In the finale episode, Sanjay Nath chats up Naveen Tewari of InMobi on building two unicorns, creating an “institution” vs an organization, and not getting fazed by feedback. Sanjay also shares how Naveen has been a major influence in his journey of co-founding Blume. Tune in for more.
This transcript was AI-generated and went through multiple rounds of proofreading. However, there might be a few errors that may have slipped through the cracks.
Sanjay: Hi, everyone. Today in this episode of X-Unicorns, it is my pleasure to host a very special guest, Naveen Tewari, who’s the founder and CEO of InMobi. Interestingly, as many of you may know, InMobi was India's first-ever unicorn, and created Glance another unicorn in and of itself. So, it's really special to have a founder here, Naveen, who's created two unicorns under a common umbrella.
Before we segue and dive deep into this podcast, I wanted to share a few personal notes on why it's special to have Naveen here today. Interestingly Naveen, I wanted to do this in person, and as it turns out, I'm back in San Francisco just a couple of blocks away from your InMobi San Francisco headquarters. So the next time we do it, we'll definitely plan to do it in person. One continent, one country, and one place. Just wanted to add a personal note here on the intro and the relevance. Some of you may remember that InMobi was one of the first investments of the Mumbai Angels way back in 2009 to 2010, which is interestingly also where Karthik Reddy and I first met more than a decade ago. It was my very first personal angel investment where I'm still a small and early supporter. Naveen's return from the US to India to become a founder also inspired me as I was extremely intrigued by the very nascent India story back then and why Indian founders were leaving their well-paid jobs and taking early risks around the massive, but still then very unproven India promise. I have to say, Naveen, that you've played a key role in my own return to India to spend time with Karthik more than a decade ago and helped kick off my own internal story envisioning of being an India focused early-stage investor and of co-founding Blume. So, as we dive in, I would like to say that our audience would love to hear about not just the story, but also the inflection points, the pivots and the learnings in your journey Naveen, including personal anecdotes, because a lot of those learnings come from those stories and would love, your, to hear your storytelling here. So, let's dive right in. Welcome Naveen.
Naveen: Thank you Sanjay. And I must say, the reason why, you know, InMobi exists, a big part of it goes back to you for supporting us at the time at which there wasn't really a funding environment for backing early-stage companies. Now of course you have taken that and institutionalized it with Blume. But to be able to do that for us meant, meant a lot to me personally and to the company, it was a huge risk. So, I just want to genuinely thank you for this, and I'm very excited to be coming on this podcast, it'll be an exciting, fun conversation to have with you.
Sanjay: Thanks Naveen. Much appreciate the kind words. Let's take a walk down memory lane and go back to those formative years. I'll call it the Kanpur to Harvard, phase of a journey. I know you were born to a family with IIT Kanpur heritage, your father was a professor and other members of the family. Would love to your thoughts, on how did they influence your decision to study and be who you are, and then also aspire to go abroad after IIT? Just walk us back through those years.
Naveen: I love the phrase you use Kanpur to Harvard. I love to talk about that place no matter what. As you rightly said, I was born into a family of academicians. My grandmother was a professor. My father was a professor, my uncle was a professor, my aunt was a prof. Everybody, father-in-law was a professor. So, everybody in my family has been a professor. So, education, and its importance of it was very deeply ingrained into the system, in the society, and in the air around there. So, there was a lot of value attached to education, it was a thing that I think our family had done for generations. So, when at some point in time I decided not to do it, I almost felt that it was like I had to carry on with the family heritage to essentially be an educator. I think I almost decided to be an educator despite maybe not being a good one. I think it was my father who basically told me, why are you doing this, the world's changed, you should go out and do something different. I didn't understand it because wasn't as aware of what the world change is looking like. But I think the education was very deeply ingrained into the, into our system. Kanpur is a mid-tier town, very deeply into UP. And so, the changes in that were happening, the world was not necessarily that visible and that was a motivation as you were growing because you would hear about other places and you know about, countries internationally, which were growing very differently, and you just wanted to make a very small, limited change, by your own self. And I think that was the biggest driving force or one of the driving forces, I would say. And so, when you got out of Kanpur, you really saw that the world changed and is changing. And the thing that became very core to me was to say, if, if it could be done, throughout the world, and why could somebody coming from a smaller town not do this? And I think that became, a thing to prove to myself and maybe to a larger community of people who always thought that the big things are not done by, people from a small town and big things are not done by things from the middle class. And I think that was just an interesting view of life that, at least I had.
Sanjay: Very interesting Naveen. Let's, cross the ocean from Kanpur and let's go to the Charles River to Boston Days. It's interesting, I've observed that, when one has brands and logos, in your case, McKinsey, Charles River Ventures, and then you know, Harvard Business School. The opportunity cost and leaving and trying something different is much harder when one has nothing, in one of your interviews, you talked about in your late twenties, you don't leave everything to try and build something small. Would love to hear what is going through your mind. as India was very early and you had these brands and these great experiences on your belt, what is going through your mind, in those early seeds of entrepreneurship?
