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By Me Yesterday: Twitter Buys India-Based Startup ZipDial to Tap Emerging Markets

Our main story at WSJ.com begins:

Twitter Inc. agreed to buy India-based mobile marketing startup ZipDial for an undisclosed sum in its first acquisition in Asia, as it seeks to tap more offline users in fast-growing emerging markets.

Countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil are key to Twitter as it tries to attract new users and advertising dollars, analysts say. Emerging markets are increasingly becoming an important part of Twitter’s growth strategy as it peaks in developed markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. In the three months ended September, Twitter reached 284 million monthly active users, about 77% of whom came from outside the U.S.

Bangalore-based ZipDial is known for its “missed call” marketing service, which allows consumers to dial a number for a company and hang up before connecting. The company in turn sends them free text messages containing advertisements and other content, like sports scores, without users incurring a charge.

A colleague and I also wrote this primer on ZipDial:

Twitter said Tuesday it is paying an undisclosed sum to acquire ZipDial, a Bangalore, India-based startup known for its success at “missed call” marketing.

Wait, what’s a missed call?

In India, many cost-conscious consumers use missed calls — they dial a number, let it ring, then hang up before connecting — to send a message, like “I’m running late,” to friends and family. A missed call is free, since callers are only charged when the other party answers.

What does ZipDial do?

ZipDial lets companies take advantage of this practice. The startup, which was founded in 2010 and has 56 employees, provides services that allow brands to advertise a number for “missed calls.”

For example, in one campaign for Colgate toothpaste, users could give a missed call to a special number shown on advertising banners in Mumbai, then receive a text message. Consumers would respond to that with their addresses, and then are sent a free sample of toothpaste.

ZipDial’s other clients have included the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney and more.

Click through for more.

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Journalism Tech

Our Exclusive Friday: Twitter’s Opening a Hong Kong Office

As I wrote here:

Twitter Inc. plans to open an office in Hong Kong early next year to serve greater China and tap advertising revenues from Chinese companies that are quickly expanding, an executive said.

Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s vice president for Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the office will mainly house sales staff, though he declined to say how many. The office is set to open in the first quarter of 2015.

“The real main focus of the office will be sales,” Mr. Rao said. “Building sales capability to work with agencies and advertisers domestically in Hong Kong and Taiwan and those Chinese advertisers looking to go global.”

Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009 due to government concerns it could be used to organize protests. Asked if plans for the Hong Kong office signaled Twitter’s eagerness to enter China should the government lift its restriction, Mr. Rao said, “We would love to have Twitter” reach people “everywhere in the world including China.” But, he added, “Unfortunately, we can’t. That’s not our choice. We don’t control that decision.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

The story was picked up by financial newswires, various news organizations and several tech blogs.

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Journalism Tech

Our Exclusive Today: Twitter’s Opening an Indonesia Office

Twitter’s global head of revenue, Adam Bain, told me in an interview that the company will be opening an office in Jakarta in the next three to six months.

Our story today is online here.

As I wrote in the piece, the move underscores the importance of fast-growing, emerging markets for Twitter.

About 75% of the company’s 271 million monthly active users are outside the U.S. But Twitter derives a much smaller proportion of its revenue internationally.

Tapping markets like Indonesia — which has 240 million people, many of whom are under the age of 30 — will be crucial for Twitter’s future growth in users and advertising revenue.

Having an office in Jakarta will help Twitter work more closely with advertisers and marketers, Bain said.

Update: Embedded above and online here is video of a chat I had with WSJ Live’s Ramy Inocencio.

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My Q&A with Twitter’s VP of Emerging Markets, Shailesh Rao

2014 07 21shailesh

It’s online here and in the print edition of today’s Wall Street Journal Asia.

It begins:

Shailesh Rao has one of the most important jobs at Twitter Inc.: overseeing the company’s revenue in emerging markets.

Eight months after the messaging service’s initial public offering, the San Francisco-based company is betting that populous countries in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere can help it stem slowing user growth in the U.S. and boost sales.

Twitter’s revenue, most of which comes from advertising, more than doubled in the first quarter to $250.5 million. But the company, which was founded in 2006, has yet to make a profit. Some 78% of Twitter’s more than 255 million users are located outside the U.S., but the company derives just 28% of its revenue internationally.

Mr. Rao is trying to change that. The 42-year-old joined Twitter in 2012 after seven years at Internet search giant Google Inc., where he ran the company’s Asia display advertising business.

In an interview at Twitter’s offices in Singapore, Mr. Rao, who was born in Toronto and grew up in Pittsburgh, discussed the company’s goals for growth, how double-majoring in history and economics helps him on the job, and why yoga makes him a better manager.

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Tweet of the Day

Bloomberg has the story.