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BW Businessworld

Taking The Cloak Off The Caller

Begun in 2009, Truecaller became an instant hit with Indian mobile users. The Sweden-based company now has more than 130 million users in India

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Do you remember times when your landline would ring and you would pick up the receiver thinking someone known to you had called, only to hear distant laughter or even sheer silence. With the rise in the number of ‘blank’ calls, you became more desperate to know who your stalker was. But it was not easy without the help of the police. So you chose to keep quiet about it and suffer and suffer your blank callers in silence.

The situation did not change much after the advent of mobile phones in Indian homes. To know the unknown caller you still had to call the caller to know his or her name. While some ignored such instances, others – especially women, were traumatised. Tracing stalkers continued to be an impossible task.

But now, to know the ‘True’ name and whereabouts of your ‘Caller’, all you need to do is download an app called ‘Truecaller’. You can search the caller and also block him or her from calling you in future.

Truecaller was created by Alan Mamedi and Nami Zarringhalam in 2009. With over 130 million users, India is the biggest market for Truecaller. BW Businessworld caught up with Alan Mamedi, cofounder and CEO of Truecaller. He was in India to visit a B-school in Delhi.

Speaking to students there, he said, “A lot of people come to me and say that they had a similar idea in their mind before we created Truecaller and I simply ask them, ‘then what happened?’”.

“We left everything to focus on our company. I was 25 and had a well-paying job in an IT MNC. I asked myself whether I should really give all this up,” Mamedi said.

The idea of quitting his job and creating Trucaller worked well with Mamedi. In October 2014, the app raised $60 million from investors like Sequoia Capital at a valuation of $300 million. The US media outlets had reported in July 2015 that the company was possibly looking to raise $100 million at a valuation of $1billion as it looks to consolidate its position in strategic markets.

Mamedi said, “We are about to cross 300 million users globally soon. We have over 130 million users in India only. India’s fast paced telecom penetration in terms of both connectivity and devices have led to the success of Truecaller. Needless to say, Indians’ calling habits also have added to our success.”

With 20 million users, Egypt is the second largest market for the app. As chronicled by Tech in Asia, when venture capitalists were rejecting Truecaller pitches, it was Mohit Bhatnagar and Shailesh Lakhani of Sequoia Capital India, who flew to meet Mamedi and Truecaller co-founder, Nami Zarringhalam because the growth of Truecaller’s usage was phenomenal in India, outpacing that of a Sweden, where the company is headquartered and even the US.

Sequoia Capital India led the ensuing funding round of $18.8 million.In June, 2016, PTI reported that India-born American and former Vodafone Group CEO, Arun Sarin, had bought a minor stake in the company as well.

Mikael Damberg, the Swedish minister for enterprise and innovation, was in India recently. He said Swedish companies like Truecaller were changing perceptions that the US market was the only market with the key to global success, and that there were other ways to make it big.

Both Facebook Inc. and True Software Scandinavia AB have deeply vested interests in growing the market here and in the coming years competition will get fierce. WhatsApp, together with Facebook Messenger (both owned by Facebook Inc.) are two of the most used apps for communicating in India. WhatsApp has around a 100 million active users in India and Truecaller is used in India to make over half a billion calls a month and used to block over 120 million spam calls a day.

Announced in late October 2016, Truecaller Priority was launched in partnership with Flipkart’s Ekart. The new feature will let users know when their delivery is about to arrive, while helping Ekart make more deliveries, faster. Companies across industries can join, as long as the condition to not spam Truecaller users is complied with.

Then there is TrueSDK (software development kit) released in India before anywhere in the world. The feature announced early this year saw them partner with 12 prominent Indian companies like OYO Rooms, ShopClues, and Quikr, to help verify customer ID using Truecaller information (user name, phone number, social media account and addresses etc) as opposed to just an email address.

Truecaller is also available in 11 Indian languages. SMS app Truemessenger was released in 2015 exclusively for India. According to Mamedi, the reason behind the release was to learn more about texting and messaging, possibly as another area to venture into, after working in the space of call communications.

Alan said in the coming few months, newly appointed head of India operations and vice president for sales, Tejinder Gill (ex-LinkedIn) will have a larger team to work with in expanding operations and user base in India. Speaking of future plans for Truecaller, Mamedi said, “We will be having one of our biggest releases in a couple of months, so we will be having a big announcement for that here in India.”

The company started monetising just this year through targeted advertisements. Media reports suggest that last year Truecaller’s expenditures had accounted for a huge loss for the company. The company is going announce new projects that aim to gauge “what consumers don’t like about Truecaller”.