Naveen: Yeah, look, it's very interesting because I think you start your life to essentially hope to be associated with these brands or these brands to be associated with you. And once you get it, then you find yourself a little hollow, because you work hard to get to the brand and then you don't know what you do now. And I think this sense of, I must get into IIT, and you did, and then I must get to McKinsey, you did. And then I must get to, Harvard, you did, okay, now I got here and it's phenomenal. I don't want to sound arrogant a lot at all. It was huge and they’re massively big brands, you realize that you're still not happy, you're still not satisfied. and the question that was intriguing me is to say, okay, why am I not happy? Why am I not satisfied? What am I trying to do or prove, that I'm not happy or satisfied? Every one of us, work hard to get to these phenomenal places. The question that hits you is to say, okay, what next? Once you get there, the question again comes back, what am I doing here? what should I try to do? And how can I use my, use my time a little better? And I think that question, that intrigue, never stopped in my view, till you reached a point to say, people who really matter, in my view, were the ones who create the future and if you create the future, and not just, define a future, or not just talk about the future, you got to go create it. And creation is hard, is very hard. So, if you can go create a future, then you know, there may be something that you're doing, which is changing the way the world is. And I think that became an important aspect of things, as I went through these several years of these phenomenal brands. And that's where the whole India point also came in. I've always been a big fan of our country and its potential, and its people in all aspects. And, maybe at times, not logically, you don't need to be logically accurate to essentially go after things. You need to be just passionate about them, to begin with. And so there came a point of time where you thought about creation, India kept on coming back and it's okay, maybe if this was to be done, for India, from India it may have a different meaning, of course, realizing at least at that point of time or thinking at that point of time, it may not be as, meaningful just because of the size and scale of it. I think that part certainly got proven wrong because India is just flourished to a different level. But if you go back to that point in time, I think it was the quest to essentially create something and the quest to have a purpose in life that was not as well defined may be as it is today, or I can articulate it much better today, but I think this, emptiness on one hand and the need to have a purpose, on the other hand, led to, essentially going for things.
There was a time when I was at McKinsey where I used to work for Reliance in Infocom and Infocom was getting launched and, I would watch Ambani, from a distance, build his telecom empire. And Reliance was a giant already by that point in time. And here was this person who was working, I don't know, 18 hours, 20 hours a day to create something and it was just the most fascinating thing I'd ever seen in my life, of, how to think about creation and how to go about essentially even doing it and he did it and he did it. Of course, he repeated that with Jio later. Club with all of this, like watching him, you always wanted to be in his position versus, being, an advisor to him or creating documents, those things are nice and important, but they're not the ones where you're really creating, because creation is not about knowledge. It's about, taking that decision, taking that risk with very limited information and, going into the unknown.
Sanjay: This is very interesting Naveen. I think you've touched upon the hard things about hard things, and you all have come so far, but it's very interesting. You go back and you're digging deep into emotions. I wanted to touch upon two aspects you talked about, creation and inspiration. If you can share a bit about your co-founders, how did you all persuade each other to join the bandwagon? Often, I found that it's easier sometimes to convince investors than your co-founders because you are putting your lives in each other's hands versus an investor, yes, putting part of our lives, but mainly our money and our platform. How did you all come together and at such a young age of starting, who are your inspirations? You talked about Mr. Ambani, but then back in Boston, in the cross border, how do you all come together and who are some inspirational role models that you know, you could look up to and say, I want to, if not emulate them, at least draw inspiration.
Naveen: Yeah. Look, I think from an inspiration point of view, there is the inspiration that you draw from people that you see up close and then there is the inspiration that you draw from the stories that you hear about some people. Watching people up close are the ones who are creating new things and you can see them create, it's, you see the journey. So, with Mr. Ambani, I was able to see his journey only maybe for two years, but you saw the journey. You saw that even somebody like him, would have a low day and a high day and, he would still like, chug along and create something. But he was always focused on something massive and so those are inspirations that you see from close quarters. And then there are these inspirational stories which are of course, the story of Infosys, the story of Wipro, all of those are like putting India on the map. And it, felt like, I'm not a sportsman, but if I were one, these are the things that you want to be associated with. Where the India flag is flying high. If India were to win a game and the Indian flag would basically be out there. So those are the kind of things that I would say really, at least to me, were very powerful and impactful, from an inspiration point of view. One thing that I realized was I was always very intrigued by people who were creating things. That was a realization that I had. It was not about running things. It's not about managing things; it's about creating things because creation as a process was just like beautiful. It's beautiful, but it's hard. You go wrong, but it's beautiful. And so therefore I think, creating the future became a thing which unknowingly probably I would say today, unknowingly at that point of time was like very core to me and I was getting attracted to people who were just creating stuff.
