Home / Companies / Winning approach to user growth has to cut across platforms

Hyderabad: Rishi Jaitly, market director for India and South-East Asia at Twitter Inc., had identified ZipDial Mobile Solutions Pvt. Ltd as one of the most exciting Indian companies Twitter was working with, in an interview in Hyderabad in July. On Tuesday, less than a year later, Twitter acquired the start-up, its first buyout of an Indian company. ZipDial was co-founded in 2010 by Stanford graduate Valerie Wagoner and Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, alumnus Amiya Pathak, with University of Washington graduate Sanjay Swamy, as chairman. In a joint phone interview, Jaitly and Wagoner spoke about the acquisition and how it will benefit both companies. Edited excerpts:

Please take us through the genesis of ZipDial and the reason for the acquisition...

Wagoner: We founded the company five years ago on the insight that users of emerging markets think differently, they have different needs. If you just take for example the mobile data consumption patterns, we know smartphone penetration is absolutely booming. But we also know that only one in three smartphones has an active data connection. All those who are consuming mobile data are only consuming 60MB per month on average, which is a mere 4.5% of the average US consumer for mobile data. That means there’s huge headroom for growth, but it is going to take time.

In the meantime, over the next several years—the users need several years—users need a more accessible way to get great content. Those are kind of fundamental insights on which we built the company. We have driven huge amounts of success by building specifically for the emerging markets including more than 60 million users and more than one billion connection between these users and brands and content owners that we work with. It is really important to convince those consumers, who are very frugal about how they are spending their rupees on a mobile Internet connection, of the value proposition of the mobile Internet and the value proposition of Twitter, which is massive. But it is important to hand-hold them through that offline-to-online experience—if I start with an SMS and voice experience, and a dialling experience, and then gradually get users to sample mobile data experience, mobile Web and eventually download an app experience in a targeted way.

Jaitly: What we are still observing in the country is 90% of the folks are still on prepaid plans, and given how users are frugal with their behaviour, regular mobile data consumption is still nascent in the market, even as we see smartphones being shipped at accelerating rates. The nature of this platform isn’t so much feature phone versus smartphone, but it’s about mobile behaviour. Even smartphone users who are on a prepaid plan are new to data and are connecting to content across platforms–mobile Web, apps, SMS, IVR (interactive voice response), missed calls. A winning approach to user growth in a market like India necessarily has to cut across platforms and that’s the key. That’s why we are thrilled to have them be a part of our team.

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Valerie Wagoner, co-founder, ZipDial Mobile Solutions.

But why this acquisition when you already had a partnership?

Jaitly: Our work with Zipdial has been periodic, and experimental, and limited. What we are really excited about this acquisition is deep integration that allows us access to a wide swathe of content that is always accessible across India, across platforms.

Wagoner: If we think about ZipDial’s vision of really wanting to disrupt mobile marketing and building emerging markets-focused user experiences that drive adoption for brands and media, what do we need to do that? One thing that is interesting is having a content strategy. Having great content is a real challenge for our customers historically. They might have an app, particular promotion, discounts on sachets of shampoo or new flavour launch of ice cream, but having a content strategy to keep users engaged is a challenge for brands. So tying together the accessibility of the ZipDial user experience with the amazing content on Twitter is part of our vision. Plus, a global reach. Yes, we were locally innovated and born out of India and we are very proud of that, but we have always had global aspirations, which we have started to embark on in recent years. Now being part of Twitter opens up this global platform where we can have an even bigger impact.

Would ZipDial’s existing relationship with Facebook continue after the acquisition?

Wagoner: That product will continue to run as usual. Nothing changes there. If you look at Twitter’s strategy as a whole, it is really a phenomenal strategy that’s really about opening up and embedding with the rest of the ecosystem. I am sure there will be a time where we will have lots of ways to include ZipDial as part of that strategy. It’s just a starting point now.

In what ways would ZipDial help bring in revenue for Twitter?

Wagoner: The real huge opportunity and No. 1 focus area for Twitter overall and especially for Twitter in India and emerging markets is future growth. That’s going to have massive impact on the company and the users in these markets in general. We will be making Twitter and its amazing content and experiences even more accessible to users in India especially and emerging markets as well.

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