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‘Live caller ID feature for iOS is a work in progress’- Kari Krishnamurthy of Truecaller in Pricebaba Talk

It is highly unlikely that you are a smartphone user and have not heard the name of Truecaller. The application basically alerts you of the person who is trying to contact you , even if you do not have his or her name stored on your phone. What started off as just an app to help you discover unknown callers has come a long way today. You have a Messaging app by Truecaller called Truemessenger and the Truecaller app in itself has added plenty of features. We recently reviewed the latest build of Truecaller app, Truecaller 7.0 for iOS and while the app is not really there, it definitely a start for a more real time Truecaller experience on iOS.

Kari-TC

One man who has been there at all times to answer our queries and take suggestions with a chin up has been the Vice President, Growth and Partnerships, Asia & Country Manager, India, Mr Kari Krishnamurthy. It was barely hours after our review went up that Kari obliged to talk to us and give us a bit more of a heads up in to what is Truecaller up to and some of the key decisions that they have made, including merging Truedialer and Truecaller and integrating ads in the app. What was a strict professional chat over a beer or two, turned to a lot more candid revelation. Here is the chat for you:

Pricebaba: What made you roll back the Truedialer and integrate the dialer within Truecaller? Was it a pre-planned move or happened over time.
Kari; Truecaller: Millions and millions of people use Truecaller every single day to improve their lives by reducing unwanted calls and saving their time. After the tremendous success achieved by Truecaller, Truedialer was developed on user feedback about a dialer app to put a name to unknown numbers in their call history.

When we first launched Truedialer we saw it as a separate use case from Truecaller, and we did not want to clutter the user experience for Truecaller by adding too many features. Over the past year we’ve studied user behavior and listened to our users, and most importantly ourselves, we’ve realized that both the apps offering these tremendous benefits would better fit together and will be more valuable for the users.

If you think about it, it all make sense. By adding the dialer, Smart Call History and Availability (Truedialer’s feature) Truecaller now completes the phone app experience of all your incoming and outgoing calls.

And over the years we’ve gotten huge support from our OEM partners who truly believe in our mission to create a better communication experience by building a great phone app.

PB: Being a Scandinavian company, what contributed to the tremendous growth in India? People generally say that it takes a lot of time to learn and adapt yourself to a new market, and especially India is a tough market to crack. Did having a Truecaller team in India help on that front?
TC:  The notion of knowing who is calling is a tremendous important piece of information for anyone with a phone. The service Truecaller is providing is a necessity for every smartphone user in the world. What have made us a success, are the innovation and the technology insights that we constantly employ to build and refine the Truecaller app and this is what will enable us to maintain our edge regardless of where the competition comes from.
Truecaller has a small but efficient start-up team. India team brings immense value on the table, while beyond geographical boundaries each member contributes for across regions when required.

PB: We have observed that Truecaller notifications carry small mobile banner ads. You always claimed to keep the experience very bloat-free, yet virtually every page has an ad. So what prompted the change in the approach where ads became more prominent than they ever were?
TC: We are committed to ensure seamless user experience. However, this is an important step towards a monetization strategy for Truecaller so that we can continue offering Truecaller’s basic features for free. If a user wishes to not have those ads, they can get the package of Truecaller which would remove all those ads and even give the user premium feature, such as contact request.

PB: You also promise an ad-free experience by subscribing to Truecaller Pro. Now, Indians are known to be not too keen on spending money on apps, how has the uptake here has been?
TC: Indian users have in fact proactively subscribed to the pro version. While it may come at an added cost, users have been willing to pay for the added features.

PB: Google recently announced carrier billing, albeit only for Idea users. What sort of traction have you seen, if any on carrier billing. And do you think it is something that could push Truecaller pro more?
TC: We will need to see how other mobile carriers are rolling this out and when. One thing we have to understand is the fact that we are a dominant pre-paid market and users are very cautious in subscribing or doing any transactions on their balance. The developers who can provide a compulsive offer or proposition will see better results here.

