Late last year, former Googler Gabor Cselle had a problem. He’d launched a fun app called DrawChat, and it was starting to see some real usage — which would be great, except Cselle told me that DrawChat was always meant to be “a palate cleanser” and that he wanted to pursue a “billion-dollar thing.” So he auctioned off DrawChat (it was purchased by OneLouder, a division of Handmark) and got to work on his big idea, which he’s announcing today.
Cselle said that the goal of his new startup, Namo Media, is to fix some of the big problems in mobile advertising. That’s a pretty common refrain among mobile ad startups, but Cselle has something specific in mind — creating native ads that are part of the stream of content in mobile apps. In other words, ads that are both less annoying and more lucrative. He isn’t ready to get specific about the product yet, only to talk about the general idea and the team (more on that in a second). He did compare his approach to Facebook’s, except for a wide range of “content-heavy apps,” such as news apps or photo-sharing apps.
To bolster his argument that it’s time for a new approach to mobile advertising, Cselle pointed to how many mobile users don’t want mobile ads to interrupt their experience (68 percent, according to Forrester) and how many mobile ad clicks are frauds or accidents (40 percent, according to Trademob).
Cselle doesn’t have much ad experience himself — he’s been a product manager on Google Now, Android, and Gmail, and his last startup (which he sold to Google) was an email client called reMail. However, his co-founders include Nassar Stoertz, a former Google engineer who worked on Google Wallet, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Tural Badirkhanli, who worked at AdMob and then at Google after it acquired Admob. (Jeremy Orlow, who created DrawChat with Cselle, is no longer part of the team.) So there’s one member of the founding team who has mobile ad experience, and perhaps more importantly, it’s a strong technical team with mobile experience.
“The classic advertising startup team is two sales guys and a mediocre engineer,” Cselle said. The Namo team, on the other hand, “can iterate on the format, figure out what works, figure out something really, really beautiful.”
Cselle is also announcing a $1.9 million seed round of funding from a bunch of big-name investors, with Google Ventures leading. Here’s the full list:
- Google Ventures (lead)
- Betaworks (design partner)
- Andreessen Horowitz
- Trinity Ventures
- Kevin Scott (SVP Eng at LinkedIn, former VP Eng at AdMob)
- Paul Buchheit (formerly invested in reMail)
- Chung-Man Tam
- Keith Coleman
- Seth Berman
- Benjamin Ling
- Michael Levit
- Garrick Toubassi
- Tikhon Bernstam