September 15, 2011 12:04 pm

InMobi raises $200m to take on mobile ad giants

InMobi, a mobile advertising company, is to raise $200m from Softbank, the Japanese media and telecoms conglomerate, in new funding to take on Google and Apple in the booming industry for smartphone-based marketing.

The company, which served up nearly 50bn ad impressions in August alone, is positioning itself as the largest independent alternative to Google, which acquired Admob for $750m in 2010, and Apple, which launched its competitor iAd last year.

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“It’s a clear validation of the scale of the industry that we are going after,” said Naveen Tewari, InMobi chief executive, of the new funding. “The whole mobile internet industry is only just now starting to see the level of growth that it is going to have.”

Mr Tewari, a former McKinsey consultant, founded InMobi in Bangalore in 2007. Asia remains its largest region, with 119m unique users seeing its ads last month, followed by North America with 83m and Europe with 66m. A total 332m global users now see its ads, up from 180m a year ago and 1.1m in 2008.

“People have talked about mobile advertising being larger than [PC-based] e-advertising,” Mr Tewari said. “These are the early signs of that. We saw this some time ago and decided to take things to the next level; this financing helps us to do that.”

InMobi will receive $100m from Softbank now and a further $100m in April. The deal is not contingent on performance and no existing shareholders are selling stock as part of the transaction.

It had previously received $15m in investment from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley firm; Sherpalo Ventures, founded by Ram Shriram, an early Google investor and board member; and Mumbai Angels.

“I hope the partnership with InMobi, a fast-growing start-up with significant mobile expertise and an outstanding technology platform, will further accelerate the pace of development in the mobile internet space globally,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive of Softbank. “We believe this partnership will help Softbank become the number one internet company in Asia.”

After a slow start, the mobile advertising market has grown fast in recent years with the advent of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices, which together make up around 60 per cent of InMobi’s traffic. Informa, the analyst group, has forecast the market to reach $24bn by 2015, a compound annual growth rate of 50 per cent, of which display (as opposed to search) will make up $7.5bn.

InMobi believes that it can stand apart from the US two technology giants with its sole focus on mobile ads and by focusing on developers who want to create apps and sites for multiple platforms.

“In the last six to nine months we have provided developers with a one-stop shop approach whereby they can come to us for monetisation, payments, analytics – and we will continue to add to that,” Mr Tewari said. “The key here is not control of the platform but control of the developers.”

IAd – which only operates on Apple devices – has had mixed fortunes since launch, in spite of launching with large advertisers such as Unilever. It was forced to cut in half the minimum spend required from $1m to $0.5m and Andy Miller, whose firm Quattro Wireless Apple acquired in 2010 for a reported $275m, left the company last month.

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