Native mobile advertising is on fire, especially for independent ad networks looking to challenge their much bigger and established rivals.
Over next few years, InMobi will invest around $100 million in fleshing out the new native ad platform, its CEO Naveen Tewari told me earlier today. The new platform comes after weeks of launching an interactive video ad platform.
Clearly, there is a sense of urgency and aggression in the way InMobi is attempting to build a new battlefront against much bigger global rivals.
“With this product, we plan to disrupt and democratize the advertising world — this is not any incremental feature, but a completely fresh platform that was in the works for one and half years,” said Tewari.
Over past 8-10 weeks, InMobi ran the product in beta for nearly 100 publishers that included the likes of Tango and TextMe. Over 20 billion ads were served for 100 publishers across 35 countries and touching 250 million users, according to the company.
By the end of June this year, InMobi expects to serve 100 billion monthly ads through its native platform. Currently, the startup serves around 150 billion banner ads every month.
The revenue opportunity for independent native ad networks beyond Facebook and Google is big. According to several estimates, it’s around $8-10 billion annually.
InMobi received requests from 500 publishers to be part of the beta launch, it claims. Most of them, nearly half actually, had never done any mobile advertising because they’re very particular about not changing the user experience.
For developers, InMobi is offering an SDK for building their unique ad units. And to see whether a particular format works or not, InMobi has also bundled A/B testing feature with the kit.
“You cannot rely on somebody else’s experience,” said Tewari referring to Facebook and others.
To be sure, InMobi is not the first, neither it’s the only independent ad network offering native ads. Earlier this week, Twitter and MoPub announced their native ad platform.
For its part, InMobi is betting on its existing base of customers as well as early gains with the beta launch. The idea is also to gain from marketers’ growing interest in native advertising and the shift away from banner ads.
“The 100 publishers who worked with us early built over 350 unique formats. When we have over 10,000 publishers by this year on the platform the number of fresh formats could run into thousands,” added Tewari.
He added that the new platform also ensures similar user experience across mobile apps and native ads that are inserted.
“We are also setting up a 50-member Native User Experience lab as part of this expansion,” he added.
Founded in 2007 by Naveen and four others, InMobi has raised $216 million so far from investors including SoftBank, Sherpalo Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. After raising $200 million from SoftBank in Series C in 2011, InMobi has made three acquisitions — MMTG Labs, Appstores.com and Overlay Media.