PB: You recently proclaimed that you got live caller ID on the iPhone. But there are reports on the web stating that it does not really work as advertised and the ID comes post the call is made. Your views on it?
TC: Live caller ID feature for iOS is a work in progress. While we have very much introduced the much awaited features considering the massive demand of the iPhone users, there are some technical limitations. We’re constantly investing in the platform to bring a much more seamless experience that is in par with the Android version of Truecaller. With their recent efforts into developing markets such as India, we believe it will be crucial for them to accommodate the needs of the market. Having a caller ID and spam blocker service embedded in your phone is a necessity for a market like India to make proper communication decisions. One of the big reasons for people not switching over to iOS is because they have grown accustomed to having instant and relevant information about who they communicate with.

PB: Truecaller is perhaps the only app on our smartphone, which has no alternatives, there is no competition. Who do you see as a potential competition for yourself? Seeing that Google and Apple both are trying to build a live directory search right within the ecosystem, is it something you are wary of?
TC: Making your communication safer and smarter, by giving you more information about those you communicate with, is core to Truecaller’s mission. We’ve been in the space for a long time and we’ve managed to build a great community of people who supports what we’re doing. That’s what’s really important for us.

The fact that other Internet companies are just now launching similar services is simply a testament to the large global problem we’re solving. What’s really great is that we’ve gotten huge support from our partners over the years who truly believe in our mission to create a superior dialer experience.

PB: A question that the world wants to know, how can a TrueCaller user keep his information private, and still continue to use Truecaller?
TC: We know that in today’s world, privacy is a top concern. That is why we make sure we have clear principals we follow, and allow our users to decide how their information is shown or shared. Users are always told what the Truecaller app requires in order to function for the best user experience.

Users cannot get a number from Truecaller unless the owner gives permission. By default, non-public numbers are shown as ‘private.’ A contact request must be sent to the number owner in order for any exchange of information to take place. This means that the number owner has full control of who can receive their number.

PB: You have already partnered with a ton of OEMs where Truecaller or Truedialer are the default calling apps. In those cases, does the app work any differently where perhaps I do not have to say, verify my numbers and my contacts are automatically synced to Truecaller?
TC: Absolutely, the app works as it does otherwise. However, Truecaller being your default dialer means easy access to all the information and great convenience. With one integrated app in place for both incoming and outgoing calls, user benefits are evident with additional information in place as compared to the native dialer.

PB: TrueSDK has received a lot of traction in the days recently. So, if you could just shed some light on this, and how is one step authentication via Truecaller a better choice than say via a Facebook or twitter?
TC: There might be more than a single e-mail ID for a person, they may or may not have a social media account, but every person uses at least one primary phone number which is in a way is their identity. There are more than a billion subscriptions of phone number in India alone. Many times users have to manually enter most part about themselves during registration/sign up process in apps. Other options that exists today either do not always facilitate a user’s verified phone number or the process of phone number verification is tedious.

At Truecaller, we realized the value of verified phone numbers for the purpose of identification, and at the same time we wanted to provide third party apps with an easier/lesser friction way to on-board/register/engage with end-users. Thus, TrueSDK came into being, where users get an option of using their Truecaller profile including their verified phone to easily signup/register in apps including autofill mechanism and at the partners get access to verified data – with the users’ permission.

PB: Give us a brief outline on how does an average day in the Truecaller offices go? Do you guys spend a lot of time on product ideas or on improvising, or anything else specifically?
TC: Start-up environment at Truecaller is electric and each day is fun filled with a lot of hard work. As a close team we do spend fair amount of time discussing the product enhancements. As well, the culture is slightly different and there is a lot of engagement and idea sharing across. Collaboration with other region colleagues and cross culture exchange keeps the creative juices flowing while it hardly feels like conventional work culture.

We thank Kari Krishnamurthy and Anuroop Krishnan at Truecaller for their time and being a real sport to take on our questions. 

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Arpit Verma

When not admiring flying metallic birds and the science behind them, Arpit is seen scribbling with his keyboard, voicing an opinion or two about personal technology. He is currently using a Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s Plus as his mobile devices.

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