After web kills yellow pages, Truecaller targets personal lists

While a quick web search can uncover phone number, address, and more about most businesses, it’s harder to find specific information about people, especially since millennials abandons landlines for mobiles, which are generally not included in directories.

“If you go to the white pages and search for Alan, you’ll never find the right Alan,” said Truecaller co-founder Alan Mamedi. “This is where we are unique.”

Mamedi teamed up with former college friend Nami Zarringhalam in 2009 to create the app, which lists the contact lists of everyone who signs up, so if enough of its 100 million users know the John Smith in Brooklyn you are looking for, you may find it.

And the app predicts which John Smith you want – or, more likely Rajiv or Aditya, since he’s been most successful in India – by making suggestions based on people you know. Equally important, Truecaller will show on your phone screen the identities of callers that are part of the 1.6 billion numbers in its database, and it lets you block calls you don’t want.

Last year, the company raised $ 80 million in venture capital from Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Sequoia Capital and Atomico, the tech startup fund of Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom. Among Truecaller’s advisory group are John Doerr, board member of Google Inc. and William “Bing” Gordon, co-founder of Electronic Arts Inc.

Truecaller “is redefining the cell phone directory,” said Mattias Ljungman, managing partner at Atomico. “The team is on track to transform the way we use our phones.”

ikea table

Growth and interest in the company means Truecaller could be the next WhatsApp, the messaging service that was acquired last year by Facebook Inc. for $ 22 billion. Although Truecaller stayed away from the 450 million WhatsApp users when the deal was announced, Mamedi expects to surpass 300 million accounts by the end of the year. He declined to provide a valuation for the company.

Truecaller is “very smart – a classic crowdsourcing exchange where you give data in exchange for a useful service,” said Martin Garner, analyst at CCS Insight in London. Although “Truecaller’s further growth potential is very high,” Garner said. WhatsApp’s valuation rose sharply as it posed a potential competitive threat to Facebook, which is less clear with the Swedish company.

So far, most of Truecaller’s growth has occurred in India, which has over 55 million of its users, followed by Egypt. This is because these countries do not have a complete public telephone directory and many people use prepaid phones, which are difficult to follow.

“It really helped me while I was looking for a job because I knew what company they were calling from, said Ragesh Nair, 28, who works in social media marketing in Bengaluru.

Zarringhalam and Mamedi, both 30, met while they were engineering students in Stockholm. After launching a failed furniture buying portal, they came up with an early version of what would become Truecaller and spent much of the next two years building the app at a table in the kitchen. from Zarringhalam. The same Ikea table can be found in the conference room at the company’s head office in Stockholm today.

Between 2010 and 2013, they raised 2.5 million euros ($ 2.7 million) from a handful of investors, but struggled to secure more support. Then Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg started saying mobile users, mostly from new, fast-growing economies like India, would make up the bulk of the social network’s next billion customers.

“Everyone wants to be where the successful entrepreneur wants to be, and we were there already,” said Mamedi.

Iceberg awareness

One of the concerns with crowd-sourced information like Truecaller’s information is privacy, said Jessica Ekholm, research director at Gartner. She predicts that the company’s growth could slow down as more people stop opening their calendars and contact lists to outside people.

“We are only at the tip of the iceberg of consumer awareness of application security,” Ekholm said in an email.

Zarringhalam said the app has a lot of protections, with settings that allow users to limit the number of people who can see their data (friends of friends or all Truecaller users) and allow their data to be viewed. details only on request. Non-users get a message when someone wants to log in, and there’s a button they can click to be removed completely.

“We give everyone the ability to control their own information,” Zarringhalam said. “You don’t get content that you shouldn’t have access to.”

Truecaller faces competition from a multitude of companies that offer directory services by advertising or subscription using data from telephone operators and public sources. Even with millions of numbers, however, Mamedi insists that they are not as complete as its participatory directory, which can provide multiple listings (mobile, home, office, etc.) in places where there is no may not have a decent phone book.

Mamedi says making money with all this information is of secondary importance at the moment. One possibility is to multiply the business listings – Truecaller signed an agreement with the review site Yelp Inc. last year – which could allow the business to make money from business listings. while providing free data to consumers.

“Our only focus is growth, but we’re excited about monetization because it’s something we want to focus on later,” Mamedi said. “We have a lot of ideas.” Bloomberg

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Calvin W. Soper

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