Now, coming back to a very important question you just asked, which is about my co-founders. You must go back to the context of when we were starting up right in 2007ish and 2008, and all that timeframe. There was no concept of a startup.
There was no concept of any success or failure. And so, we'd never actually talked about, hey, we'll make this into a big company or a unicorn or, anything of that sort. We just came together because I think somewhere everybody was searching for a purpose that was going to be meaningful to them individually. Because I think, at that, that age that we were in, we all realized that we would do no matter what. But is there a sense that we could try and fulfil a purpose and go off to something that's not been done before. And I would say whether it was Abhay who I first interacted with, and he'd been to be fair, he's been one of those who had been a co-founder since we were in at undergrad together. He had already founded one company and hadn't succeeded. And so when I met him, I would always look up to that guy because, he had created a company at the time when, I was searching for safety, like talk about the risk profile difference between him and me, and the ability for him to take a risk when he was in college itself and he is never done a job till late, frankly and when I met him, he had just shut his company down. He sat down with me, and I said so what are you thinking of doing? And he says I'm going to start a new company. And I'm like, what are you talking about, your previous one just shut down and you're telling me that you're gonna start again. He said it's amazing. And there was nothing materially amazing about that sentence of his, what was amazing about that sentence of it was the depth of passion that he had for creation, and that was just like magnetic. I would say it was so magnetic, it was like, oh God, like I am thinking, and I have every possible brand on myself, passed on to an F1 race driver, and here is this guy who's gonna go at it again, hasn’t necessarily earned money because he never walked anywhere and he's gonna go for it again. Like, why would I not be doing this? The same was true with my other two co-founders Amit and, and Mohit, they were all about, hey, if there is an interesting thing that we could all do, when would we do this? So maybe I was half convinced of doing things myself. But the other half of it basically came from, watching some of these people, their passion also to essentially create, and you certainly realize that, wait a minute, even if you were to fail, this is a very interesting thing to go for. And I think that's how I would put it, the importance of the co-founders, at that point of time and even today, is about, connecting at a deeper emotional level, not necessarily at the, hey, you bring this, I bring that, et cetera on the table because the journey's too long and hard and it's not necessarily about, complementary of skills, but, somewhere compounding of passion and compounding of trust that's far more important and I think that continues to stay, for us, in these last 15 years of having done a company.
Sanjay: This is very interesting, if somebody just dropped into the last two minutes, you've talked about some very interesting words. One is creation is beautiful, and it's almost a work of art, right. You must really enjoy it, which is what I'm taking away from it. Besides creating value and impact and making, wealth creation for all the stakeholders. And the second is also on how your co-founders and all of you have also quasi-inspired each other, right. You said you've taken inspiration from Mr. Ambani and the others before you've been there, done that, but also how the complimentary personalities all inspired each other. Very interesting. I wanted to segue into scaling something that's also dear to your heart. I was just looking at one of your interviews, where, especially with the pivot in addition to Glance, you talk about, you and your peers talk about owning the crowded streets of the internet and, constantly, looking to scale. I think these numbers have been surpassed now, but the numbers I dug up from some time, Glance has moved from 400,000. The target was to be on 1 million devices and then Roposo also from, a hundred thousand to 1 million concurrent users.
I think here I would love to have your thoughts on how you think of scale both at your level, Piyush’s, and the co-founder's level, and when you look at your P&Ls, maybe acquisitions, just what do you think about scale, both in terms of strategy and how everybody inside InMobi thinks about scale.
Naveen: Yeah, it's a very important question. one of our big tenets, that all of us carry around, as co-founders and actually as a, at large, within the company is, to think big, and be entrepreneurial, what that means is that we really wanna go and try and build big things, and scale becomes an important aspect of it. As we thought about, advertising, we were one of the earliest in the mobile advertising space at the time when we came in, and it was probably going to be easy for us to just stay as an India-only player. But we soon realized that we are actually going after the internet. We're going after the global internet and this phenomenon of advertising is not just contained within the boundaries of India. If you actually think and push yourself a little bit, this phenomenon is going to be a pillar of the global internet. And today we are one of the top few players in the open internet space on advertising. And we take a lot of pride in that because we have built that business brick by brick, and, and have built it from a very different part of the world and it's a very deeply technical space. So it's not, there was this, there was, people used to believe that India may not be able to create a deep product.
But I think we've shown with them and so as advertising business, we saw of ours and we realized that business is going to certainly, scale quite significantly. We wanted to essentially think about how we could actually also build consumer facing businesses, which are unique and have not been created before. We didn't wanna go and create yet another something else, which has been done before and copy it and do it. Not that it's, I have anything against it, just, who we are. We just wanted to create something new. and that has its own challenges because people don't really accept it, to begin with.
