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Alan Mamedi says with most of India’s over 900 million mobile subscribers being pre-paid, not even operators know who the caller is. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Alan Mamedi says with most of India’s over 900 million mobile subscribers being pre-paid, not even operators know who the caller is. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Truecaller’s biggest challenge lies in scaling up hiring: CEO Alan Mamedi

Mamedi explains the vision behind Truecaller, the potential of the Indian market and partnering with local start-ups

Mumbai: True Software Scandinavia AB, better known as Truecaller, is a Swedish company, but nearly 60% of its 50 million users are in India. The company claims its product Truecaller is the world’s largest verified mobile phone community that can help users identify callers through a Caller ID and number search.

According to the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Alan Mamedi, it is but natural to look at a market like India that has over 1.2 billion people and more than 900 million mobile phones. In an interview on Friday, Mamedi spoke about the inspiration behind Truecaller, his plans to scale up operations in India by hiring more people, forging more tie-ups similar to the one it has with Twitter Inc. in India, and partnering with local start-ups and directories. Edited excerpts:

How did you hit upon the idea of developing Truecaller?

The idea behind Truecaller came in 2009 when my co-founder (Nami Zarringhalam) and I were receiving a lot of calls from abroad—work-related calls and from our friends who had moved abroad. If we missed these calls, it would be frustrating to figure out who had tried to call you. So we decided to solve this problem. And the biggest need came from countries where there were no proper yellow or white pages services, and India is one of them. India has over 900 million mobile subscribers and most of them are pre-paid, which means that not even the operators know who the caller is. This was a big challenge for us as we wanted to do this on a global scale. People thought we were crazy, but we wanted to try to solve this problem, and it is a huge challenge. But so far we have tasted success. India is our largest market with 29 million out of the total 50 million (users).

What is the vision behind Truecaller?

The vision for Truecaller came from the frustration we faced, and the product hasn’t changed much from that vision. There are a couple of new functionalities, but the core feature of being able to recognize and find a person is what has been our greatest success so far. We have a pretty long road map. The contact management space, for instance, is something that has not been discovered before and catered to. I think we have a good potential there.

How does Truecaller actually work. How significant are partnerships for this to work?

The service itself is built on a community model and together with the community, we make this possible. We do partner with different OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in India. We also partner with yellow pages globally and with companies in India.

What is your business model?

We have been looking at different ways of monetizing. One way that we do monetize today is ads. The other is by unlocking premium functionalities—so it is an ad and subscription model. There is a revenue share model for the premium features, of course.

How important is India as a market to you?

We are present in different countries around the world, but the biggest potential is actually in India and neighbouring countries. When you meet operators back home in Stockholm, every mobile operator has around 1-2 million mobile subscribers, but in India, every operator we talk to has at least 100 million subscribers each. It’s such a huge opportunity to actually implement this across millions of users.

And we find Indian users curious and wanting to try new products, and that helps us shape our products, because we don’t get this kind of response anywhere else. We add around 600,000 users every week in India and see tremendous growth. Apart from being available on every smartphone in India, we see a lot of potential in working with a lot of start-ups in India, and being part of the Sequoia team is great (on 6 February, Truecaller got $18.8 million, or around 115 crore, in a Series B financing round led by Sequoia Capital). Going forward, we see a lot of synergies going on here.

What kind of synergies are we talking about?

Our vision has always been to make Truecaller service available to everyone. We block around 2 million calls per day for our Indian users. This actually shows how much value we bring to our users. Blocked and spam calls is a big issue for people in India.

We already have an exclusive partnership with Twitter for India (on 12 December, Truecaller announced its partnership with Twitter, whereby Truecaller users in India will be able to see if a number is connected to a Twitter account, and be able to tweet or follow the person directly through the Truecaller app) and we have some more partnerships lined up.

A few weeks ago, we tied-up with Nokia X series smartphones, and the latest version of Truecaller 4.0 will be available on the Nokia Store. We are looking at more exclusive launches in India this year. We already come pre-loaded on Micromax Informatics Ltd and Karbonn, and many more local manufacturers.

How many languages is Truecaller available in?

Besides English, the Truecaller app is available in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malyalam, Marathi and Punjabi, but only on the Android version of the app till date.

What are the challenges you face? There could be privacy issues, regulatory issues and security issues...

We have 40 people working at Truecaller today. Just two months ago, we were 15. This is our biggest challenge—how to scale up the organization. Most of our employees are in Sweden and we have one person in New Delhi. However, a lot of our staff moved to Sweden to actually work with Truecaller and we have 30 different nationalities who speak 50 different languages, working with us in Sweden. We have three people from India working with us in Sweden.

There have been security concerns around Truecaller in the past (on 18 July, hacktivist group Syrian Electronic Army said it had hacked into the Truecaller database, in a post on Twitter along with an image that showed details of some users of the app. The hackers openly released Truecaller’s database host ID, username and password via another tweet). But we have the best of the best working on the backend. Besides, the hacking happened only in some portions. They (the hackers) were able to enter our website, which is isolated from the product (Truecaller) itself.

Having a WordPress website is like opening a door for other people. The product and the website are two different things. Privacy is most important. You can never get advance information about someone from Truecaller. All you get is the number, and who is calling you. You cannot search for a name and just get the number.

Do you ever get requests to delist numbers and data from your database?

Not really. To get a celebrity’s name, you need to have his/her number. Besides, you can unlist your details by going to truecaller.comunlist.

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