Entrepreneur Saurabh Bhatia of Vdopia, in a candid conversation with YourStory.in on being the market leader in online video advertising


Tell us about Vdopia.

Vdopia is the first company to launch the concept of online video advertising in India, quickly becoming a market leader, and the global leader in mobile video advertising, including being one of the first companies to launch mobile video ads in the United States.

In aggregate, we serve more than one billion rich media impressions and 150 million video impressions per month across web and mobile; on mobile, we are the world’s largest video ad network.

Our model is a runaway success due to the simplest of formulas: understand your customers; make it easy for them to work with you; and treat them well.

What are your market differentiators?

We offer seamless, reliable video serving technology across the kind of premium ad units that users want to engage with, offered on the premium content sites which attract these users in large numbers. Brand advertisers and their agencies love this mix – which lets them utilize their existing TV creative, delivered in accountable ways to large digital/mobile audiences.

How did the idea for your startup come about? How much capital was required to implement the idea?

Three of us started this business together: Chhavi Upadhyay, Srikanth Kakani and me. We are all graduates of IIT, Chhavi and I from Delhi campus and Srikanth from Kanpur.

In June 2007, Chhavi and Srikanth were pursuing masters degrees at Stanford University in California. While they were there, we had an idea to create a video sharing portal which included ways to monetize ads.

Working together, we created a business plan for what would become ‘Vdopia’ and entered into the 2007 E-Challenge Program, a business plan competition organized by the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students. We won US$20,000 in the competition and used that money to start our business. We wrote the code and we launched the first servers.

From there, I went about meeting media companies in India, presenting our product portfolio to them. At the time, lots of media companies were putting videos online and people were hooked on to it. But most of the media houses couldn’t figure how to monetize it. I called up media houses like TV18 and NDTV. The reaction I got was quite favorable.Media companies thought our technology was cool and agreed to integrate with us if we got them ads, and that’s how our journey began. Idea Cellular was the first campaign we landed, followed by Shaadi.com, Airtel, Coca Cola and Virgin. And since then as a company we have never really looked back.

Tell us about your background.

Prior to founding Vdopia Inc., Srikanth worked for Yahoo!, where he was responsible for backend search infrastructure and algorithms and worked on the world's largest hadoop distribution. He also worked with EFI, where he was part of the team responsible for software design and development of their market-leading printer products. He holds a Masters degree from Stanford University and an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from IIT Kanpur.

Chhavi had extensive experience at technology companies like Nvidia and Macromedia. She graduated with a Masters in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Her undergraduate degree was from IIT Delhi, where she graduated near the top of her class.

As for me, before Vdopia, I held executive positions at Maxcellence Peak Performance Solutions and SCORE Insurance Claims Management Software. My undergraduate degree is from IIT Delhi.

Let us know about the tie-ups that you have.

Marketplace acceptance has been exceptional so far! Our publisher network includes BigFlix, Bollywood Hungama, CricketNirvana, DailyMotion, ESPNstar.com, Indya.com, Iplt20.com, India Today Group, Metacafe, Mochimedia, myPOPKORN.com, NDTV Group, Starboxoffice.com, Sify, Web18 Group, Zee Group.

We have experience in delivering scalable advertising campaigns for brands like Big TV, Dainik Bhaskar, Godrej LCD, GM,HCL, Pepsi, Samsung, Spice, Tata Safari, Tata Sky, Tata Indica, Nokia, Travelocity, Tropicana, Virgin,Volkswagon and Yatra.

Live streaming deals are proving hot properties. We’re the only ones who have live streaming, and for live streaming we have had advertisers like Aircel, Airtel, Cisco, Honda, IDBI, Lays, Mahindra Motors, MakeMyTrip, Maruti Suzuki, Tropicana, Vodafone and Xerox to name a few.

For example, during the Compaq Cup cricket tournament -- a triangular cricket series between India, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, played from 8-14 September, 2009 – we did live streaming ad insertion on the tensports.com portal (an NBC Universal Digital Solutions-Ten Sports initiative) and the results were truly amazing.

Similarly, Vdopia empowered CricketNirvana.com, the dedicated cricket portal of Nimbus Communications Ltd., (which owned media rights for all international and domestic cricket controlled by Board of Control for Cricket in India and to be played in India) to successfully monetize its live streaming coverage of the highly popular India-Australia 7 match ODI Series-Hero Honda Cup. And this year, ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd appointed Vdopia as the exclusive digital ads sales agent of espnstar.com for the recently concluded ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.

Where do you see Vdopia five years from now?

Five years from now, we see ourselves serving the global audience of digital consumers, and the brands and media companies seeking to reach them, whether they are consuming video online or on their mobile devices.

Around the world, smartphones are now outselling personal computers. Within a few years, more people will access the Internet on their mobiles than via any other source. We are ready for these billions of users.

Right now in the States, we are in late beta test stage with patent-pending technology which enables video ads across devices from the iPhone to Android to Blackberry to Windows. Previously, it was complex and cost-prohibitive for brand marketers to run their existing TV and digital video campaigns across multiple mobile device platforms – and impossible to easily auto-play this creative on mobile Web pages.

Brand advertisers will now be able to use a single creative across their entire multimedia campaign. We’re excited to bring this to India, as well, as 3G and smartphone adoption skyrocket here.

