Phonebook replacer Truecaller says mobile-first Africa shows great potential for growth


The phonebook is a critical tool for billions of people who use it on a daily basis — but despite all of today’s advanced technology, little has been done to make the mobile experience more intelligent, relevant and personal. Truecaller is a service that transforms the phonebook with a set of smart features to make it all of these three things.

Co-founded by Nami Zarringhalam, Truecaller lets users identify unknown incoming calls — they can block calls they don’t want to receive.

Zarringhalam, who is also the company’s chief strategy officer, believes that since the service is available on all major mobile platforms, the African region has strong growth opportunities because of its high smartphone penetration.

Competitive edge

According to Zarringhalam, the company — which has headquarters in Sweden — has been able to secure endorsements for the service across the world, and users experience an app that is always improving.

Zarringhalam adds they appreciate the fact that users are extremely vocal because Truecaller has become a part of their daily routine. He noted that the most important part of creating an app is not just what it looks like, or how it functions. Rather, it is how useful it is for the people it serves.

“Moreover, we feel there are no real competitors in the market who are trying to solve this type of challenge and really make your phonebook smarter,” Zarringhalam said in a statement. “There are big players on the market who are doing parts of this and others, but they make it either hard to query or the information is not available. We like to say that we are doing something the traditional services should have done a decade ago.”

Performance in Africa

Truecaller is gaining popularity because it solves a pain point that many smartphone owners encounter.

“With the increasing amount of unregistered numbers, sales calls and lack of public information on numbers, Truecaller provides a quick and relevant solution for free. Our app was first marketed simply through word of mouth — friends telling their friends about their discovery,” Zarringhalam said.

The company sees African countries as a strong growth opportunity given that smartphone penetration rates are rapidly growing throughout the region:

We know that startups are a growing trend in Africa, and we’d like to be a part of that and be more involved. Collaborating with network operators, OEM’s and ecosystem owners is important, but we also want to engage with local app developers and the startup community. And to do so, it’s extremely important for us to have local knowledge about the markets. Something that we’ve been doing that is very successful is to interact with passionate people who both love our brand and have great understanding of the market.

He described the continent’s consumers as tech-savvy, curious, and early adopters. “They like to explore, and spread the word of good apps. Truecaller originally picked up quickly in other regions due to word-of-mouth,” he said.

Although it is a global company, Truecaller is headquartered in Sweden with 60 employees. It caters for an Android competitor, Tizen, and includes a dual-SIM functionality. In 2013, it reported that it has closed the 20-million user mark.

“We have a fantastic support team and marketing team that works hard to localise and get to know the regions where our app is popular,” he explained. “We also recruit brand ambassadors from different regions, and are looking for super fans of Truecaller in Africa to help make the app even better for their communities.”

Entrepreneurial nuggets

Zarringhalam is also a serial entrepreneur who stressed the importance of building a product for global users, though he adds that it’s important to consider localisation:

Some things you have to do visionary to get your product to where you want it to be, while some things will have to be done proactively like the localisation for instance. Finally, some things will have to be done reactively, so you just release your product to the market and then listen intensely to the feedback from the early users, and iterate on your product quickly.

He described the African market as an interesting one. “Africans are thinking mobile-first, and skipping the landline altogether. There are also quite a lot of unique mobile services in Africa that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world which shows the true innovation power of the continent,” he said. ​

Image via janelatech

Paul Adepoju


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