Digital Advertising: Technology Matters

The Prime View has recently had the pleasure to interview Prajwal Barthur, VP of Product at InMobi, a leading tech company that specializes in digital marketing and digital advertising.

The interview digs into the growth of programmatic advertising, and how it solves the challenges of scaling with multiple brands, transparent ad exchanges on the marketplace, data as an essential part of digital advertising, and the unique innovation culture at InMobi where ideas turn into a multi-million companies.

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Prajwal, you have an interesting technology background of working at Yahoo. Now, you are at InMobi. Could you give us a synopsis of your career journey?

I have been in the product-tech industry for over ten years now. I started my career back in India by joining Yahoo and worked there for about four years. I would give a lot of credit to my time at Yahoo for what I am doing now.

Later, when I quit Yahoo, a couple of us set up a startup company called Amplify Labs. That was back in the days when Foursquare was used quite a bit, and we came up with an idea of a social app where you could check in, tell others what you were watching on television. And then we took a move to B2B, SaaS products, and eventually got into advertising. We built many ways to recognize content on television. Also, we had an analytics product for marketers that provided competitive intelligence on how video ads are doing online. 

Prajwal Barthur

VP of Products at InMobi

In fact, I didn’t have the intention to work at InMobi. I came there to sell some of the things we were doing, but instead, I ended up working for the company as a product manager. I have been here for seven years now.

Programmatic advertising has become quite sophisticated over the years. Now there is a huge demand from the client-side to build the tailored solutions. How do you close the gap between the technical and business sides?

In the last few years, programmatic advertising was growing by leaps and bounds. At InMobi, we started off as an ad network, but after experimenting with that technology we decided to move completely out of the network business model. Now, we are entirely programmatic across both demand and supply chains. That helps us scale massively.

Tailored solutions are important when you’re looking to bring in a unique perspective from the customer side of things, but they don’t scale that well. 

If you can bring programmatic to working with multiple brands, then your work becomes both much easier and faster, and you can scale any business in the advertising ecosystem. 

The way how people watch TV is changing. The way how advertisers connect with them should probably change too. What are your predictions for the OTT and CTV advertising market? How are companies going to tap on the market?

Right now, that’s a hot topic in the advertising ecosystem. InMobi is working on many products in the CTV ecosystem. Personally, I manage a team that is focused on innovations on the CTV side.

My number one prediction is that accessibility is going to increase. That means every television ad is going to be more aggressive by running targeted advertising. Users’ data and the content will play an essential role in this process, and publishers owning that data are going to be holding on to a goldmine. 

When traditional TV becomes programmatic and digital, buyers will need to find a way to reach these users, whichever channel they are on. So many linear TVs are going to go digital, and connected TV will grow.

There will be companies that will try to bridge the gap between the additional linear and digital connected TV. And that’s going to help in making a lot of connected TV advertising programmatic. 

The last final thing is definitely around privacy fraud. That’s an important topic because any channel that grows rapidly requires processes to ensure that the training is happening in legit ways. Even now, we see already that many fraudulent players in the marketplace want to make use of this growing ecosystem. In contrast, antifraud players will make sure that all the transactions are individually connected to the ecosystem. 

Did you have to launch new products, reprioritized product features to maintain the income level, and stay relevant on the market during the lockdown times?

The COVID-19 period was not too bright for many companies. Discretionary expenses were put down, many brands stopped advertising and stopped marketing, which took a hit on the advertising ecosystem. At InMobi, we were also impacted, but the good thing was that we have different verticals of advertisers we work with, and not every vertical was impacted the same way.

Certain groups of advertisers thrived during the pandemic – OTT companies, gaming companies, and fintech companies were advertising a lot. Retail, CPG took a back seat, so did some of the other consumer-based industries. As this happened, we had to reprioritize rapidly to shift focus towards scaling with clients that were doing well. 

How do you differentiate your offering for publishers from others that are available in the market?

We are one of the very few players who have completely transparent ad exchanges on the marketplace. We don’t compare ourselves with companies like Google because publishers look for exchanges that are more neutral and independent. Whereas Google runs a publisher’s stack and the marketplace. 

At InMobi, we do not mediate, we are not a platform for publishers. We work with Google, Twitter, and every other partner out there.

You can’t say the same about others – Google does not work with Facebook; Facebook does not work with Twitter, etc. We’ve consciously taken a call not to compete with them but to work with them. We are integrated with all the players in the market, and we are transparent when it comes to our offering to the publishers. That is how we primarily differentiate ourselves from other players in the market.

How do you establish an innovation culture in your company?

Every person at InMobi has an entrepreneurial spirit and there are so many ideas around that it is pretty much impossible to nurture everything. The founders do a great job picking some ideas and then building big businesses, companies out of it.

As a group company, InMobi has another independent company called Glance. The idea was to tap on a mobile screen that was less utilized, the locked screen. Everybody uses the lock screen. There’s nothing else to do on that screen apart from just unlocking the phone and moving on to what you want to do. 

InMobi wanted to capitalize on the time users spent locking and unlocking the phone. How can we make that more interesting? How to bring content to the lock screen when you keep trying to lock and unlock it? We started showing different stories on the screen of Android phones, things that are relevant to you, things that are happening around you, news and sports articles, and videos on the lock screen. Glance is currently a multi-million dollar company – about a month back, this product and this company raised 150 million dollars from Google. It is the second round of funding.

So, at InMobi, we are working on a lot of innovative, data-driven products. We have a big publishing network, a software development kit, and consistent data. Though, it takes time to bring a new product to the top, where you can scale it up and call it big business in itself.

Thank you Prajwal for the in-depth conversation about innovative and data-driven products from the ad-tech industry.

Stay tuned for the next interviews!