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Truecaller seeks to expand presence in MENA

BEIRUT: Truecaller, a leading global live caller ID service, is looking to cement its growing presence in the MENA region by establishing a regional office and recruiting local business developers, most likely from Lebanon, one of its co-founders told The Daily Star.

“We are also going to be recruiting business developers and shortly set up an office in the region, and since we have such a strong footprint in Lebanon, it’s very likely that we will find someone from here,” Nami Zarringhalam, Truecaller’s deputy CEO and chief strategy officer said in an email interview.

Truecaller currently has more than 75 million users worldwide, with those in the MENA region representing almost a quarter of its global user base. Over 18 million individuals across 18 MENA countries use Truecaller’s services, Zarringhalam said.

“We see the Middle East and North Africa as a strong growth opportunity given that smartphone penetration rates are rapidly growing throughout the region.”

The MENA region user base grew by 200 percent as of May 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to Zarringhalam, who said that Lebanon represents one of the top MENA countries for Truecaller in terms of its user base with more than 75 percent of the country’s 4 million population using its services.

“One of the challenges is to scale the operation and have local teams in our key markets, where the Middle East is one of them,” he said.

At the beginning of 2014, Truecaller had a team of only 25 individuals, but it now employs around 50 people, all based in Stockholm, Sweden, with the exception of one team member located in Delhi, India.

“I think the public has the perception that we are a big organization and have offices around the world,” Zarringhalam said.

Founded in 2009 as a crowdsourced phonebook directory, Truecaller uses address books voluntarily uploaded by consumers, combined with existing yellow pages and white pages directories to allow its mobile app and website users to identify callers through a reverse lookup. Users can also block calls from reported spammers.

Truecaller makes money through advertisements that are shown to users of its free version, Zarringhalam said. Users also have the option to buy a premium ad-free version that offers additional services.

Subscribers to Truecaller’s premium mobile app can search names and request the number of another user outside their social networks. Users will be notified when someone requests their number and have the option to approve any request that comes through.

“Every step in Truecaller is permission-based, so your number will not go anywhere without your permission. Insofar as users or people who are non-users are concerned, they will always have the ability to opt out and delist their number.”

Zarringhalam expects Truecaller’s global number of users to reach 120 million by the end of 2014 compared to 75 million users as of August this year. “Three years ago our total users [numbered] around 1.5 million globally, that’s around a 5,000 percent increase in three years!”

While Truecaller’s mobile app is available for download across the most popular platforms worldwide, access to its website in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been restricted.

“The company is currently in the process of liaising with the concerned regulatory authorities in both these countries to clearly identify the issue and we are confident of resolving the website accessibility issue as soon as possible,” Zarringhalam said.

Addressing users’ privacy and security concerns, Zarringhalam said Truecaller doesn’t license its data to third parties and was committed to the security and protection of personal information of its users.

“We don’t give access to any data for marketing companies, telemarketers or government. We would never do anything that is not in the best interests of our users or would jeopardize their privacy,” he said.

Last year, Truecaller was the victim of a cyberattack claimed by “the Syrian Electronic Army,” which resulted in a brief shutdown of its website.

“As with any company in the world, there’s always a potential threat from a cyberattack. Last year we experienced a cyberattack on our website. However, it is important to understand that the website itself is isolated from the whole Truecaller app. At the time, we were using WordPress, which had some loopholes. Since then we have quit using WordPress,” he said.

Asked whether the company plans to go public anytime soon, Zarringhalam said that Truecaller was satisfied with the current level of funding after it secured this February an $18.8 million Series B financing round led by Sequoia Capital.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2014, on page 5.

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Summary

Truecaller, a leading global live caller ID service, is looking to cement its growing presence in the MENA region by establishing a regional office and recruiting local business developers, most likely from Lebanon, one of its co-founders told The Daily Star.

Truecaller currently has more than 75 million users worldwide, with those in the MENA region representing almost a quarter of its global user base. Over 18 million individuals across 18 MENA countries use Truecaller's services, Zarringhalam said.

The MENA region user base grew by 200 percent as of May 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to Zarringhalam, who said that Lebanon represents one of the top MENA countries for Truecaller in terms of its user base with more than 75 percent of the country's 4 million population using its services.

Zarringhalam expects Truecaller's global number of users to reach 120 million by the end of 2014 compared to 75 million users as of August this year.


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