Among all the Swedish startup success stories, the story of Truecaller definitely stands out. Their app has turned the traditional phonebook into a practical call screening app, and their founder and CEO Alan Mamedi started it all at 25 years old. Being a smart man, he has taken the opportunity to learn. He now wants to share his wisdom with other entrepreneurs, especially ones heading to Asia and Africa.
Since founding Truecaller in 2009, reaching 250 million users worldwide, and surpassing Facebook as the fourth most downloaded app in India, Alan is aware of the opportunity that has been presented to him and his company. His success has shown others too, that there are important lessons to be learned from Truecaller.
“Across specialties, sectors and international borders, many people have the same questions about how to scale their business or maintain growth in developing markets,” Alan says, talking about meeting countless entrepreneurs, investors and engineers. To answer these questions, he has five main tips for startups to keep in mind.
“At first some common knowledge: don’t stand still,” Alan says, while clarifying that believing this and putting it into practice are two different things. “At Truecaller, part of our ethos is that we don’t spend too much time over-engineering. It’s better to get the product out, understand and reiterate. In the end, it’s your customer who will be the judge. We’ve seen a lot of success just by listening to our gut.”
Part of this is having a lot of varied in-house talent. Alan cites his PR-team as one example: “We have a very effective communication team that has forged important relationships with media and bloggers since day one. This means that even without a PR agency, we would still be able to reach out to press whenever we have something to announce.”
Find Your Balance
Alan’s second tip involved finding the right balance between human and machine learning. “We live in a big data world. Many important decisions are driven by numbers, and rightly so,” Alan begins telling about decision making at Truecaller. “For us, it was important to develop an expected hit-rate, and understand how an identity score affected the user experience.”
After arriving in the Middle East, Truecaller’s first big break was in Lebanon. “The app became an overnight sensation in the country,” Alan recalls. “We discovered that the tipping point for people to actually have a good experience with the app was when we delivered a 30% hit-rate. Being aware of these growth patterns made us better at communicating internally and externally to drive new customers, adoption and engagement.”
Be a Tourist in the Market
Becoming too familiar can be every bit as damaging as being completely unfamiliar with your market. Alan of course has several international locations, most notably India, where he needs to know what’s going on and how to react to changes. However, he doesn’t spend all his time studying new places, but finds the most use in being a “tourist”. So how does that work out?
“Living in Stockholm, I’ve become acclimated to my environment through constant exposure and begun to ignore my surroundings,” Alan says. “On the flipside, when I travel to India, I become a behavioral tourist, observing how people use their phones. This exposure to novelty sparks new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of had I not stepped out of my comfort zone.”
iPhone vs. Android
Alan is often asked to describe what it is that makes Truecaller stand out in a crowded market. While describing the big picture might be tough, he does have two clear examples in mind: low iPhone penetration and word-of-mouth.
“There are real benefits to markets with low iPhone penetration,” Alan says, referring to developing markets specifically where Android phones are more common. He also describes Truecaller’s user base favoring Android heavily. “For one, competition on the app store is fairly low, and many iPhone users are likely very influential people. That is a big opportunity.”
Amazingly enough, word-of-mouth proved useful when with Android users turning iPhone owners into brand ambassadors. “Looking at Algeria as one of our recent top markets, our growth strategy relied on pushing Android users to invite their iPhone friends. This rise gave an automatic bump on the Google Play Store too.”
Listen To Your Clients!
Alan’s final tip could be considered common knowledge too, namely bracing and planning for growth. However, reminding us what it truly means to be a customer oriented business, he is firm about planning on the end users’ terms: “Talk to your users, listen to them, understand where there’s friction… For Truecaller, an early indicator of growth was organic word of mouth taking us forward. Conversely, slow organic growth likely means that there’s some other product issue you’re not addressing.”
Beyond planning, being customer oriented is also a good strategy when paid marketing might not be financially viable. “Focus on where your users are, then utilize your own channels to communicate with them and empower them with tools to help spread the word for you!” Alan advises for budgetary binds.