Two-time unicorn founder warns entrepreneurs of this common expectation

InMobi Founder and CEO Naveen Tewari cautions startups from falling into the trap of this aspect of business, often demanded by investors.

InMobi Founder and CEO Naveen Tewari is something of a legend in the Indian startup ecosystem, having achieved the rare feat of founding two unicorns (Startups valued at $1 billion). His adtech startup, InMobi, was the first Indian startup to become a billion-dollar company in 2011. Last month, InMobi’s subsidiary, Glance,a mobile content startup, also became a unicorn after raising a fresh funding of $145 million from search giant, Google, and existing investor, Mithril Partners.

The startup veteran, who launched InMobi in 2008, has an important piece of advice for all entrepreneurs: ‘say no to rapid growth’. A common ask from investors, it is not a true measure of success, Naveen believes.

InMobi Founder and CEO Naveen Tewari

“I think at some point of time, entrepreneurs in the country need to be able to say no to the rapid growth, asked from the investors, because there is this mixed growth fund that everybody is trying to have, and I don't see successes based on that,” he tells YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma.

Rising from the ashes

Having experienced “blitz growth” first hand, followed by things going awry, Naveen urges entrepreneurs to stay cautious of explosive growth.

“We've seen the blitz growth and we know it doesn't mean anything because sustainable growth is what really matters. So I think there is a message out there to every other entrepreneur to try and be more secure about some of these things,” he says.

After becoming India’s first unicorn in 2011, InMobi went on a hiring spree over the next couple of years.

The move backfired as some of the company’s products failed.

Many analysts were ready with InMobi’s epitaph, but it managed to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. After cutting costs and becoming ‘ultra-focused’, InMobi turned around its fortunes. It turned profitable in 2016, becoming the second Indian unicorn after data analytics startup, Mu Sigma, to achieve the feat.

Having learnt things the hard way through InMobi’s past troubles, Naveen is making sure those mistakes are not repeated. Citing the example of Roposo (a Gurugram-based short-video platform, InMobi’s subsidiary, Glance, acquired in late 2019), he says that a few months back when “everybody else in the market was spending money on short video (platforms),” the Bengaluru startup consciously stayed away from spending the “few million dollars” it could have to get scale.

“We wanted to make sure that our product is delivering the unit economics and has a high retention rate and has a high engagement rate, because if you don't have a high engagement rate and high retention rate, you can put all the money there (but) it will go away,” the IIT-Kanpur engineer and Harvard MBA explains. 

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With over a 100 million downloads on Google Play Store, Roposo has 33 million monthly active users who spend an average of 20 minutes daily on the platform.

Naveen stresses that in B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) alike, it’s critical to first get the product right before thinking of scaling.