I remember, back in 2008 and nine when you backed us, there was no, that was very hard for anybody else to back us in the advertising space because everybody thought that there is no advertising that'll be possible on mobile phones. But, that's not the case today. It's actually the largest space in the world in about 10 to 12 years, henceforth. Similarly, I think we looked at, when we looked at Glance, we said, hey, we should create something new. We should create a new consumption platform. We should create a new form of the internet. We should create an internet on, on the lock screens. We should create the internet on surfaces, and nobody had done it before. and we were at it for years, before we came out with it. And I think it's been phenomenal because I think our scale, on that is already crossing about half a billion phones now carry Glance on their phones. And therefore it's, soon enough, maybe in about a year or two, we would be on, a billion devices and Glance would be one of the few platforms in the world that touch a billion people. Now, that's how we think of scale. Anytime we think about scale, it has to get to a disproportionately large portion of internet users. That's how we think about it. If we get, when we get to a billion users, I think we'll be on a quarter of the internet users of the planet, maybe a little higher. And that's what exciting, that's what's exciting. And we are creating all of these technologies and phenomena from here. We're not creating them from anywhere else. And that we take a lot of pride in that. And when Piyush, Abhay away or more think about, scale, we think about what portion of the internet can we get to and I think it's very important for anybody who does creation. We are not phased with what somebody else has to say about our technology, or what somebody else has to say about our platform. Not because we don't like to take feedback, don't get me wrong. I think it's important that if you have clarity or vision about something, you, and if it is really out there, most people will not see it. And that means you're pushing the envelope. And that means when you're pushing the envelope, you will get naysayers. Not because they're against you, just because they don't see it. And I think it's that, it's at that point you have to essentially stay true to your vision and say, no, I hear you. I think I'm gonna stay at it because this is going to happen. And I think that's what creates phenomena’s in the world. And I think we really like to do that. And we are probably onto, that with, certainly with Glance, we are certainly going to be onto that with what we are trying to do with Roposo, which is, already touched over 50 million people, 50 million users, and in on its way to, very large numbers over the next few years. So that's how we are, and that's what we like to do. And we feel pretty confident about this. The beauty of creation, I'll tell you one more, is you require lesser capital. and if you require lesser capital, if you essentially create something, it's because you are creating, you're not trying to outcompete anybody else.
Sanjay: No, very interesting. Naveen. I wanted to just segue into a different part. when I think of, the phrase ‘change is the only constant’ and the importance of, _____ to carry people along I think of you when I think of InMobi and specifically would love to hear your thoughts on, pivots. I know when we had __ angels back to very early, it was called MKhoj. It was mobile, mobile search. Remember, early on, the first markets were not the US or the Western world, but Singapore and Southeast Asia and down the line very recently, you were the first ad tech B2B unicorn. But you've added Glance and created a second unicorn, and now have a full stack, right, both B2B and B2C. Talk a bit about, the evolution of business model, but more importantly, persuading and convincing your backers Naveen, right. Of course, we were very early on, and we backed you, but along the way, when you have a pivot, change in vision, you expanding your tabs, the time is becoming larger. How do you convince investors who have signed up for something else and suddenly see this? Would love to hear your thoughts because this is I think, a hallmark, of constant change and believing in seeing the next new thing before others see it, and then carrying them along.
Naveen: Yeah. It’s a very important question because I think, there are two different points that you asked here. I think one is, when you're pivoting and then when you are creating something newer where your existing thing continues and scales and has to scale at the same pace and you're gonna create, I think we, we pivoted only once, which was, at that time when we moved from MKhoj to InMobi, that was a time when I know I had a conversation with all of you and it was a conversation that I prepared three days for, and you guys sent me away in five minutes to say, yeah, go ahead, do it.
It was because, at that point in time, I didn't feel the reason for the pivot. At that point, I didn't feel that we were gonna succeed to build anything big. And I think the, I still remember the conversation we had for a few minutes, which was you asked a question to say, hey, there are these three companies that are doing this, then why are you pivoting? And I think my response to that at that time was, I know they're doing it. I know there are a bunch of large VCs who are backing them. I just don't see this as a big market. I can't see it. And if, if I can't see it, I don't know how to go behind it. And I think your answer was, that's a good enough place to be at because if you don't see it, you're not gonna get there. I think we were okay in that decision because the space never became large like mobile SMS search never became large. So that was a pivot reason. I think when you get to some of these reasons here, I think when you get to a certain scale in size, there is in technology, let me abstract my point out a little bit. In technology, there is nothing called, that oh, because of I have a certain scale, nobody else can touch me because new technologies come in and they actually create disruption very rapidly. And so, the only way to safeguard yourself at a true mode as a technology company, long-term mode is you know, that you are able to create and that's becoming visible more and more, as we go forward. And so, when our advertising business had started to scale and we saw certain scale and size that we would be at, we realize that in an advertising-led business, if you were to add a consumer component, it solidifies it, frankly it becomes a full stack company. Now that's easier said than done because that's on paper. The hard part of that is, a B2C platform is, you don't know whether you'll succeed or not. And so, therefore, the thing that we have realized over the last many years is, new initiatives are not about capital allocation or large capital allocation, new initiatives, if they are oriented on creating something newer are based on the quality of people that you can put behind that and keep it really small. So, for almost about two or three years, I would say the Glance team, the first two or three, the Glance team wasn't more than 10, 12 people, maybe 15. It never went beyond that size because the big things are not created because you put hundreds of people. It's only when you know that I have to scale it now you can then put people behind it and try to scale it. And that's been the approach we have had for the longest period of time. We always have a few of these woods in the fire, we don't know where they will go. But we think we always can create something interesting in a certain, dimension space. We also feel more confident about doing so now, and therefore these conversations are actually pretty gradual with the backers, with the investors. Because we are not necessarily going in, in there and saying, hey, I am putting 20% of my resources onto something, no, saying, frankly, in the beginning, nobody even knows because you're just putting 5-10 people onto something and that if that becomes big, then only you come out and say, hey, I think this is an interesting idea. So the first time we really even talked to the board was when this little thing started to show some legs. And the conversation was much easier at that point in time. It's oh, wait a minute, this sounds interesting. It could be big, it could be large. Like, why don't we go ahead a little bit more on it? I think we had, we have had an incremental approach to innovation, with big ideas and without massive capital deployment.
