Business of the Missed Call

There are businesses that create themselves around consumer behavior. You know, the ones that feed the supply-chain to satiate the needs in a manner people are familiar with. And then there are those businesses that take that inherent need, and disrupt it. They spin the solution so that it satisfies a need but with a little dash of innovation. And there are a lot of these solutions we refer to as part of the disruptive innovation age.

Part of the ‘friendship me’ and ‘sms mania’ in developing countries, is an equally popular phenomenon called the ‘missed call’. In fact, for many people who are familiar with the rich breakfasts of the Pakistani mornings, missed calls are even more common than halwa puri or paratha roll. The behavior of this ‘missed call’ is an established one across all economic tiers of the developing world. Almost too second-nature, which is why it makes you think how a company that keeps this behavior at its core, can actually make a business out of it.

The Startup, FlashCall, has been around since a while. You can read about their business and an interesting article in TechInAsia here.

Like any business venturing in the disruptive innovation, there are challenges. FlashCall CEO Jawwad Jafri, explains, “We have received some great response from the consumers to using missed calls in connecting with brands. Our biggest challenge has been working with Telcos and PTA who initially viewed the missed call phenomenon as an added burden on their networks with no returns to Telcos. We had to work very hard with our technology partners to convince telcos that once the user gives us a missed call, we call them back or text them generating revenues for telcos.”

Textbook definition of a business success resides in the simplicity of the idea. Will people actually use the service? Will partners see the benefit? Will it bring actual growth into the primary business? Theoretically speaking, if the idea is simple enough, it will succeed. Practically speaking, however, a lot of other factors also weigh in: factors such as timing, a risk-averse group willing to be the first-movers and the infrastructure readiness.

Telcos are not generally very open to innovation, unless it’s been tested. The usual suspects of data bundles, SMS buckets and a bare minimum VAS are offered to the public on a regular basis because that’s what generates the greatest revenue. And because of their sheer size, it takes a long time to get any of the mammoth platforms that run the telecom networks, to move quickly. Startups move swiftly, build solutions and develop use cases very efficiently. But the size of the use case isn’t always enough evidence for the Telco to base its business decisions on.

Jawwad explains that they began the missed call marketing back in 2014 from FlashCall’s Cofounder’s apartment. “It had a lot of challenges and we were in no way prepared to handle large clients or huge number of missed calls. We only started with a professional setup able to handle thousands of missed calls per second last year. Our major win has been Nestle and Kaymu and while I cannot share the exact numbers for each campaign, we achieved over 500,000 engagements on our platform in less than a month of campaign.”

To date, they have approximately 100 use cases of how companies use FlashCalls. Some of the key use cases that they are working on include:

  1. Instant Lead Generation from Traditional Media by using a FlashCall number as a CTA
  2. Gaining Pledges for a cause and building the database of users who take the pledge
  3. Building a follower group for a cause, celebrity or business entity
  4. Get a free sample of the product
  5. Getting Customer Feedback
  6. Real time voting

But it all comes down to the first big step forward. A lack of local case studies in the subject area make many potential users hesitate before signing on. While the scope for brands is great, digital agencies have only recently brought companies onto the digital platform, leading us to think mobile marketing is still a ways away. “Mobile marketing is considered to be the spam SMSes that we receive and get annoyed,” explains Jawwad. “The concept of permission-based mobile marketing where there is user generated interaction, is new to the industry. Fortunately for us, there have been some award-winning missed call based campaigns in India for the brands similar to those in Pakistan. Those are usually our ice breakers.”

Start ups are leading the charge in many sectors across the country. The number of incubation setups that are allowing for this enterprising segment to grow, are also fuelling the disruption. The question is if the platforms, networks and markets can keep up with all that is being created.


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