Talk is cheap
Talk360 is in growth mode. The company, which via it’s app provides users with cheap international calls, is capitalising on changes in the telcos market, and seeing a spike in interest from the migrant community and global diaspora.
This quarter Ding talks to CEO Hans Osnabrugge about the changing telecoms landscape, and how appetite for calls remains high as millions of people on the move want to keep a real connection with family.
Ding: Thanks for talking to us Hans – tell us a little about what was the inspiration for the company?
Hans: It really came about from my own experience while travelling around the world with family, or on business over the years. During that time I used several alternatives to call overseas landlines and (offline) mobile phone numbers but all of them were old fashioned, lacked tech knowledge, were poor quality, or mixed free and paid services like Skype, which was confusing.
That was the moment we decided to create our app, which we feel is the easiest available in the market today, to call any phone number in the world and make it affordable and accessible for everybody – across the social spectrum.
Ding: Tell us a little about how the Talk360 app works?
Hans: The user just downloads the App for free on their mobile device, within 30 seconds their phone number is registered (so that we can show it as the caller ID) and they can start trying the service with the free trial credit we offer on sign up.
When they know they like the service, they can just purchase their airtime via Ding, Credit card or with vouchers at any one of our 1.5 million points of sale around the world.
Ding: Who is your typical customer?
Hans: It used to be the international traveller, but for the last two years this has completely shifted towards the migrant community around the world, refugees, expats and also small international businesses. We have a really diverse customer base now. We believe that reliable communications and digital services should be affordable and accessible for everyone.
“Real conversations are not replaced by brief texts or smileys, they just co-exist…..”
Look who’s talking
Ding: With the growing popularity of SMS and social platforms for communicating, particularly in more developed nations, some might say that the need to speak on the phone is becoming less and less important. What’s your view on this?
Hans: Interesting question – we do see this trend in more developed countries and especially among the young. SMS and social platforms are great for brief messaging or sometimes whole conversations about everyday things. But these type of short messages are mostly a replacement for traditional emails or a one minute phone call, or walking to your friend who is standing 10 meters away from you.
For migrants, refugees and expats this is certainly not a replacement for a long and personal phone call with the people back home. Real conversations are not replaced by brief texts or smileys, they just co-exist. Luckily that personal conversation can happen for free when both sides are connected seamlessly online, if not, solutions like ours can make it at least accessible and affordable for everyone.
Learning from experience
Ding: What were the biggest learnings for you when the company started?
Hans: Learning to deal with fraud. Both preventing credit card fraud and fraud with free minutes was a long and expensive exercise. It is hard to believe how many types of fraudsters are active out there, and it takes a lot of experience to deal with them. Thankfully, we worked though this stage and we have invested heavily in our technology, and fraud & payments systems.
Ding: We are all mindful of creating products to fill a need or solve a problem – what do you think are the benefits of your service for your customers?
Hans: I think the primary benefit is affordability. Our customers can usually save about 90% on the costs of their international phone calls by using our service.
With Talk360 you can call any phone number, while the receiver of the call does not need to be online, nor need to have the app installed as well. We surpass the limitations of the free alternatives and it makes Talk360 the ideal add-on for everybody with a smartphone or tablet.
Ding: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the telecoms industry since you got started?
Hans: WhatsApp calling has changed a lot. Telco’s now make less money on international calls and many companies in the other verticals, such as distributors of airtime, are being forced to look for new ways to make money. Luckily for them the increase in data usage/turnover has helped a lot to fill some of the void.
We are seeing great traction as we provide our B2B customers with the opportunity to also re-sell airtime and push a Talk360 free trial. They love it as they can sell it as a value-add service to their audience without churn or cannibalising their existing business.
“OTT could certainly be viewed as a threat for several existing business models….but an opportunity for others.”
Ding: Over The Top (OTT) providers are sometimes described in terms of being a threat to the mobile operator business – what’s your view on this?
Hans: OTT could certainly be viewed as a threat for several existing business models, but on the other hand it is an opportunity for some other newer business models. For the companies that drive change it is good news for both providers, channel partners and of course the end user.
For older monopolists in the industry it is a big threat that they are trying to delay as long as possible. By being open and transparent we are trying to do our part and cooperate with both existing giants and new services wherever possible.
Give them what they want
Ding: It is all about customer-focused products and services at the moment. How does Talk360 approach the issue of building customer loyalty?
Hans: We have an active customer lifecycle approach via our in-app messaging centre. We try to keep our messages and feedback requests as relevant as possible, as we adapt the messages based on the actual usage/behaviour of the customer.
Loyalty is rewarded with extra airtime and feedback is taken seriously and implemented in next releases.
Ding: What regions are you seeing most growth in?
Hans: We are seeing growth across the board but sub-Saharan Africa has been one of our key growth regions in the last two years.
For 2019-2020 we foresee exponential growth in East-Africa, India, and mainland Europe. Also the Middle East has a lot of potential, but the regulations in our space are a bit shaky in this region which will potentially hinder growth here.
“We serve customers from 215 different countries, new opportunities could come from any corner of the world – which is fine by us!”
Ding: What does the future look like for Talk360, where are the opportunities you are chasing?
Hans: We are hopeful that opportunities are plentiful for us. We are in expansion mode. Next to our offices in Amsterdam and Johannesburg, we have just opened shops in Lagos and New Delhi.
Later this year we want to open up a shop in East-Africa and we also want to expand our presence in the UK and mainland Europe. The 2019 roadmap is clear, but as typical entrepreneurs we are always looking for new opportunities. As we serve customers from 215 different countries, these new opportunities could literally come from any corner of the world – which is fine by us!
Ding: What innovation are you seeing that you believe has the potential to transform the world of telecoms and the way people live today?
Hans: As we speak telecoms is becoming more international and limitless than before and this trend will only grow. But we see in practice how unbelievably scattered the world of payments is. From mobile wallets, to offline, to credit cards, to ATMs.
This disconnect limits the opportunity to roll-out paid digital services to everybody. Solving that payment gap will transform the world of telecoms immediately and make it a truly global market. We are trying to play our part to solve this issue as best we can.
Give us one example of success in your career so far, and one failure!
Failure – bankruptcy of www.RingCredible.com under my leadership. We did not shift our strategy on time and I did not find the right team to really make the difference. Success – launching the Talk360 App with several of the largest European and African retailers both digitally and in shore – we had posters and leaflets everywhere you looked. It was amazing.
What’s the last book you have read?
Zero to One, Peter Thiel
What’s the last concert you have been to?
Pink with my oldest daughter
What would you say is the best part of your day?
Early in the morning, blue sky, cup of coffee, laptop open
What’s your favourite saying?
Say what you do and do what you say. Keep doing that and you out perform 95% of the crowd
What political – contemporary or historic – figure do you most admire?
Nelson Mandela, bridging differences by doing good
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
I am a damn good football and field hockey coach for youngsters 😊
And finally – what would you like to be when you grow-up?
A coach! To invest in, coach and assist the next generation of entrepreneurs who drive new companies that positively impacts the world – combining making money with doing good is real success