India-based InMobi is the huge mobile advertising network with an estimated $2.5 billion valuation, which, in the words of Forbes, “is giving Facebook and Google a run for their money” thanks to its impressive reach to more than 1 billion monthly app users.
The sheer scale of InMobi’s network is one of the reasons the company manages to attract top talent from the likes of Facebook and Google. InMobi has also been linked as a potential acquisition target for the likes of Google and Microsoft, although the company has dismissed these reports as rumours.
InMobi CEO Naveen Tewari tells Business Insider that he is aiming for InMobi to become one of the largest tech companies in the world over the next five to 10 years. He ruled out an IPO this year, however, saying the public markets wouldn’t allow the company to “innovate as aggressively as we want to for the next couple years.”
But beyond the size and growing buzz around the company, Tewari said there are two other important aspects to the culture inside InMobi that makes the firm such an attractive workplace compared to some of its better-known tech rivals.
The company has ripped up the rulebook when it comes to quarterly performance reviews, and he tells us InMobi staff take “great pride” that they are building a global tech platform that isn’t based in Silicon Valley — even the employees based in its San Francisco office.
InMobi pays 100% bonuses because quarterly performance reviews breed “mediocrity”
Tewari explains that around three-to-four years ago, the company realised it would only succeed if its culture was designed to nurture innovation. To do that, InMobi needed to hire people it could trust and give them the freedom they require to create new products.
That kind of freedom, Tewari said, is usually expected at companies based in Silicon Valley — but in marketplaces like India, those cultures have not necessarily existed before.
But where InMobi differs from lots of its Silicon Valley counterparts is that it has done away with any sort of bonus or annual leave policies.
“We started paying everyone 100% bonuses. We removed any sort of performance management system where you put down your goals for the quarter, or the year, then try measuring against those goals because when you are dealing with innovation, that has no meaning,” Tewari said.
He thinks performance management systems are “the most pathetic thing to ever be created” because they only promote “mediocrity,” sometimes preventing people from achieving more.
“Essentially we’ve created an environment where people can be free to create a new product that can change the world of advertising. Now we’ve seen an unbelievable level of results based on that, people in small teams that have created some great innovations for us, we are really excited by what we see,” he added.
For example, last year the company unveiled a discovery platform called Miip, designed to drive e-commerce on apps such as Amazon and Paytm in India. InMobi estimates Miip will bring in about $1 billion in revenue over the next couple of years. And while Tewari wouldn’t reveal dollar figures, he said the company’s total revenue grew 80% year-on-year in 2015.
While there was pushback at first, Tewari said employees now applaud the decision to allow them more freedom by doing away with performance reviews.
“The job of HR and finance teams [now] is to figure out how to remove processes, not to add them, and they take pride in coming back and saying we have removed processes,” Tewari said. “I think a lot of these things have to be mandated and led from a founder level because these are beliefs, and if someone else was try and do this they might find it a little hard — they might get questioned on it — as a founder I don’t have that fear.”
The “pride” in not working for another Silicon Valley company
Tewari said “pride” is one of the key tenets that connects staff at InMobi.
He added: “That level of pride, to build a global company out of India certainly connects a lot of people within InMobi, because they see they have an opportunity and environment to grow this company [into one of the largest global tech product companies.]”
Tewari said that level of pride is expressed across its 17 international offices, not just among employees based in India.
“A lot of people within the company take pride in building a global platform. I know for a fact that when we started the London office, people took a lot of pride in joining us because they really wanted to make sure that if you’re building a global platform, you’re not a company that’s just representing Valley interests,” Tewari said.
He continued: “I saw that pride when we started in China [where InMobi is now the second-largest ad network in terms of scale, behind Tencent,] there was a massive amount of pride that we are the most technologically advanced advertising platform in China, but also pride in the fact that they believe we are the first international technology company that was really successful in China. Nobody else has really been successful there.”
Ad tech funding drying up is “brilliant” for InMobi
With no plans to go public or to be acquired, InMobi wants to keep focusing on product innovation in 2015. The company has raised more than $220 million in funding to date, mostly recently raising a $100 million debt financing round in September.
Tewari says he agrees with the “Winter is coming” predictions for the ad tech sector this year — the commonly-held view that there will be very few glittering liquidity events for the ad tech companies that have not yet gone public or been acquired by bigger players.
“The fact that funding has dried up in ad tech is brilliant for people like us because we believe we are innovating and differentiating — the things we are doing we know nobody else is doing probably outside of Facebook and Google,” Tewari said. “In a market where funding is hard to come by, if you’re scaled already, then you are in a brilliant position because nobody is going to catch up with you.”
The global mobile advertising market is predicted to reach $114 billion in 2018, up from $50 billion in 2015, according to ZenithOptimedia. Tewari believes that shows there’s still some wiggle room for companies like Google and Facebook “to become really large on mobile” — and of course, he thinks InMobi is set up to become one of those big players.
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