Understanding Truecaller’s Growth Model and How to Launch in New Markets

Me, Nami & Alan at Guldmobilen, Stockholm 2011

Knowing your AHA-moments

The first thing I want to clarify is that the underlying growth factor for Truecaller is that the product solves a really BIG problem. Virality is difficult to explain and replicate, especially word of mouth. But to understand that we need to break down the user journey, and understand the “AHA-moments”, and what factors actually contribute to growth. Knowing this made it much easier for us to prioritise what is really important, and to focus on markets where we know there is already product market fit. Also, knowing how your users discover your product/service and what they truly value will help you create a much more effective marketing message and clever positioning (more about this in the next post.)

Word of mouth: A friend or family member tells you that there is an app that can let you see who is calling and warn you if it is scam call. Getting your product work the very first time is crucial as you seldom get a second opportunity to make a good first impression when it comes to product experience. That AHA moments is the pure network effect.
App Store charts: there’s no big secret that being in the top rankings + having great reviews will help boost organic growth. Getting to the top overall ranking is increasingly difficult nowadays considering the abundance of competition out there. Either your app need to be extremely viral and sticky (organic growth) or you’d need to buy your way in (through user acquisition.)
Through media/social media: a great channel to get users and educate people about Truecaller.

Truecaller’s Growth Model

Every company has their own unique growth model, meaning what works for us may not necessarily work for your company. This is a simplified growth model that allowed us to know when to push harder in a market. By knowing that we have covered this checklist it increases our chances to build a more sustainable growth in a certain market.

  • Product localization: this one is quite obvious but having the app available in local language is a must to reach scale.
  • Understanding local number formatting: this was something we had to learn the hard way when we were trying to grow in Brazil. Apparently users were saving numbers and adding different prefixes to a contact e.g. instead of +55111111 they would add #81#111111 making it very difficult for us to identify a number. Before we figured this out we had spent a lot of resource promoting the app, which ended with users coming in having a poor user experience and eventually churning.
  • Spam numbers: are there any public sources where people have reported fraudulent calls? For instance the FCC in the US has released data on this that we could integrate to Truecaller to boost the spam detection.
  • SMS & call verification provider: this is an extremely important piece to get right, especially in emerging markets where OTP messages often get massively delayed resulting in user churn.
  • Hit rate: this is the most important factor for our success in a market. A hit means that we can identify a spam number or identifying a number correctly for our users. Similar to how Uber needs to have a surplus of drivers when they initially launch in a market to drive demand (they would typically compensate their drivers for lost income — and would be bleeding money for ≈9 months before the demand gets to the inflection point of demand meeting supply). If we could provide a hit for our users we knew we had a home-run.
  1. Figure out your key message: what is the key pain-point you are solving and keep it simple.
  2. Support your message with data and visualize the problem with stats. If possible combine with a partnership announcement — this will show strength and legitimize your business.
  3. Think local. Always use local user testimonials and case studies to tell your story.
  4. Have a local person on ground or have a spokesperson who can speak the language. Use partners like a PR agency or consultant to help you navigate the local media landscape (I will break down how we think about this in the coming chapter)
  5. Be prepared with a proper FAQ and be accessible to any incoming media inquiries. I can’t stress this enough.
  • Pre-launch PR activity 1: Highlight how big of a problem spam and scam calls are in the market with data and how Truecaller can solve it. This will establish and legitimize your existence and create general awareness. We’d typically dig into our internal data to see trends over spam/scam calls and how many spam calls we help our users identify in the market or who the culprits are. Sometime we’d also use market research agencies to help us conduct surveys (see second example below.)
  • Pre-launch PR activity 2: Create awareness around your business model to educate the business press and boost leads. Below is an example when we introduced Truecaller Ads to Sub-Sahara Africa. Key here was to package and position our business model to make it stand out, explain why it make sense to launch it now and why businesses should care (blog post here: https://blog.truecaller.com/2017/05/17/truecaller-launches-ads-platform-for-african-brands/). Once we had all the elements in place went to a few selected media to give them a proper brief and had a Q&A session with them where we could fully explain all the details around why Truecaller Ads make sense to the market.
  • Pre-launch PR activity 3: Build up hype that we are establishing operations in the market (media love Foreign Direct Investment stories.)
  • Pre-launch social media activity: Engage with local players to boost your brand within the ecosystem. When we were getting close to our ‘launch day’ in Sub-Sahara Africa we announced that we were doing a big developer contest and partnered with the most influential incubator in Nigeria to further build hype and awareness around Truecaller.
  • Launch day: After all the hype you’ve built over the months launch day is when you really need to impress. Typically what we would do is to invite key media, influencers and important ecosystem players for a proper briefing with our spokesperson and setting up 1-on-1 with them. This is the moment where you can make a big splash and establish long lasting media relationships. We’d start off with a presentation giving everyone a proper introduction about the company. We would also reveal some new stats followed by a big announcement. It’s important that you don’t reveal too much during the pre-launch phase because if you reveal too much and don’t have anything significant to present during launch, then chances are that the press will have nothing to write about. Therefore plan this carefully and don’t burn through you fuel at once.
  • Alternative way to launch: When we launched in the US we combined a key hire + a partnership + revealing some fresh stats and pitched it exclusively to Forbes who broke the news. Sometimes getting one high quality piece of coverage that tells your story in detail is better than 10 mediocre pieces of coverage that no one reads.
  • Post launch PR activity: Once you’ve launched and made big splash, you need to think about the long tail of activity to maintain the momentum. Key here is to be consistent and relevant — tactics for this includes product updates, packaging them in the local flavor, and using stats to show growth.
  • Post launch PR activity 2: A great way to demonstrate momentum is by partnering with a top local player.

Checklist for launching in new markets

At the peak of our massive expansion in 2015 I was working with 11 PR agencies from all over the world. This was indeed an incredibly hectic period and we were making constant announcements and blasting out news. To manage this influx of activity we needed to be organized and set up processes for it. As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, checklists have been a great tool for us to manage high paced market roll-outs. What’s great with checklists is that it helped us focus on what needed to be done systematically and not overlook any crucial steps in stressful moments. This also helped make sure all our agency partners were aligned. This document is constantly evolving. To set the record straight, in every launch we certainly made some mistakes, but we always try to learn from them and improve our playbook.

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