ThinkNear CEO Talks About Post-Acquisition Potential, Credits TechStars NY

On Wednesday, Telenav bought Techstars NY grad ThinkNear for $22.5 million, making it the largest Techstars exit to date. This comes a bit later in the year of mobile ad exits, including Millennial Media’s hugely successful IPO and rumors of a JumpTap public offering.

Not to mention all those other M&As.

The company has been agile from the start, pivoting from a mobile ad company that focused on timing and inventory management to ad company that simply got really, really good at hyperlocal ads by leading clicked ads directly into the store. In fact, ThinkNear can target specific ads within 100 meters of the store.

That’s way more targeted than any other mobile ad network. Integration with Telenav’s HTML5 turn-by-turn navigation software only makes sense to offer the best product possible. Telenav already offers the embeddable software on all three major mobile operating systems to brands and developers, and now ThinkNear can help serve the ads via the rebranded Scout Advertising monicker.

Since launch in early 2011, ThinkNear has raised a total of $1.63 million from IA Ventures, Google Ventures, and Qualcomm, among many others, after graduating from TechStars NY in April of 2011.

We reached out to founder and CEO Eli Portnoy to discuss the acquisition and the future of mobile advertising:

TC: Why is ThinkNear attractive to a navigation company?

Telenav developed a fantastic browser-based navigation software that provides full turn-by-turn functionality without requiring any app download. As part of the combined company, we can leverage the scale and precise location targeting of the ThinkNear ad inventory to deliver the right ads to the right person and then point the ads to the Telenav GPS and actually help drive the customer directly to the advertisers business. This allows us to provide an amazing customer experience by showing relevant ads and providing turn-by-turn navigation for customers looking to take action on the ad, and it also helps us provide great value to advertisers by actually letting them know how many people we helped drive to their business.

TC: I know you were an entrepreneur before ThinkNear, founding a company in 2005. Will you stay on with the rest of your team or go do something different?

All 12 of us are staying with the company and we are going to keep building the product and growing the business.

TC: How did being in TechStars affect the acquisition? If it did?

Techstars was foundational for us. It helped us meet most of our investors, put us in front of many of our eventual partners, and generated a lot of press. But most importantly, it taught us how to find an opportunity and build a product that resonates in the market. Without TechStars we would certainly not have been able to get here so quickly.

TC: There’s a lot of competition in your space, with Millennial and JumpTap going public, the constant growth in mobile usage, etc. Where do you see yourself in the crowded mobile ad space?

The future of mobile ads is all about location and understanding the real world situations people are in when they see an ad. We are 100% focused on enabling this future by solving two critical issues in the mobile ad space that have prevented this from happening; 1) Working through the many data issues to provide precise location targeting and 2) aggregating enough inventory to provide advertisers with scale. These are not easy issues to solve and we have made huge strides. We can now target ads with 100 meters of precision and we have access to over 7 billion location-enabled impressions a month.

TC: What do you think the mobile advertising industry will look like in a year? Two years?

All mobile advertising will use location as a key data point for targeting and every ad dollar spent will be measurable and tied directly to ROI.