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A worker uses his mobile phone as he sits in front of logs of wood for sale at a warehouse in Chennai
Reuters/Babu
Glued.
FUNDING AT A GLANCE

InMobi’s newly-created lockscreen technology business just raised $45 million

By Ananya Bhattacharya

One of the youngest businesses of the Indian Mobile ads firm InMobi is taking flight.

Glance, the 12-year-old company’s first business-to-consumer (B2C) experiment, has closed a $45 million (Rs323 crore) investment from Mithril Capital, the company announced today (Sept. 10). Mithril’s backing is part of a larger $75 million financing round. The other investors will likely be announced in the next six to eight weeks.

Mithril, headquartered in Austin, Texas with over $1.2 billion in committed capital, is a global investment firm co-founded by the American entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel and India-born Canadian Ajay Royan. The latter is getting a seat on the board of Glance, after the funding round.

Glance claims to be the world’s first screen zero platform, giving consumers AI-powered, personalised, short-form content on the lock screens of their smartphones. The business was formed when InMobi splintered its business into three—the original InMobi Marketing Cloud business, Glance, and big data company TruFactor.

The platform is now live by default on 70% of all new smartphones sold in India and is making headway in the southeast Asia market. As of August 2019, Glance has more than 50 million daily active users who spend 22 minutes per day on Glance.

“Glance is changing the landscape of content consumption to address the demands of the ‘attention economy’ we currently live in,” said Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi Group. “By bringing discovery and consumption of personalised, short-form content to screen zero, Glance provides the immediacy and accessibility that consumers want.”

Below are edited excerpts from Quartz’s conversation with Tewari.

Why did you create three different business?

Each of them have the potential to be multi-billion dollar businesses by themselves. This way, nothing hampers the growth as we go forward with independence in execution, human resources, strategies, partnerships, and so on. And like in the case of Glance now, they get financial independence, too.

“How do I make sure these companies achieve their goals independently such that we gain from it collectively?”

The objective behind independence was the thought, ‘How do I make sure these companies achieve their goals independently, such that we gain from it collectively.’ Their growth paths and exit paths are now independent of what happens with InMobi Marketing Cloud. However, the good part is that the shareholders are the same for all three so if any business does well, they benefit.

Why did you create Glance? And how is it doing?

We felt we could leverage what we call “screen zero” to drive a stream of content for quick consumption within micro-moments like getting into elevator, or walking from the desk to get coffee. We wanted to make sure we utilise people’s time efficiently and make a good return on investment on that time.

On most smartphone makers today—Xiaomi, Samsung, Vivo, Oppo, Realme—Glance comes pre-embedded. Every time, on waking your phone, you’re getting introduced to new personal content. We’ve tested it and consumers have shown phenomenal interest. Within 12 months, we’ve reached 50 million daily active users. It’s fast becoming a habit product. People are using it for over 20 minutes daily. In a month, that’s over 10 hours. It’s a very powerful play for us.

What does this recent funding mean for Glance?

We are excited about Peter (Thiel) and his fund’s interest in Glance because the business is unique and exceptionally fastgrowing. Peter and Mithril are known to have backed such platforms. He was one of the first investors in Facebook. He co-founded PayPal. Mithril has invested in (the antibody discovery platform) Palantir. So it felt very good when someone like him was coming onto this.

What are you going to use the capital for?

One use for the capital is to grow globally, and more specifically go deep in southeast Asia—Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines—and own those markets.

The second is to cater to micro-moments of people. And although 30% of our users are in cities, 70% are in bharat (beyond the metros). We’re already a vernacular platform where 80% of the usage is in local languages like Hindi, Tamil and Telugu in India, and Bahasa in Indonesia. We’ll be launching many more languages this year.

We also want to launch few platforms on Glance. We’ve scaled Glance News exceptionally well. It’s the largest news platform in the country now. Next, we’re looking to launch Glance TV, working with production houses in Mumbai and Chennai to create ultra short-form, high quality series for two to three minutes each. Three months ago, we launched Glance Gaming, which has seen great success. And we’re also looking to launch Glance Nearby, so information from your neighbourhood can come onto Glance directly.

Do you plan on hiring more people at Glance?

Currently, Glance has 150 people on its payroll, and 150 contracted workers, amounting to a total of 300-plus employees. We’re looking to add a few hundred more people in the next six to 12 months.

InMobi has been around for over a decade. How’s the business doing? Is an IPO on the cards?

You’re referring to InMobi Marketing Cloud in this case. It is a profitable company. It’s been profitable since 2016 and we’ve maintained that focus for ourselves. We continue to be very excited. We will look for an IPO potentially over the next 24 months or so, given the scale of that company and given its profitability and its predictability.

“All three businesses are measured differently because they’re at different stages.”

How do you measure the success of all three businesses?

All three businesses are measured differently because they’re at different stages. Inmobi Marketing Cloud’s success criteria is growth in EBITDA (Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation), and growth in revenue since it’s a well-set business where we cater to financial metrics heavily.

Its TruFactor’s first year of go-to-market, so the focus is not on revenue, but on the number of customers it can get. With Glance, we have not even started to think of monetising, so the yardstick to measure success is engagement time and the number of daily active users. And that will be the criteria for the next several years.