InMobi is the third largest player in mobile advertising after Google and Facebook.
Even under a bad spell of cold and cough, Naveen Tewari's boyish charm shines through. The founder of InMobi, a mobile ad platform, is dressed in jeans and a full-sleeve T-shirt emblazoned with his company's logo. A black watch with a huge dial is the only accessory. It's a Garmin watch—a fitness tracker that he uses to monitor his running and jogging.
His face lights up when he talks about those initial days of experimentation, failure and, eventually, success. He has shaken the world of mobile advertising with InMobi, which is reportedly valued at $2.5 billion, but he smiles modestly when asked about it. It is the third largest player in mobile advertising after Google and Facebook and, sensing the challenge, Google apparently offered to buy out InMobi. Tewari smiles again, neither confirming nor dismissing the rumour.
After getting a degree from Harvard, Tewari worked in start-ups for free and survived on his wife’s earnings. “I was a good house husband,” he says.
His first venture was mKhoj, a mobile ad platform. It did not do well and Tewari ran out of money. “From the prized world of McKinsey and Harvard, I was down to zero. My confidence took a severe beating,” says the IIT Kanpur graduate.
As smartphones became popular, the business model was changed to mobile ads monetisation. Since then, there has been no looking back. InMobi has expanded across several countries, including China. In fact, InMobi is apparently ten times more popular in China than in India, and Tewari gave a speech in Mandarin at a recent product launch in China.
So, what more does he want? Surprisingly, Tewari has few aspirations in life. Actually, he has just one—make InMobi one of the most high-quality companies in the world. The company is his dream, passion, obsession, everything. “Work is the biggest stress-buster for me. I get bored if I don’t work,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean Tewari spends every waking hour cooped up in his office. Though he doesn't party hard, he does let loose at InMobi dos. In fact, he was the bartender at a recent office party. “He becomes this very enthusiastic person full of life,” says a colleague. “That day, he did not leave the dance floor till the end. He was taking people to the dance floor making sure everybody danced.”
He also travels a lot, which is unavoidable and not too enjoyable. Doesn’t his wife complain? “She does, badly. But they (she and the children) have gotten used to it now. I love spending time with my kids but I am hardly there,” he says. Tewari’s family lives in the US, but he stays in India because InMobi has its headquarters in Bengaluru.
The entrepreneur loves wines, but is not a collector. “Perhaps, some day I might,” he says, half-heartedly. He also loves buying gadgets, the latest being the Amazon Echo Alexa, a wireless speaker and voice command device. He also cycles and runs, though he doesn’t cycle when in India. Unlike in the US, India does not have many dedicated cycling tracks. So, he runs. “It allows me to think. I like activities that help me concentrate, introspect,” he says.
InMobi's office bears the stamp of Tewari’s ideology of being open, disruptive and thinking big. There are no cabins in the open floor office and he sits among his colleagues. The InMobi office is a kaleidoscope of colours with lounge chairs, recliners, tables and reading chairs in various shapes and sizes. There are 22 meeting rooms with graffiti on the walls, mostly done by employees or their families. Each room has a different theme, like Chacha Chaudhary, Dilbert or Calvin and Hobbes.
The company follows a democratic work culture. There are no access cards, no timings and no leave policies. And, if employees leave to start a business, the company gives them office space and unfettered access to the cafeteria. “The fundamental principle behind all this is trust,” says Tewari. “Of the factors that [retain people], money is the only measurable one. Culture keeps people.”
NAVEEN TEWARI, 38
Company: InMobi (started in 2007)
Valuation: Rs.2,500 crore
Hobbies: Cycling, running
Quote to note: Work is the biggest stress-buster for me. I get bored if I don’t work.