16 February 2016 09:39:29 IST

Ahead of its time, but thriving nearly a decade later

Start-up Affle began mobile advertising at a time when smartphones weren’t that popular

The start-up sector can throw up data on a large number of failures. But what’s interesting to look at is how a newbie company that’s ahead of its time ends up both surviving and succeeding. In this edition, we look at Affle, an advertising technology company that was kickstarted in 2006 by two, then 26-year-olds, Anuj Kumar and Anuj Khanna Sohum.

It started out in mobile advertising at “a time when smartphones weren’t that popular in India”. After its business model evolved over the years, Kumar tells us Affle was a “foolishness that reaped no regrets”.

Business fundamentals

According to the founders, the position Affle holds today in key markets like India is amongst the top three mobile ad companies in terms of revenue and platform deployments; it has had a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of over 50 per cent over the last three years; it has monetised 100 billion plus ad impressions in 2015 and has worked with more than 1,000 customers in 2015.

“When the founders have a lot of respect for each other and a shared past (we’ve known each other since school days), it gives you the strength to ride through times which are not as good. Many of the early members of the team are still around, which is quite credible because 10 years is a long time for a company. And we weren’t in a hurry to sell our firm and make money,” Kumar says. From very early days, Affle’s founders reportedly raised capital from angel investors and people they looked up to. Kumar says early investors, who could validate Affle’s route within the industry, were vital.

“We felt getting early investors to write a cheque against their personal wealth was a bigger vote of confidence than any other deal. And that kept us grounded; we learnt to run the business with fundamentals in mind,” Kumar shares.

Timely scale-up

Strategic big investors came in later in Affle’s journey. Its business model had evolved over the years to become an end-to-end platform for mobile advertising before it grew in the last 20-odd months from “80 to 400 people”.

But Kumar is quick to point out, “Whatever growth we’ve had has been profitable. We take pride in that because although there are many growth stories around us, we believe growth stories funded by capital are burning cash every month, and that may not be the sustainable way when the economic sentiment is not as good.”

Having built an experience for consumers and a platform over a decade, Affle’s co-founders see a market now with Hitachi, Canon, Maruti, Mondelez, Visa, Ola, BMS, OLX, Amazon, ESPN CricInfo and Yatra as some its clients.