In Memory of the Drop Call, or Turning a Consumer Cheat into an Asset

balance inquiry surprise

Remember the practice of drop calling? Back when flagship phones were the likes of Nokia 3310, we used to take advantage of drop calls–quick, walkie-talkie-like calls to exploit the fact that network companies did not not charge you for the first 5 seconds. Companies eventually learned about it and started the counter at the first second (to the surprise of customers who didn’t know soon enough). I was recently combing through FastCompany’s list of Most Innovative Companies 2014 and remembered this when I came upon a startup in India called ZipDial that allows customers to make orders, join promos, or get info from businesses by using their number but not actually calling them. Amazing. I’m excited for this to come to the Philippines.

ZipDial

By Saritha Ra

In India, friends intentionally call each other, let it ring once or twice, and hang up. That’s their way of sending a signal, like “I’m home safe,” without being charged for a call in a country with pricey telecommunications and limited Internet accessibility. California nativeValerie Wagoner moved to Bangalore, noticed the missed calls, and is now responsible for 416 million of them: That’s how many times people have used her company, ZipDial, to connect with brands including Gillette, Disney, Procter & Gamble, and IndiaInfoLine.

It works like this: She issues the brand a number, which it prints on its ads. Consumers call, hang up, and get a text or call in return—and thus are entered in contests, receive coupons, or place an order. In 2013, she expanded to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and is now setting up in Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

“Half the world’s population needs a better, more accessible mobile experience,” Wagoner says. She was once part of eBay’s international marketing team, but wanted to be truly involved in emerging markets—and knew she couldn’t do that from the Bay Area. “I was a rare entity, a foreigner and a woman running a startup,” she says of her early, rough start. “I didn’t know the right jokes in Hindi or come from somebody’s hometown, but I knew when to wear a sari.”

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