Of course, that’s not to forget the importance and uses of desktop online access, too! Our vision when we started was to ensure that there was video content available online and we have played a huge role in that. We believe live streaming of premium content on the internet is the growth forward.The very fact that it can be watched anywhere, anytime lends a distinct advantage for livestreaming. If the matches are during office hours, our publisher websites tend to get even more traction. We have seen an almost 300 per cent year on year increase in user base on sites which live stream events.

In India, now that 3G is upon us and as India’s networks improve noticeably, broadband rates get cheaper, and the country’s sports bodies warm up to the idea, it’s going to be all about live streaming.

None of the legacy ad formats can be utilized within live streams on the Internet – only Vdopia’s. Our VLIVE platform enables video ads to be inserted in the live video stream in the same way video ads are inserted on live TV. We now have global media giants enquiring about the technology.

What is your revenue model? Have you been funded? If yes, can you throw some light on how the funding came about and from whom?

We make our technology available free to media companies, to enable their consumers to experience video content, and connect these consumers to the brands who wish to advertise to them. We then bring these advertisers on board, sharing the ad revenue with the media companies. Our advertisers pay only for the ads which are viewed, not one cent more, and at the backend we track and measure user actions resulting from every single ad.

Our monetization metric is essentially a pay per view metric, so it’s straight-forward performance based advertising at work.

Vdopia became commercially operative in April 2008. In late 2008, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Rohit Sharma, who was then a partner at Mohr, Davidow Ventures, and Nexus Capital invested a small amount of seed funding in Vdopia. In 2009, we raised US$4 million in Series-A Funding from Nexus Venture Partners to accelerate innovation in our digital media platform for advertising online and on mobile platforms.

As an entrepreneur, what are your joys? What are the challenges?

The question takes me back some way to our initial days. Even a noteworthy business plan comes with its fair share of challenges. One of our biggest challenges was to get media firms and advertisers to work with a start-up like ours – but that was equally a challenge and a joyful, exciting ride!

Media executives said, “We are willing to work with you because you are new guys, you are promising something new and exciting, and fitting closely with our plans. But you have to not only provide us technology but also get us advertisers.” I remember knocking the doors of each and every brand I could reach, in any way I could.

I still remember the day of our commercial launch: 14 March 2008, with two media companies. I sat waiting for the brand advertisers to respond to our pitch, not knowing what to do next. We got a campaign just 36 hours before launch! That was Idea Cellular.

Fast forward 12 months. Now brands were saying, “Look”, he said, “You don’t have to sell the concept of online video advertising to me because that is part of all media plans. Tell me what more you have got for us in the video advertising space?” So that was like a moment of success to me.

Now, fast forward again, to today. Sectors like FMCG, Fashion, and Lifestyle which had been investing in the TV medium for advertising are now shifting their marketing budgets online and to mobile.

Indian marketers are willing to experiment with digital media to reach their target audiences. They recognize they need interactivity and accountability along with the power of TV advertising. Given our platforms, it is exciting to see how quickly we’ve reached this point.

How big is your team? Tell us a little bit about your team. Are you looking at hiring?

Vdopia is headquartered in Silicon Valley, with sales and development offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mumbai and Gurgaon. We have a global team of 50 employees. We plan to aggressively expand in the coming months, adding new office locations as well as recruiting proven leaders in areas like marketing, network sales and business development. This will help us serve clients and partners better while also preparing us to deliver new, game-changing solutions we have planned for 2011.

When recruiting, we typically look for people like us, meaning they have an entrepreneurial spirit, embrace the power of ideas, dream big, and aren’t afraid to pursue these dreams.

Let us know about your expansion plans.

Vdopia is expanding from being No.1 in the online advertising space in India to creating exciting ad formats and platforms on the global mobile front in 2011. We intend to maintain our leadership position by offering new and innovative video monetization solutions based on our proprietary, patent-pended technologies – whether on the Internet, in apps, or on the mobile Web.

Anything else that you want to share with us?

Vdopia is the world’s largest video ad network and video ad platform, serving more than one billion rich media impressions and 150 million video impressions per month across web and mobile. Our ad formats generate engagement (shares and click-thru’s) that are consistently 3-5+ times greater than industry averages. We were recently recognized as a Red Herring Global 100 company: an Award presented to leading private companies from around the world in recognition of their innovation and technology. In 2010, we won the prestigious TiE50 Award, one of fifty winners judged to demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit in a wide range of industries.

Several important global trends speak to the opportunity ahead of us:

90% of the world now lives in a location with mobile access. Planet earth has 5.3 billion mobile subscribers (including 293m in the US, 747m in China and 525m in India). The worldwide mobile subscriber base will touch 6.4 billion by 2014, a growth fuelled by a 76% increase in China and a 62% increase in India. There are 500 million mobile web users worldwide. Mobile web users will number 21 billion by 2014 on the back of increase in 3G device adoption to the tune of 74% in the US, 37% in APAC and 43% worldwide. Smart phone adoption is rocketing in key regions: 55% of mobile phones in use in the US and 21% of mobile phones in use in China are smart phones. By 2014, 1.4 billion smart phones/tablets will be in use worldwide.

We at YourStory.in will keep a track of all the latest happenings at Vdopia and keep you posted. What are your thoughts on this story? Write to us at feedback@yourstory.in

Do check out http://vdopia.com/ for more details!