There are few entrepreneurs who attract investors time after time, no matter what the business. Naveen Tewari is one of the few. From his first entrepreneurial venture, InMobi, a mobile advertising platform, in 2007, to his recent startup, Glance, launched in 2019, Tewari has two unicorns—privately-held startups valued at $1 billion—to his credit. Lock screen platform Glance, which is a subsidiary of InMobi, last month raised $145 million from Internet giant Google and existing investor Mithril Capital, catapulting the less than two-year-old venture to unicorn status. The Glance app uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create personalised content of news, sports, entertainment and video games in multiple languages such as English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Bahasa on the lock screen of Android smartphones. With more than 115 million daily active users, Tewari has big plans for Glance. In an interview with Fortune India, Tewari, CEO and founder, InMobi Group, spoke about what attracted investors to park their money in the venture, running a business in a pandemic year, and plans ahead. Edited excerpts:
With the latest funding round, Glance is the newest entrant to India’s unicorn club. What do you think has worked in favour of the business so far?
Glance is a splendid example of innovation solving for mobile-first and mobile-only consumption, serving content across India’s and the world’s local languages. The latest investment of $145 million from Google and Mithril Capital is a strong validation of how Glance is shaping the future of digital consumption and making digital economy accessible to all. With a scale of 115 million daily active users, who spend 25 minutes daily on the platform, Glance is clearly solving for a real need in the market, and solving it well.
How was the business during the pandemic? If you could quantify the growth in business last year against 2019.
Last year has been a difficult year for everyone around the world. There was a lot of uncertainty when the pandemic hit us. However, as we look back, InMobi Marketing Cloud and Glance—the two businesses of InMobi Group—have had a wonderful year. Our B2B business has had the best year in its history, while Glance has grown from 70 million daily active users in 2019 to more than 115 million daily active users in 2020. Roposo, which is owned by Glance, became India’s leading short-video platform in June. In fact, it the first and only Indian short video app to have crossed 100 million downloads on the Google Play Store. And we capped off a great year when we announced an investment of $145 million in Glance by Google and Mithril Capital.
How do you decide on the content for Glance? Are there any specifications?
Glance is an AI-driven personalised content platform that delivers visual content on the lock screen. This content spans multiple categories including entertainment, sports, news, fashion, gaming, travel, and wildlife. Glance combines several signals: what is trending in the world and what kind of content users are consuming to determine what content should be published on the platform. Being on the lock screen, Glance is socially aware. Every content that gets published needs to meet content guidelines that have been developed in partnership with our smartphone partners. Glance has more than 115 million daily users who spend on average 25 minutes per day on the platform. It provides personalised content in multiple languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Bahasa.
What is the total funding raised by Glance so far? Who are the key investors in the company?
Glance has closed a $145 million investment round [in December 2020] from Google and existing investor Mithril Capital. Earlier in September 2019, we had raised $45 million from Mithril Partners, which takes the total investment in Glance to $190 million. Our key investors are Google and Mithril Capital.
What is the source of revenue for Glance?
Glance was launched officially in March 2019. It is a free to use content platform for consumers. Our primary focus so far has been on delivering the most engaging consumer experience on the platform. We have some interesting thoughts on monetisation that we will be exploring in 2021.
How do you see the scalability of the business going forward?
We are seeing the easternisation of AI-led consumer Internet technology. India has the potential and the opportunity to become the next digital hub in the world after the U.S., and China. Glance is solving for discovery and content consumption for mobile consumers in a very novel way. While we continue to scale in India, we have already expanded to Southeast Asia in 2020. We will look to deepen our presence in these markets and expand to Latin America and the U.S. over the next few quarters. The potential to scale the business is immense.
There, inevitably, are risks and challenges in any business. What are your key challenges?
Glance is building something that has never been done before. It is transforming the lock screen of smartphones into a valuable content platform. Consumer experience, content quality, and personalisation are critical aspects of the platform. As we expand into new markets, ensuring that we stay true to our vision and can deliver on these aspects will be our key challenge.