Sanjay: This is, this is, wonderful Naveen. I wanted to just point out a different part and talk a bit about people and partnerships, specifically, you've been always been playing long-term games with long-term people, and would love to hear your thoughts on, partnerships first. In this more than 10-year journey, you've landed in mobile, landed a big strategic partnership with Google first, and then now most recently with, Jio and you've talked about that. Would love your thoughts, especially for young and aspiring founders where strategic partnerships have become so important. What are your first principle thoughts on, how you partner, how you approach it, what's in it for the other side, and how you think about the word win-win clearly there are some first principles thinking and would love to hear on, what, what shaped that, how you and the whole team approach strategic partnerships, not just in India, but all around the world. And you've been doing that right from the time you started to now you know that you are a large and growing unicorn and growing even further.
Naveen: Yeah, absolutely. So, partnerships are a big thing for us, by the way very big thing. You talked about two partnerships, Sanjay, those partnerships converted into investors, but we probably have under a stable, close to about 25 mega partnerships that we run at any point in time. We have absolutely and always believed that there is no space to essentially be able to build things just by ourselves. And if you especially want to go into global pastures, you want to be, if you want to be able to do these things along with other people, now it becomes actually easier if you have created new things. Because then everybody else wants to also partner with you because you've created something new. We have a very big partnership with Microsoft, for example, we have a huge partnership with Samsung and Xioami, and we have partnerships with the likes of, Motorola. We have partnerships with likes of Qualcomm and it's served us really well because each of these partnerships basically makes you strong because you could go deep and you could build those. Now I think, what it requires, the partnership required is to leave some value on the table, for the other partner. And it also requires that you believe in the partners and the partnership. To be able to deliver something. And in, in all cases, if there are two large companies that are gonna partner, it is going to be slow. It's not going to be as if, hey, next quarter we are gonna do something. So you have to actually have, 12 to 24 months in mind to say, if I kick off this partnership today in 12-24 months, we would have a solid partnership in place. And that's how you have to approach it. and I would actually go on also to say I think a lot of the companies can do a lot more in terms of these strategic partnerships and deep relationships with, companies, I see less of them in India happening. I think they should happen a lot more because that's probably the only way in which you can scale, non-linearly. Imagine if you do 20 such partnerships. You started them today and in two years each of them actually have started to contribute. You actually have created a compounding effect of, of partnerships. And that's what's happened with us. We probably have these 25 partnerships, of which I would say 70-75% of them are doing really well. They've all were insignificant, at some point of time. And they've all now started to contribute, you get to those levels quite distinctly.
Sanjay: Very interesting. And moving to, playing long-term games with the other, other, important aspect, which is really people, you've gone on to say that everything else is a commodity. People are the most important and people create the most generational platforms in our own business also, Karthik, me and, all our colleagues we talk about that. We are in a people flow business, not a deal for business. What venture is, you're really backing teams first. Just share a bit about that. What do you mean when you said everything else is a commodity, this, this, right to play, to win, right, to retain the competitive edge? You're always pushing your people. How does that percolate across? Just talk about, what you think of the InMobi person and what, what culture you've built in your other fellow leaders have strived to.
