This has a “prodigal son returns” feel to it.

Once a small struggling startup unable to scale its business in India enough to survive, having discarded business model after business model, mobile ad network major InMobi (then mkhoj) looked at overseas markets to expand its business; it has now has offices in Bangalore, Johannesburg, London, Nairobi, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore and Tokyo, and last year, it signed agreements with Japan’s Softbank to raise $200 million. The company, which was headquartered out of Bangalore, but was primarily a development and operations center, has opened up offices in Mumbai and Delhi, and appointed Sandeep Deshpande as the Country General Manager for India and Vishal Nongbet as Business Head of Brands. Prior to joining InMobi, Deshpande has worked with Yahoo, Alibaba.com and Rediff.com, while Nongbet has worked with Pepsi, Times Music, Kodak, Mumbai Mantra and as a marketing head at SMSGupshup.

India Shift

In conversation with MediaNama, Deshpande said that the company has to grow both sides of the business – adding publishers and application developers to increase supply (advertising inventory), and bring advertisers and brands on board to advertise. From a team of less than 10 people in the India business team in Bangalore, the company now has around 25 employees across the three offices. Offices in Delhi and Bombay are important because while Banglore is the tech-center, most advertisers and publishers operate out of Delhi and Mumbai.

-Ad Impressions, publishers: Deshpande declined to break out number of users in India, but said that of the 100 billion ad impressions served globally last month by InMobi, 16 billion were served in India. InMobi served advertising to 570 million mobile users globally through its ad network last month. Deshpande also declined to comment on number of publishers and advertisers the company has in India.

– Types of Advertisers: “We look at, about a year ago, we had a handful of advertisers mostly coming from mobile first businesses like app developers and game developers, and the other two categories that we look at are the online businesses or offline and traditional businesses. In the last few quarters, we have worked with a large number of brands who are not mobile first. Now we have interest from telecom companies, the handset guys, automobiles, lifestyle products.”

– Types of inventory: Deshpande said that while the company has all combinations of ad units, they find that mobile first businesses tend to use cost per download or cost per lead businesses, but “we dont have cost per lead”. Most brand advertisers are specific about the kind of devices they target, and the kind of sites they go with, and they’re paying by CPM. InMobi has the capability for Click-to-buy, but “we aren’t working towards positioning towards a cost per transaction kind of models.”

– Competition: Google owned AdMob already has a significant presence in India, and there are upstarts like Vserv that appear to be scaling their mobile advertising business in India. Deshpande wasn’t very convincing about how InMobi would differentiate its offering to advertisers, saying that it sees its advantage as being 100% focused on mobile as compared to global competition (i.e. Google which also has an online advertising business), and having global scale (as compared to Vserv). “Let’s take an advertiser, for example Reliance Communications, and they have a calling card business targeting consumers not just in India, but outside India. Through this one point of interface, they can figure out ways of reaching consumers globally. They can target NRI’s and people outside of India as well. With this type of an advantage, they can target users outside of India and in India.” But then, wouldn’t Google be able to offer advertisers all of this, and also Internet inventory, both local and global?

The other differentiation that InMobi sees is of being able to create microsites for its advertisers who aren’t yet mobile, through Sprout, a company it acquired last year.

– Targeting Advertisers: InMobi will take a two-pronged approach – it will talk to Indian advertisers directly, as long as they have the ability to take decisions here, and also working with global brands and bring case studies to advertisers here.

– Beyond Experiment Budgets: Deshpande declined to elaborate on what he meant when he said that “large” number of advertisers are spending “significant” money, when we asked him about taking mobile advertising beyond an experimental budget. The pitch InMobi appears to be making is that it mobile has synergy with television, since people are still using their mobile devices while watching television. “We dont see that mobile will be a subset of Internet advertising, and we see it as a strong complimentary medium to TV.”

(with inputs from Apurva Chaudary)