It is the world’s largest third-party directory of phone numbers. With over 50 million users globally and growing at a fast clip, Truecaller, a four-year-old startup out of Sweden, is on the path to becoming the next big smartphone app. After the craze for messaging apps, spearheaded by WhatsApp, which Facebook valued at $19 billion, Truecaller solves a real-world problem and is growing solely on the basis of word of mouth. Could it be the next WhatsApp?
“It is all about creating a good product,” Alan Mamedi, Truecaller co-founder and CEO, tells me in a meeting at Sequoia Capital’s Delhi office. Sequoia Capital invested $18.8 million in Truecaller earlier this February.
For those still unaware about Truecaller, it is an app that identifies the name whenever you get a call from an unknown number. The app uploads the user’s phonebook (if you permit it to) and creates a crowdsourced directory. The idea bore seed when Mamedi and his friend, Nami Zarringhalam realized they were getting too many calls from unknown numbers and didn’t know which calls were important and which were not.
“It was in 2009 and we started a small project where we connected yellow and white pages from all over the world. We created it for Windows Mobile and made it public. Within a month, the app had crossed 10,000 downloads,” Mamedi says. “Soon we were getting lot of requests for features from users. In 2010, we decided to quit our jobs and work on Truecaller full time.”
India turned out to be one of the countries from where they got most requests. Being a 95 percent prepaid market, the country did not have any concept of yellow pages for cellphone users, which prompted Mamedi and Zarringhalam to look into the crowdfunded directory option. Today India is the biggest country for the company, accounting for close to 60 percent of its user base.
Despite the growth in many countries like India where it is adding 600,000 users every week and Lebanon where half of the total population uses the service, Truecaller faces a few hurdles on achieving WhatsApp like cult status. One of them is users being concerned about their privacy.
The idea about sharing their entire phonebook or having their contact details on Truecaller without them knowing about it since someone else with their contact details in their phonebook shared them with Truecaller spooks many users. This is true especially in mature markets where users have a heightened sense of awareness around privacy. Truecaller is aware of these sensitivities but is doing all it can to ensure these fears are quelled.
“Everything in Truecaller is an opt-in functionality. You cannot get a phone number from Truecaller if you have a name. On the other hand, if you have the phone number, we will give information if we have it, because you can also get it by calling that number,” Mamedi explains. “It also looks into your social circle. So for instance, one won’t be able to get Bill Gates’ number even if it is available on Truecaller.”
It is difficult to change mindsets but Truecaller is already growing at an insane pace in India. Truecaller has 29 million users in India and is adding an average of 600,000 new users every week or 2.4 million users a month. The company claims it blocks 2 million spam calls every day in India alone.
There is still a lot of scope for Truecaller for growth and it seems still relatively early days for the service. The company has 40 employees working full-time in Sweden, mostly engineers, and 30 others who work part-time. “There are more than 30 nationalities working at Truecaller that can speak in over 40 languages. We wanted to create a truly multi-national company,” Mamedi says.
Still, Truecaller has a lot of ground to cover. It is not active in China yet, for instance, which is also the world’s largest smartphone market. The company has identified priority markets, which includes India, Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
When I ask him whether deals like the one Facebook cut for WhatsApp excite him, Mamedi wouldn’t comment, saying the two co-founders are truly committed to the product.