Naveen: You think about any of the great companies that have been created, and if you'll go through them and look through their history, and you could go as much back as you want, or even in today's times, you realize that the best of the companies have had people who have stayed with them for 10, 15, 20, 30 years. And there is a very important reason. And by the way, even in the venture industry, you take your own example, you haven't gone out and like churned people annually or every two years. You have the same set of people. You may add more, you've had a similar set of people. If you take any venture fund, they stay together for 20-30 years and then they start to dismantle because, they're now not, don't do this anymore. But any such, any organization that wants to be an institution and wants to create something that lives beyond them needs to essentially focus on having people that, that share the vision, share the purpose, and are also happy being with you and I think that's what we focused on. I think on one hand we focused on saying that, look, if you are with us, we are gonna play a long game and we are gonna play a long game. to create a new internet world out there that's not been created before. And if you're interested in that worldview, be with us. And there are people who like that and there are people who don't like it. And if those, I'm more interested in people who like it because that's what, that's what matters. So that's on one hand, and we do anything and everything to make that happen, for that group. On the other hand, we also, talk about to say, we, if you are here, we want you to be happy. We want you to be, we want to care for you and we want to essentially make sure that you've trusted both ways. And I think those two things at times are seen as things that cannot necessarily go together. And I think what we have been trying to prove and showcase is that you can live these two words, on one hand, you can win and build something great and build something big, yet have care for your people, have your people happy, have them live a full life, both at the same time. You don't need to churn through people to try and build something great, because that actually never happens. You, if you get a sense that it's happening. And similarly, if your people are happy, that doesn't mean they're slacking. That's just an odd concept. actually, if people are happy, they actually do more work. So somewhere I think these two things come together and that's what we've been, trying to like, live and in a showcase. We'll see when we, over the next several years it's been working well for us for the last, decade for sure. we've had people in the organization, almost about 400 odd people, maybe 500 of us spent a considerable amount of time with us. I'll give you one interesting fact, if I take my top 100 people, I would say about 70-80% of them have spent at least more than 5-7 years with us. Now, what is the impact of that? The impact of that is that when I think about expansion, I don't need to essentially go look around elsewhere. I just have to look inside the organization and give, look at somebody and say, hey, would you be keen on doing this, and they put their hand up and they go about and get it done in most cases. And the reason why that's exciting is that they know who we are and we know who they are. And so there is this trust that gets created. And so, what people don't realize is the compounding of trust, the compounding of trust is what leads to the compounding of business. And I think that is what we are really going for. This is going for this compounding of trust both ways, by the way. Both ways, because, as a company, we gain, but as individuals, they also gain because they would hopefully and more, more often than not, will get opportunities that would be offered different magnitude that, that, somebody else would give it to them for sure, because they're good. But they would need to spend a few years there to gain their trust because nobody gives you the most important piece when you arrive. Not because you're not capable. They, people give you big things to do because they can trust you. I think there's confusion about capability and trust. Capability is there, trust gets built and it takes time. So I just think this compounding of trust is a very powerful concept both ways and, I try to do whatever I could to essentially continue to compound it.
Sanjay: Naveen, very interesting. You've created two unicorns and in one sense your backers, of course back you for the compounding of returns and of wealth creation. But here, we find ourselves talking about compounding of trust and about building, building a very, loyal but high-performing people base. I think very often some folks will confuse right, and say that, okay, if you're a nice person, then you're not necessarily playing to win or if you're playing to win, you've not, you don't play win-win, right, you play, win lose. But I think what you've said is that if you built a very interesting know, you've built a culture of compounding trust then, they will, you have immense employee loyalty. I, as we, just wrap and segue, I wanted to move to InMobi culture, as you're known as InMobians, you've been known for supporting your alums. That this is something that's also close to Blume’s heart. We call it long-term founder value. As you and I have had a long marriage, more than a decade. When Blume, when, when the fund managers sign up and your colleagues sign up, you, it's also very long term because you're signing up for multiple funds, right, not just one fund. It's through the institution. You've got quite a few ex-InMobians who've left, right, Atul Satija, our own very own dear Amit Gupta, and you know Gautam at you know, Springboard. What drives you and InMobi to support them? Why do they come back to y'all, you, we've heard of a lot of famous networks, but share about why that's so important to you versus, thinking about, on the other hand, alright, if they want to go and build, let them build on their own, why should I, why do you care about it, and how do you develop that culture that they keep coming back to you, Naveen.
