to whom, Namo Media (short for “native mobile”) aims to fix where they get distributed and what they look like.

The mobile ad startup co-founded by three ex-Googlers has raised a $1.875 million funding round, led by Google Ventures with participation from Digg’s parent company Betaworks, elite VC firm Andreesen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures and multiple angel investors.

“The direction we’re gonna go in is the direction Facebook is pointing us toward with [mobile Sponsored Stories ads]. That’s essentially in-stream advertising in their app, and we think we can take [that idea] to other apps,” said co-founder Gabor Cselle, noting that the company isn’t yet ready to announce any products. That type of secrecy isn’t unheard of for a startup having just closed its seed round, but it could be off-putting for any potential customers (though Cselle likely gets more loose-lipped with them).

In fact Namo Media has already “talked to a bunch of advertisers,” said Cselle, but right now the company is more interested in talking with publishers, which makes sense since they wouldn’t be able to get brands to buy any ads if they don’t have somewhere to put them. Specifically Namo Media is interested in publishers with stream formats like news, social and photo-sharing apps. “There are a bunch of apps that have been developed in recent years with stream formats that are struggling to make money,” Cselle said. Namo is looking first at mobile app publishers because they’re having a harder time making money than their mobile Web counterparts, though that later group is a potential future customer base.

Namo Media isn’t the only company with the potential to lead the in-stream mobile ad charge. San Francisco-based Sharethrough last month unveiled an ad product Sharethrough Sponsored Stories that desktop Web publishers could run within their article feeds and could likely be ported to mobile publishers. Then there looms Facebook and Google who could probably make similar moves. Facebook had tested out a mobile ad network last fall before ending it a few months later, and Google already has the AdMob mobile ad network, which it connected with AdWords last year.

But those companies would likely run fairly basic text-plus-thumbnail-image ads, whereas Cselle said Namo Media is working on developing premium ad products. Again he wouldn’t disclose much, but cited the help his company is already receiving from its investors. Google Ventures has a team of designers on staff that helped with the company’s launch page, and Betaworks—responsible for Digg’s widely praised relaunch—is helping the co-founders think through publisher integration. Then there’s angel investor Kevin Scott who oversaw AdMob’s technology team and is now LinkedIn’s svp of engineering.

Then of course there’s Namo Media’s three co-founders. Cselle had previously sold his mobile email app reMail to Google and was the product manager overseeing Android's smart notifications tool Google Now before leaving the company to create Namo. The other two co-founders, Nassar Stoertz and Tural Badirkhanli, are also fresh from Google. Stoertz was a Google software engineer whom Cselle described as a “pretty intense mobile [user interface] guy” and who worked on Google Wallet, Gmail, Google Calendar and app download store Play. Badirkhanli came to the search giant through its acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob and “was the first to build mobile display ad targeting at AdMob and Google,” Cselle said. Namo Media will soon add a fourth employee.

“Our focus is on making a beautiful user experience. We have talent from Google and having worked on consumer apps at Google,” said Cselle. “We want to really make a premium product with a great user experience. We care as much about a publisher’s paid content as a publisher cares about its free content.”