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Mohit Saxena on how a failure shaped his company

The InMobi co-founder speaks about how important it is to be focussed

Mohit Saxena.
Mohit Saxena.

Back in 2006, Mohit Saxena was leading a content life in the US, at a lucrative job, in his first home and with a dream sports car to take him around. Yet, he felt something was amiss. “The happiness that I thought would come with all these achievements eluded me. Put simply, I decided to chase happiness,” says Saxena, co-founder and Group Chief Technology Officer at mobile advertising platform InMobi, based in Bengaluru.

He soon set aside the comfort of a steady job to launch InMobi, keeping in mind how essential smartphones would become in the future. But their initial model, which was centred around SMS-based search and monetization, didn’t take off. It was only after they transitioned towards the emerging mobile web system that InMobi enjoyed success.

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“Facing a huge failure in the beginning was our making. We were running perilously low on finances and morale, with no paying customers or investors. Those were the darkest days in InMobi’s history, a time marked by our resilience, determination and a sense of camaraderie which holds strong even today,” the 49-year-old says. At InMobi, Saxena has built a diverse team of engineers that works together.

Saxena talks to Lounge about mentoring his team and how AI will influence the mobile advertising space.

Who do you consider a mentor?

I have been lucky to have many mentors. I think life is all about learning until the day you die and I am quite open to seeing opportunities to learn everywhere.

One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance?

A recent learning has been the value of focus. I used to over index on the breadth of my learning versus the depth of my focus. Being a Jack-of-all-trades is overrated as life progresses. But being able to realise who you are and what is unique about you is reflective of the focussed work of building self-awareness.

What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work?

It is a profound responsibility and a way of giving back the invaluable guidance and support I’ve received from my own mentors. It is about carrying the baton of knowledge and wisdom forward. My brand of mentorship is all about co-creating tailored solutions for problems by asking my mentees thought-provoking questions and empowering them to make informed decisions. I liken a good mentor to a doctor who delves deep into understanding symptoms—not just treating them—through extensive questioning and empowering you to make the right choices to solve your problems.

What’s your morning schedule like?

After a quick check in with my mail and messages, I go for a brisk walk with my dog, Ellie May. It re-energises me for the day—there is a lot to learn from my dog, from the sheer enthusiasm she has for everyday things in life, to how she lives in the moment without regrets or stress.

What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?

I started facilitating knowledge-sharing sessions across the company during the pandemic. Everyone at InMobi is invited to attend these sessions, which talk about some of the latest developments in technology. Just recently we had a couple of sessions to walk our employees through AI advancements in-house and its impact on our business and productivity.

How do you see artificial intelligence influencing this space in the time ahead?

AI will super-refine targeting and personalisation in mobile advertising. The ability to analyse vast amounts of data in real-time, making ads that are hyper relevant and customised will make them worthwhile and pleasurable experiences for our customers. AI-powered predictive analytics will also enable us to accurately forecast trends and consumer behaviour, allowing advertisers to proactively optimise their campaigns, be more efficient with their ad spends and get more meaningful returns on their investment.

I believe AI is perfect for these kinds of monotonous, repetitive tasks. It becomes a powerful partner to human minds who will still be the driving force on the creative front—they are the ones who finally create ads that connect on a more subconscious level. Automating everything enables humans to do what they do best—think critically and with empathy as they unleash their unique creativity.

Any book or podcast you would recommend about mentorship and growth?

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. I believe that mentorship is not merely a privilege conferred upon individuals, but a dynamic relationship built on trust, commitment and accountability. This book echoes my sentiment of how successful mentorship relies on fostering a mutually beneficial partnership and highlights the obligation of mentors and mentees to channel their ideas and efforts into genuine innovation. It also emphasises the importance of spotting the right mentor.

Monday Motivation is a series in which business leaders and creative individuals discuss their mentors and their work ethics.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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