Naveen: I think if I fundamentally believe relationships are built for life. Now, at a part of that journey, you may be with us and may not be with us, and you don't want to seem transactional. Transactional relationships are not what builds trust. So if you go deeper into that, you'd realize that if I were to essentially treat people great while they're with us and treat them not that well when they're not with us, then when they're with us, they know this is, this is just because, I am in the system that I should be treated well as soon as I go out of the system, we, they don't matter. And I think that's wrong because we're humans and humans fundamentally care about, safety, human humans care about, as human beings, we care about, deep emotions, we care about, a lot of these very, important things that matter to us. We care about friends; we care about family. And so, therefore, what we are trying to say is, if you are been, if you've been through the system of InMobi more often than not, and we do make our mistakes, by the way, but more often than not, you've been part of this family, and you shall remain part of this one, and we shall support you in whatever endeavor you're gonna try and do. Now, if that endeavor is starting a company, so be it, we'll support that. If that endeavor is going and doing something else because you know this is not an exciting place, that's fine, we will make the right calls to make sure that you're at the right place. Now what happens as a result of this, as a result of this, what happens is that when somebody's thinking about leaving, they actually don't call us when they have left or when they're halfway out the door. They tell us when they're thinking about it. Many a times, by the way, maybe about 70-80% time the issue is small that I can fix immediately. If many times when they have to leave, then, they go see the world outside. In many cases they come back, our doors are open, and they come back. Now what 25% of my leadership team is, has returned back. They're seeing the world outside and have come back, which basically means that I, for me, it's clear that this is their home. For them, it's clear that this is their home and that's what you want to do. You want to have people in places where they realize that this is the place that treats me with respect, gives me the trust, cares for me. And these are the simple things that people just want to know in life. We can talk about developing technologies, we can talk about, like whatever, creating value, getting valuations, IPO, no IPO, sale, et cetera. All of those things don't matter. They matter, but they're slightly more superficial. And so, we do try to go one level deeper and try our best to do it. Covid hasn't necessarily helped as much just because it's harder to connect with people. But yeah, we are gonna try our best to continue to maintain that.
And look, it's been hard because these things are not necessarily the ones that get talked about in the boardrooms or, you get to, you hear about them. Because a lot of what's written in the books are, are people management skills or people management philosophies that were built for a different generation. Not for knowledge generation, in my view, not for the generation that we are living in and therefore some of those things never, like even could not apply to them.
Sanjay: Very interesting. I’ve one last question before we move to the final and last section. It’s a tough market today. Naveen, in the US winter is almost here, but winter has figuratively been here for the ecosystem for a while. I know in our past interactions, you often advise founders who are raising capital, raise capital when it's available, right, you’ve said things like this, and would love to hear, you've got today, SoftBank, Kleiner Perkins. Your advice to founders who are raising and just constructing and managing their cap tables, right. What is that founder-investor dynamic like? How has that changed and what's your advice to them, your learnings from your own lengthy experience now more, more than a decade on what you share and advise founders who are raising?
Naveen: Yeah. Look, I think a few things are becoming very clear in the last few years. Capital-led businesses haven't succeeded. And, there have been so many businesses that have raised hundreds and billions of dollars. And the returns are not proportionate, neither for the company, not for the founders, not for the employees, certainly not for the investors. I think what's really changing now, and it's becoming very clear, is that you have to have a real business. You have to have a real business, the gimmicks over, the game's over of buying revenue, the game's over of, just inflated user base through marketing. All of those things are just over, which is great for people who build real businesses. And so, therefore, I think what's really happening now is one, the time for true entrepreneurship is there to really build solid companies. So that's one. I think second, losses are, of course, any business to scale requires loss, but I think they need to have a path to profitability, and not as a cliched statement, but actually something that you as a founder really know that you can get to, is actually very key. and you just would know. I think there's a distinction between a great consumer service or a great service versus a great business model. You have to have both. You can't just have one and then hope for the business model to fall. That never happens. So I think the business model clarity for the founder themselves should be there because what's not gonna happen is that you, your business model would hope to convert into a great business model on its own because you've raised a lot of money and you've spent a lot of money. It's not gonna happen. It doesn't happen. So, therefore, comes the last point around fundraise. Your fundraise needs to be a lot more thoughtful because free money is not there anymore. The big players who would just pump in money for whatever reason isn't there anymore. You can read the news and almost all of them have just wiped out. And so that's also not gonna happen where your businesses just continue to just get put a lot of capital. and so therefore you have been very thoughtful, and I think the interesting thing in all of this is once you think about the long-term compounding of businesses, there is no need to rush.
people would call it. I don't know what, why that was ever needed and why that's There is this mad rush of like massive scaling, blitz scaling or whatever even needed now. Because businesses are not built to be sold. Firstly, they should be built to last. When a child grows, you don't want the child to be six feet tall when he's seven years old. You want the child to be six feet tall when maybe he's 18. There is a gradual, like there is a, at 18 when he is six feet tall, it's great. It's like he's really tall and, but he's so businesses like that, you just can't have, you can't just say, hey, let me just grow the business like overnight and, let me just do everything to just be the only player in the market, get a hundred percent market share or winner take all. None of that is true. It's not true. And so, I think compounding of the businesses in the earlier at about a hundred percent, and when you get to scale compound them at about 50%. And if you do that for 10 years you have a business of a phenomenal size with the right unit economics. You don't have to do like faster growth. Now, investors could come in and ask you for faster growth. Just say no. Just say, I'm gonna grow at 40-50%. That's fine. nobody's gonna fire you, nobody's gonna do anything. Don't fall for this rapid growth narrative that has just been out there, and therefore, now comes the fundraise part. Then just raise less amount of money. You don't need that much money if you can just solve some of these things. You don't need too much money. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars is fine, you should raise it if you're getting it, but don't use it, then try using less of it.
