The key to Komli Media keeping up its current pace of growth is for its management to make the right decisions in a timely manner, says CEO Prashant Mehta
DIVYA M. CHANDRAMOULI
“In the past we have laboured over six to nine months on decisions that we should have made in three to four weeks,” shares Prashant Mehta, CEO of Mumbai-based Komli Media (Komli). With a year-on-year growth rate of nearly 170 per cent, Komli Media is Asia Pacific’s leading media technology player and for it to sustain this rapid pace of growth in the coming years, Mehta stresses on the need to be less risk-averse while assessing new ideas. He identifies the process of sorting through these ideas, filtering out the ones that show potential and backing them up to be one of the toughest challenges Komli faces. Take, for instance, the company’s decision to invest in technology that is based on real-time bidding (RTB). It launched ATOM, India’s first RTB-enabled advertising platform, in December 2011. “One of our team members brought up the idea long before we went that route. At that time, it seemed too technical and we didn’t know if our customers would see a value-add and adopt the technology. It took us some time to launch a complete investigation and once we did that, we simply had to invest in this technology,” says Mehta. Today, RTB is changing the way the world views digital media advertising and Komli has benefited positively from being an early adopter in the emerging Asia Pacific markets.
Change in structure
Since we last wrote about Komli (January 2011), the company has transformed across multiple levels and one of the most significant changes is its expansion to the South-East Asian markets. While India continues to be one of its focus markets, Komli has made its presence felt across Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. “When we were India-centric, our decisions were much simpler in nature. Now, we have to deal with the complexities of operating in different geographies,” says Mehta. And this has meant a change in the way the company thinks about its products. “One of our most important tasks at hand is to check if our products are relevant and well-aligned to the needs of our target audience across these markets and this happens before we strengthen sales teams in different regions,” adds Mehta.
As Komli widened its reach, the challenge of knowledge sharing across different domains (social media, display, mobile phones) and following best business practices across different geographies posed a big challenge. Early this fiscal (March 2013), it instituted the CRO organisation with Gulshan Verma (previously managing director) taking charge. “Now, all the regional heads report to the CRO and this has helped us tremendously in the way we do business,” says Mehta. He elaborates by saying that typically, in the past, three different individuals from three domains would have approached a client for varying needs, today, there is a single representative presenting solutions from Komli. Importantly, as separate product teams work on assigned markets, the cross-learning has helped create products faster. Simultaneously, Mehta also admits that an organisational change of this scale required all internal departments to be in sync and this took some doing. “We can’t afford to have one department structured horizontally and the other structured vertically,” he says.
The social network
One critical factor for Komli’s success in the Asia Pacific markets has been its focus on social media. In November 2012, it tied-up with Twitter to expand the latter’s ‘Promoted Products’ range of advertising products to marketers. In July 2013, it extended its relationship with Twitter to the Indian markets. In June 2013, it integrated its ATOM platform with Facebook’s Exchange (FBX), according it the dual benefits of retargeting and a much wider reach in the region. Apart from FBX, Komli also has RTB partnerships with other companies such as Google Adx, PubMatic and Rubicon, which gives it daily access to nearly 2.5 billion impressions. In India, Komli remains the only authorised re-seller of Facebook’s premium inventory. On the gaming front, Komli has an exclusive partnership to sell advertising and video inventories of Zynga games across the Asia-Pacific markets.
Mehta expresses excitement over the interest generated in social media and is confident that in the next two years, it will grow faster than certain other advertising categories like display. “It’s early days yet but the world and even India is definitely viewing social media with much more credibility,” he says. Importantly, the convergence between social media and mobile phones presents opportunities in both categories that Komli is well placed to take advantage of. “Today, about 60 per cent to 80 per cent of interaction on social media takes place via mobile phones,” shares Mehta.
While there are definite opportunities for Komli to pursue in each domain of advertising, it also faces stiff competition, primarily from bigger players such as Google’s Adwords. Mehta, however, still believes that the biggest competition comes from print media as advertising spends on digital media are as low as seven per cent. Having said that, Mehta worries less about what the others do and focuses instead on keeping his team at Komli motivated and invested in the company’s future.
Since its early days, Komli has preferred to court the inorganic growth route. By 2012, it had acquired four companies, namely, PostClick, Indoor Media, Aktiv Digital and ZestAdz. In February 2012, Komli acquired Admax Network, a leading digital media network in South-East Asia with clientele such as Intel, Samsung, Citibank and P&G. Later in the year (June), it raised US $39 million in its fourth round of funding led by Northwest Venture Partners with participation from Nexus Venture Partners, Helion Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Western Technology Investment. While a portion of this was channelised towards strengthening its core technology, a majority of the funds were used to expand Admax Network’s reach. “While Admax has always been strong advertisers, we helped them strengthen domains such as video and mobile phones,” says Mehta. At present, Komli works with “nearly 80 per cent” of the top 150 client companies in all the geographies it operates in and Mehta is happy with this statistic.
Looking to the future, he asserts that Komli will look to explore its core markets in a much deeper manner. The focus will be on gaining access to over 85 per cent of the impressions of audiences in these markets. Mehta believes that this is certainly possible through leveraging RTB and providing integrated solutions across the domains Komli operates in. Talking numbers, he is realistic enough to say that sustaining its current growth rate of 170 per cent will be difficult and pegs the company’s growth rate in the next fiscal to be closer to 100 per cent. “We have a five-year-plan but review each year as it happens,” he says while adding that in the not so distant future, Komli aims at being multi-million dollar enterprise.
WHAT’S HAPPENED AT KOMLI MEDIA SINCE 2011
December 2011 -Launched ATOM, its RTB-based advertising platform
February 2012– Acquired Admax Networks, South-East Asia’s leading digital media advertisers and publishers
June 2012 – Raised funding of US $39 million in a round led by Northwest Venture Partners with participation from others
November 2012 – Tied-up with Twitter to take its ‘Promoted Products’ range to marketers; extended this to India in July 2013
March 2013 – Created and internal CRO organisation to unify business across geographies
June 2013 – Integrated ATOM platform with Facebook’s Exchange