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Twitter buys Indian mobile marketing start-up ZipDial

BENGALURU: ZipDial has become the first Indian technology product startup to be bought by Twitter in what is the third such deal led by a global corporation following the acquisitions by Facebook and Yahoo last year.
The ZipDial deal — appropriately announced in an official tweet on Tuesday morning — is expected to cost Twitter $34-35 million (Rs 215 crore), according to people aware of the transaction. 

The four-year-old Bengalurubased startup — co-founded by Valerie Wagoner, an Americanorigin entrepreneur who graduated from Stanford University — has built a thriving business around the "missed call". 

This feature is expected to help Twitter reach people who will come online for the first time in countries such as Brazil, India and Indonesia, mostly using a mobile device.

"But the cost of data may prevent them from experiencing the true power of the Internet," said Christian Oestlien, vice-president for products at Twitter. "Twitter, in partnership with ZipDial, can make great content more accessible to everyone," he noted. Although Twitter does not disclose user numbers by geography, eMarketer pegs the number at over 22 million in India.

In contrast, ZipDial — set up in 2010 by Wagoner, angel investor Sanjay Swamy and Amiya Pathak — claims a user base of nearly 60 million. The company has built a platform that facilitates a missed call service from a user's end. Armed with a user's phone number and preferences, ZipDial helps brands including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle better target their potential customers, the majority of whom are not online. "The company (Zip-Dial) was acquired for its technology and uniqueness of the platform. From that perspective it is an important milestone for Indian startup ecosystem. It is a validation to global players in the Silicon Valley," said Swamy, who is also the co-founder of early stage incubator AngelPrime. 

Twitter's purchase has spurred anticipation in India's exit-starved technology product sector. According to a study by iSpirt and investment bank Signal Hill, India recorded just 141 deals, compared with 4,728 in the US during 2010 and 2013. 

Last year, less than 10 technology startups from India were acquired. This included the acquisition by Facebook of mobile application optimiser Little Eye Labs followed by Yahoo, which bought document handler tool Bookpad in November.

"A woman entrepreneur making it big, especially an expat woman entrepreneur, is great news for the Indian ecosystem. I'm delighted for her," said Ravi Gururaj, the chairman of the Nasscom product council. 

"We are thrilled to expand our impact to a global level with Twitter," said Wagoner, chief executive of ZipDial, whose platform is being used across South and Southeast Asia and Africa. ZipDial's early investors include Blume Ventures, AngelPrime, Sunil Goyal of YourNest Ventures and Mumbai Angel. It was also backed by Silicon Valley-based accelerator 500Startups and Singapore's VC firm Jungle Ventures.

"This is a very good exit and a meaningful outcome for all investors. I hope it created several millionaires in the firm," said Swamy 

Sunil K Goyal, former Airtel executive, invested in the company for 5% in 2010, recognising the power of a "missed call". "I took a lead in the round which took almost nine months to close. Lots of angel investors had regulatory fears in their mind regarding missed call," said Goyal, founder of YourNest Angel Fund.

Over the past two years, Twitter has collaborated with ZipDial on campaigns, including the Indian elections, Bollywood film promotions and @MTVIndia's #Rock-TheVote "Dial the Hashtag" campaign.