Shreyas Kulkarni
Interviews

"We are at par with pre-COVID levels and already getting bookings for August": Tejinder Gill, Truecaller

With record new advertisers in June, being 100 per cent 'programmatic', and enjoying 700 million daily impressions, Truecaller is riding high right now.

Truecaller is India's go-to caller ID and spam detection app. Out of the 200 million monthly active users (MAUs) globally, 150 million MAUs are from India. It is also the country's largest mobile display inventory.

Now, with the ban on Chinese apps in India and brands' suspension of advertising campaigns on Facebook, Truecaller is looking to grab this huge audience segment's attention. It also places itself as the go-to platform for advertisers to reach this audience.

We caught up with Tejinder Gill, VP, global ad sales, Truecaller, to understand what the platform is doing to garner more users and advertisers among other things.

Edited excerpts:

Truecaller is different from TikTok, or any other social media platform. How do you plan to gain more of their users, and even advertisers?

Yes, we're seen as a caller ID app first, but we've evolved into a communication platform that's more like a super app; Truecaller offers payment services, video calling, and instant chat. So, we never competed with anyone and, instead, built our niche.

We were the first mobile publisher to go with 'programmatic', and offer non-invasive after-call ads. And because of this, advertisers see us as a highly impactful platform that delivers micro-moments.

Micro-moments? On average, a person gets seven to eight calls daily. So, a brand has seven to eight opportunities to talk to him/her. That's the beauty of our platform.

Who is a Truecaller user?

Sixty per cent of the users are from Tier II and III cities, and most of them use a smartphone that retails from Rs 10,000. We're now touching 120 million daily average users (DAUs) and almost 30 per cent of the DAUs are women because they feel safe with us (caller ID and spam detection keeps unwanted calls away).

Tell us more about non-invasive ads.

We follow a simple rule. On any one frame, there will only be one ad. Yes, to make revenue, we can put more slots, but we don't. Look at our after-call screen, and it's one exclusive ad. It's beneficial for the user and the advertiser. It's neat and clutter-free.

Second, we call this intelligent advertising where we know the type of handset a user is using, the mobile circle of the user, and whether the user is a male or female. If you want to advertise bikes to men in Tamil Nadu, we can help you reach them.

What Truecaller brings to the table is a T-shaped structure. We give you the horizontal width that's million-plus users and the same depth (vertical) in any particular audience. Want to advertise bikes to males in Tamil Nadu? We will have a few million users there. We want to continue to scale horizontally and vertically in the mobile ecosystem.

Also, we never accept advertising from sensitive categories like alcohol or political groups. Our core principles stand firm and that's why users love us because they know we don't give them any ad. We try to make it as relevant as possible, and that's why our reach is high and our click through rate, i.e., the number of clicks advertisers receive on their ads per number of impressions, is excellent.

Here's an example. For Nestle, in the morning, we served an ad for coffee. In the afternoon, when you're hungry, we switched the tone to Maggi, then to KitKat in the evening, and curd at night. It was so relevant and we got terrific comments... this is where we add value.

How do you look to tackle so many competitors?

The market is always evolving. When I joined LinkedIn around 10 years ago, social media was starting. Facebook tried its 'Work' version, but never entered the LinkedIn space.

It's good to have competition. They keep you on your toes. But, we have our core strength, we have advertisers from verticals such as auto, e-commerce, and mobile advertise heavily on our platform.

For instance, Maruti has tried videos with us, and seen more value in terms of cost-effectiveness. Our base is 120 million (daily), and the cost per reach (CPR) is less than 10 paise. For this amount, you get to reach an audience that owns a smartphone, uses data, and is digitally savvy, and also 700 million impressions daily. Why wouldn't you choose it?

Any new diversification plans in the pipeline?

We're excited to see how our AI and machine learning will address you, and deliver personalised ad communication through your journey. We have data for around four billion calls daily... how can we use this to deliver more insights to marketers is the challenge.

Second, we're looking to simplify the jargon of programmatic. Four years ago, it was a complex ecosystem and limited tech talent understood it. Today, people are building more programmatic tools within their own companies.

Third, we haven't started working on it, but we are thinking about more voice-enabled brand solutions two-three years down the line.

And speaking of brand solutions, while our focus is on the top 500 advertisers, we want to expand and welcome the masses, the SMEs. So, we're trying to take our self-serve ad managers to the next level so that a small advertiser with a small budget can come and try the Truecaller platform.

Truecaller is 100 per cent programmatic, but what about its risks?

Yes, there are chances of leakage with programmatic. If you serve an alcohol ad to an underage user, you're in big trouble. You have to be very sensitive about the ad you serve, and to whom. I think rather than using AI and machine learning for advertising, we ought to first use it for our users. I think that's the core for us. If you qualify your users in the right way (who they are)... serving the right ad is easier.

As you attract more people and advertisers, how do you ensure data security?

One, our entire India user data is in India, which is also our largest market. Second, all privacy controls are in the hand of users. If you say you don't want to see ads from tomorrow, you can switch if off. It's as simple as that. Even if an advertiser asks for data, we say no.

We've recently onboarded 500,000 users organically in a single day. Our journey starts from the Play Store because we deliver a certain amount of value and privacy that people respect, so they download our app. We're a Swedish company and user data is close to our heart.

In June, we saw a record number of new advertisers on Truecaller. Right now, we are at par with pre-COVID levels and we're already getting bookings for August. We're a consumer household brand and, like The Times of India (TOI), if you go to any house, you will find one Truecaller user.