One Indian Telecom Operator Allowed 31 Million Spam Calls In 2017, Says Truecaller

Truecaller’s Alan Mamedi explains why India is a key market for the Swedish company.

Alan Mamedi, co-founder and chief executive officer of Truecaller, stands for a photograph outside of the company’s office in San Francisco, California, U.S.
Alan Mamedi, co-founder and chief executive officer of Truecaller, stands for a photograph outside of the company’s office in San Francisco, California, U.S.

This is why India is the world’s most spam-call plagued country: just one telecom operator allowed 31 million telemarketing calls last year, according to Truecaller.

It’s a lot of telemarketing calls from one carrier and the country has several operators and other companies, said Alan Mamedi, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Swedish caller ID app company, without naming the operator. “It is a huge problem.”

No wonder, Truecaller has most of its users in India, about 150 million of 250 million globally. The app helps identify and filter spam calls, messages and now even allows payments. The problem is so severe that even the regulator came out with a Do Not Disturb Service app that helps users report the numbers from which they receive unsolicited telemarketing calls and messages.

Truecaller’s success in India means that the country is a starting point for it to roll out a new service before it is exported to the rest of the world. BloombergQuint caught up with Mamedi about the company’s India plans, its business model and about how unwanted pesky callers are the most active in India.

Watch the interview

Edited excerpts of the interview below.

Is it true that India is the world’s most spam-call plagued country?

Yes, it is. One of the reasons is phone calls and text messages are still one of the most efficient ways of communicating with people, which is why this is a big channel for different corporations to reach out to customers and individuals. What we saw in India was that just one carrier spammed or called over 31 million times during 2017, which is lot of calls from just one operator and you have several such carriers and other companies. So, it is a huge problem.

Keep in mind that your phone number is an open gateway for anyone to reach you. No one is taking an action to prevent this from happening, not the operators and not the mobile manufacturers. So, this is the space that we find that we will have a big play in. We are all making communication safer and efficient and this is our mission.

What are the most relevant tags that crop up when somebody uses Truecaller to identify callers in India?

Telecom operator is obviously a tag which pops up often. You have a lot coming from the banking industry. Now, that a lot is being digitalised too, there is lot of communication happening there too. There are also many banking companies who are trying to approach people in different ways to take a loan or something else and then there is a lot of scamming happening on that side as well. But, I would say wireless carrier and banks are the two top tags that pop up.

You have partnered with ICICI Bank for a UPI-based payment service. How does that partnership work? And considering the dominance of Paytm and the imminent arrival of Whatsapp payments, is that tough place to find your space in?

Paytm is a very big player in this space and we believe that what is happening right now in the digital payments is just the beginning. What we have compared to many others in this space is the reach. We have a different belief too. We believe that every transaction happens after a conversation and this is where Truecaller is very different from anyone else and in most conversations, whether it is a phone caller or text message, Truecaller is more or less always involved in it.

We have a different approach and we believe that we can make the experience of a payments transaction much better than anyone else. This is the space that a couple of players will have a big opportunity to make the experience better for the end consumer. In the end, if we and other players can bring a great experience, end consumer is the winner. That’s how we look at it. We have had some very good traction, and this is something which we will continue to double down on.

A few years ago you launched True Messenger, that’s true caller for SMS, first in India. In fact, over 60 percent of your users come from India. How important is India as a market for Truecaller?

It is a very important market for us. We have a big team in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai and so we see India as a starting point for us. Everything we build, we start building it here and over time we start to replicate our success in other markets like Africa, which is one of our big markets, and the Middle East. We launched True Messenger in 2014. It was a huge success and a separate product. To start with, we wanted to build a separate product to understand the consumer behaviour. Last year, we merged messenger into Truecaller as part of your communication experience. So, Truecaller will manage your phone call experience and your text message experience. It’s been a great journey and we will continue to do these type of product developments.

What is Truecaller’s business model around the world? Are targeted advertising and brand partnerships the way forward?

Right now, we are monetising on advertisements like many other technology companies are doing. We are improving our premium subscription offering as well which is something that you will see more this year. So, those are the two paths we were taking on the monetisation and business model side. But, when we are building new things like payments for instance, we don’t think about how we will monetise this. We rather think how we can build something and bring a great experience that our customers would like and solves the problem that they have.

Just like we did when we built Truecaller as a pure caller ID and spam-blocking app which solved the problem that people had. So, I believe, that if you have that approach to everything you do then the business model will just be a by-product of it. That’s an important mindset that every company needs to have, and that’s something we will continue to have and will work hard to keep.

You’ve been very keen on users lapping up the paid subscription service Truecaller Premium. Doesn’t such an offering defeat the very purpose of a product like Truecaller?

No, I don’t think so. The core Truecaller offering, which is making your communication more efficient and safer, will remain free. There are things that you can build over time that bring some extra value which might not be attractive to everyone, but more for the professionals or for those who have a certain need. So, that is our mindset on the premium subscription. But now, we are offering an ad-free solution. We are giving 30 contact requests for free per month and this is just the beginning. We started to launch the monthly subscription end of last year and we have seen subscription base growing strongly month on month. So, that is a very good path to monetisation and we will continue to improve our offering. In a couple of months, you will see our offering being even stronger, but the core product will remain free and that is our ambition.

When it comes to India, are there any plans or beta rollouts which we can expect in the coming months?

Yes, we have couple of things that we are working on. In Bangalore, we have a big product team as well which is working on more local things. So, there are a few things coming out in the coming months and this year. So, stay tuned for it. It’s going to be exciting stuff.