Sanjay: Very interesting. I think one of the key takeaways, I'm getting is, purely capital-intensive businesses that were growing at the expense of right, that's number one. And the other, I think the two, keywords are really the compounding of trust and the compounding of business, right, if you have those, as winning combinations, you've got people who are compounding themselves and, of course the businesses, but at a healthy and not a crazy unsustainable rate. Naveen, we are moving to a rapid-fire, so it's more of a, it's a fun, let's try this.
Naveen: I have gone on record to say I hate rapid fires, but why don't you, why don’t you shoot a few?
Sanjay: Let’s dive into it. What would you order for your last ever meal?
Naveen: Rajma Chawal. I am a big fan of like Indian food. I love that. So, I'm just gonna go for, simple Rajma Chawal.
Sanjay: Fantastic. Fantastic. current book or favorite book of all time.
Naveen: I, there have been few, ‘Hard things about hard things’ is one of those.
Sanjay: That's great.
Sanjay: One great piece of advice you have gotten.
Naveen: Huh, yeah, I've gotten few advices. I would say. I think one, let me try and articulate this. The most important advice that I got was, there will be a lot of people who will not see the vision that you have. Beauty is in not trying to please everybody. You should listen to everybody. The beauty is in staying true to your vision, despite a lot of people coming in, not agreeing with you. And to me, that was just the most beautiful thing that I ever heard and has stayed with me for long.
Sanjay: Beautifully said. Quote-unquote, favorite failure, most valuable learning. Maybe there's a bit in what he said, but if there's anything new you'd like to add.
Naveen: Yeah. Look, we, there was a product that we launched. It was called Miip, we launched it in 2015. I think it was a spectacular failure, public failure. And you gotta take it on the chin, is as simple as that.
Sanjay: I remember being there that was close to the 10x, the 10-year anniversary. But you also just picked yourself, dusted yourself off and just moved on.
Naveen: Yeah. And we created Glance after that.
Sanjay: Last fun one. Favorite way to unwind after a long day.
Naveen: I love to watch sports, so that's my favorite way to do it. And I love F1, I love cricket. I would just watch sports, most of the days, towards the end of the day, I would watch some sports, even if it's highlights or even it's recorded. I just end up watching some bit of it.
Sanjay: This is wonderful. There could be a, I think a separate section on just the learnings and the takeaways and the synergies from sports and sports champions and sport leaders on entrepreneurship.
Naveen: There are so many, the success and the failures in sports is so high and so rapid. The success and failures are so high and so rapid that it's just a beautiful thing to see how, sportsmen come out of it next day and then yet again, go for it and then maybe fail again. But, yet again, go for it. So, it's just a beautiful experience.
Sanjay: Absolutely. I'm forgetting the name of the work, but, so Alex Ferguson, I think is teaching at HBS, right. The book that he coauthored with Michael Vaden, I think it's called Leadership and it's exactly about. a story, a venture capitalist interviewing Alex, about the lessons from sports to management. So that's wonderful. Naveen, just wanted to thank you. It is an absolute pleasure. So very special, for you, to be here with us. Thanks for covering out the time and next time. whenever we do it next, we'll try and do it in person in India, at your HQ here in San Francisco. maybe on a long plane flight if you're sitting together, that may be one of the most interesting, innovative ways to do it. But thanks for making the time.
Naveen: Absolutely. And thank you so much Sanjay for inviting me. It's an always, it's always a pleasure to be speaking with you.
Thank you for checking out X- Unicorns. This podcast is proudly a Blume matches offering led by my marketing team, colleagues Mesha Bhansali and Disha Sharma, a sound engineer Shrey Tiwari, and our producers, Vedant Nayak of Manic Port Studio.
Part of X-Unicorns
What is a unicorn? A mythical creature, known to be proud, untameable, fiercely independent and difficult to capture. When venture capitalist Aileen Lee first coined the term, the definition was strictly limited to privately-held companies valued at over $1 billion within a decade of its existence. This definition was applicable to only a select few Indian companies such as InMobi and Flipkart. That’s all there was in 2013 that fit this definition.
After more than a decade at Blume, it is now becoming clear that India is birthing new variants of this mythical creature and we’re calling them ‘X Unicorns’. But when we look at a Carbon Clean or a Dunzo, they don’t look like typical unicorns. Some look like zebras and hippos, others rhinos, gazelles, and seahorses. They look like they could be any shape or size as long as they have spouted a large single horn or even two for effect.
It doesn’t matter what the path to the unicorn is, it doesn’t matter when they go public, it doesn’t matter whether they have a body of a horse or any other creature in the animal kingdom — as long as it reaches there and we want to look back and celebrate the ones that have entered and are soon entering the X‑Unicorn club. The age of the X‑Unicorns is upon us. Silently, they grow unnoticed and emerge valiantly into the limelight.