We have heard that Twitter is making another acquisition, with international growth and mobile marketing in mind. Sources tell us that Twitter is in negotiations to buy ZipDial, a startup founded in India that has honed in on a mobile use case that is unique to its home market and others like it. People who call numbers but hang up before the call is answered, using the action as a simple alert that doesn’t cost any money. That alert, in turn, becomes the basis for a number of other, commercial actions, and analytics to track everything.
The information we’ve been hearing pegs a deal between the companies at different stages. A few sources tell us that it has already closed, is in the region of $30 million – $40 million, and could be announced as soon as this week.
Another source close to the company says that there have been two companies looking at ZipDial, including Twitter (with the other possibly Facebook, although the source would not say).
This source says that things slowed down over the holidays and have yet to pick up again. A separate source says that nothing has closed yet but doesn’t deny that there have been talks. In response to questions about ZipDial, Twitter has said: “We don’t comment on rumor and speculation.”
ZipDial was co-founded by Stanford-educated, U.S. transplant Valerie Wagoner (CEO), Amiya Pathak (the COO who has also worked and studied across India and the U.S.), and Sanjay Swamy (chairman and an active investor in other startups).
If the deal gets done, it would be the latest in string of startups in India getting acquired by U.S. companies keen to capitalise on the opportunity to pick up talent, knowledge and traction in a very huge market — considered to be one of the fastest-growing and potentially biggest in the world.
About a year ago Facebook bought app performance analyser LittleEye Labs, its first acquisition of a startup in India; and Yahoo acquired Bookpad, makers of file editing and collaboration software. We had also heard that Twitter was looking at an analytics company called Frrole, although no deal materialised. ZipDial would be Twitter’s first acquisition in India if the deal gets completed.
Pushing a lot of strategic buttons
ZipDial — think a more basic, free Yo — has taken the humble missed call and created a lot of pretty innovative marketing and other commercial services out of it.
Among them, users register for services like information alerts or Tweets from a specific account by calling a number and hanging up. A brand, for example, might sponsor the alert service, which is free to the user and becomes a form of advertising. Other functions that can be enabled and tracked using the format include coupon redemption tracking, app downloads, mobile number verification, and alerts to groups of followers.
ZipDial has been working with Twitter already for a while, for example offering a service for users to dial/hang up on a number to activate receiving a Tweet stream from a specific Twitter account.
“The experience, of course, works for all mobile users in India on any phone, any operator network and is completely free, irrespective of whether they have a Twitter account or data-enabled phone,” Indiancombi tech blog TheNextBigWhat wrote at the time that service was launched.
Incidentally, the idea of constructing a Twitter service for users who aren’t logged in or even registered with site plays on Twitter’s own ambitions to better monetize its large amount of “logged out” and casual users.
ZipDial’s service is big business. When we covered the startup back in 2013, it had already clocked up campaigns totalling around 400 million hung up calls, and today claims over 900 million engagements across 7,000 campaigns (it’s not clear if that’s the same metric but sounds like it could be).
It says more than 500 brands, including a lot of recognizable names like Disney and Pepsi, are customers on its platform.
More recently ZipDial has been working on expanding its footprint outside of India to other emerging countries in the region such as markets in Southeast Asia.
Last year, ZipDial also started to work with Facebook on advertising campaigns, where brands could include a “missed call” button in their Facebook mobile ad that would trigger a phone call to register for further sponsored content and promotions from the brand. But from what we understand, Twitter engagement and response has been better overall.
Mobile is big business for Twitter. Mobile monthly active users account for 80% of overall MAUs and mobile ads represent 85% of all ad revenues, ads being Twitter’s primary revenue generator.
And international is a large but still underdeveloped market for the social network. Twitter noted in its Q3 financials that about 78% of its 284 million MAUs were international users, but it is only making about 34% of its revenues outside the U.S..
Combine that with the fact that Twitter needs to figure out ways of targeting mobile consumers who are not (yet?) smartphone users, tapping into user behaviors that are already popular/more natural to those audiences (like hanging up as a call alert), and you can see why ZipDial may be appealing. “Reach the next 3 billion with ZipDial,” the startup says in its promotional materials.
Before now, there were other initiatives to tease out growth for Twitter’s audience in emerging markets although these were more about growing audience than revenues (at least initially).
In India, Truecaller has integrated Twitter handles and Tweeting into its number look-up app, an integration we have heard has been doing well.
And a company called Myriad is meanwhile offering a very basic Twitter service across various emerging markets that works on a phone’s USSD channel, allowing for very simple Twitter access even when a user is logged out of Twitter or doesn’t have mobile data coverage or credits.