Mumbai: Domestic telephone listing and information service provider Just Dial Pvt. Ltd, which started operations in the US last week, is planning to expand into countries such as Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
“Our plan is to be present in all major English-speaking countries within the next two years,” said chief executive V.S.S. Mani.
Funding will not be a problem as Just Dial has an unused kitty of $46 million (around Rs204 crore) that it raised from private equity firms such as California-based Sequoia Capital, Hong Kong-based SAIF Partners and New York-based hedge fund Tiger Global, he said.
In the year ended March 2009, the firm attended to about 70 million calls and posted revenue of about Rs134 crore.
Right call? Just Dial chief executive V.S.S. Mani says the firm’s US operations would initially be attended to by call centres based in India, but the firm is prepared to hire staff in the US even at 30-40% higher cost. Ashesh Shah/Mint
Mani expects revenue to touch Rs200 crore in fiscal 2010, as daily call volumes are currently in the neighbourhood of 500,000. It currently has a business directory of at least 100,000 in 240 cities nationwide.
The revenue comes from local businesses who pay to be listed, while users avail the service at no charge.
The first-mover advantage gives it a near monopoly since no other service exists in the country on the same scale. “In the local search space we are more or less like Google, the first choice in India. Whatever competition is there is very small and fragmented with no national presence,” said Mani.
Still, given Just Dial’s operating model, any firm with funds at its disposal could enter the market.
The company operates as a telephonic yellow pages directory, except it is also available on the Internet and through short message services.
As for the proposed expansion, Mani said that it would be logistically easier to start operations in developed economies.
“While in India, you may need a large sales force on the ground to get local business and services providers to sign up, in developed economies it is easier to accomplish the same as there are middle-level players who act as aggregators, thus making your job much easier,” he said.
Just Dial is already in the process of establishing relationships with such middle-level players, he said.
As for the US launch, Mani said that the operations would initially be attended to by call centres based in India.
Mani said there was an addressable demand for such local search services in the US, but analysts say they will wait to see how that pans out.
For one, unlike Just Dial, 411 services in the US charge the user instead of the business.
“Just Dial will need to prove whether there is room in the US market for such services and how it is feasible to collect small fees from all local business, which it seeks to serve,” said Mahesh Murthy, managing partner at venture capital firm Seedfund.
There are additional challenges in the form of local knowledge and widely divergent accents, which Mani acknowledges, but said are not significant enough to be deal breakers for people seeking information on an immediate basis.
Besides, he said, the firm is prepared to hire call centre personnel in the US “even if that is at 30-40% higher cost compared to India”.
What US firms don’t have is a comparable online presence, Mani said. Google Inc.’s 411 service is a voice-activated automated model instead of a live person attending a call.