Meet The Force Behind Pakistan’s First Homegrown Messenger: Tello Talk

Launched in 2017, Tello Talk is, according to CEO Shahbaz Jamote, “the single best local messaging app, customized for Pakistanis, fully committed to Pakistan, with all our technology and management infrastructure present in Pakistan.” According to its website, “Tello Talk is an all-in-one chat application that is a Dynamic, Secure, Local, and Integrated platform that will change [our] perspective on what a messenger can do”.

It offers more than just messaging, and as a platform that is made for Pakistan, by Pakistan, opens up endless possibilities for its users in a safe, secure, local context. The team behind Tello Talk was more than happy to offer insights into the work that went into creating the application.

Say Hello to Team Tello!

The team is as follows: Shahbaz Jamote, Co-Founder & CEO. He is a senior executive with verifiable year-after- year success achieving revenue, profit, and business growth objectives within start-up, turnaround, and challenging environments. Jamote holds 15+ years of multiregional leadership experience in the Mobile Value Added Services industry. He has been involved in diverse projects such as Digital Content Management, Applications Development, SMS Gateway Services SMS Encryption Services, Mobile Banking, and Mobile Marketing.

Adnan Lotia is the Co-Founder & COO of Tello Talk. He has over 14 years of technology development, product management, strategic marketing, entrepreneurial and new markets business venture experience, with executive level responsibilities and board level reporting.

Munawar Hussain is the Co-Founder & CTO. A 19-year veteran of technology business management, with close to 19 years of experience in Organizational Strategy, Mobile Banking Solutions, Telecommunications Systems, Connected Devices, M2M & Value Added Products.

Farnaz Shama is the Co-Founder & VP Marketing. Armed with 14 years’ worth of Management and Sales work experience, Farnaz is a dynamic, savvy, result oriented MBA-educated professional offering leadership skills, team building, project management experience. With an ability to work in a dynamic, entrepreneurial organization, in both a team and independent environment, she manages the highest revenue-generating department in the company.

Adeel Malik is the Co-Founder & VP Corporate Services. As a professional manager with an unusual breadth of experience in national and international market, he is dependable and energetic, with the ability to motivate and direct a workforce to achieve objectives, and the persistence to attain the highest standards in every undertaking.

The team has been working together for the past 15 years. Tello Talk is the team’s third start-up together. Their mission is to build a “messaging platform for Pakistanis everywhere.” “I have been with the team for 10+ years,” said Ms. Farnaz. Calling the team a “family,” and the company a “second home,” she elaborated on her role in the team which is looking after the user community, getting feedback from them, communicating with the team, and improving the product.

The Advent of Broadband Internet

According to Jamote, the inspiration for Tello Talk came from a very important technological event mobile broadband services coming into place. “There was an intense competition- smartphone prices tried to become more affordable, data prices tried to come down, there was a growing of user base that started to happen, around mobile internet services, so that was the opportunity that we saw,” he said.

“The timing was right for Pakistan to plant the seed for its own messaging platform.” They saw the opportunity to help with a social platform that speaks to Pakistanis in their own language, and a platform to address social issues such as financial inclusion and financial literacy rate. “The journey begins with the customer first,” he emphasizes.

“We call our users Tello Talkers,” said Ms. Farnaz. As a homegrown application, there are no other messengers like this in Pakistan- and that is exactly why the masses love it. It is not confined to just the demographic of young people either; people of above 35 use it religiously as well. “It’s not only one aspect, it’s a 360 degrees solution,” she adds. It is a one app serves all solution.

There are multiple benefits to homegrown applications. According to Mr. Adeel, it involves the integration of local businesses, and provides integration to all corporate levels, where communication is the need of the day. “So the local infrastructure is something giving us a very positive response, and this is something we are building on in this ecosystem, within the platform. Tello Talk is a platform, it’s not just a messenger,” he said.

“We can provide the detailed integrations with the solutions. We have detailed expertise in-house now to give them the integrated ERP, where they can transform their businesses, within the application or outside the application. It’s both ways around. We have that expertise and solutions available,” he elaborated.

On Compliance & Data Security

According to Mr. Munawar, they would often face issues for compliance in the past. When it comes to data being hosted somewhere, there was a need for a local platform. “A voice of Pakistan had to come, so we started this whole operation,” he said. When it comes to digital boundaries, “every country would be protecting their own country. There are security concerns. Now finally, the government has come to realize that national sovereignty is at threat. Everyone realizes you need a localized platform that is going to fulfill the need. WhatsApp has an advantage, but a local platform can offer more than that. Four years ago we could envision that, so we had to build this,” he explained.

“There are other concerns we are trying to address- privacy security and localizing, rather than the cheaper option of international cloud. Our primaries are in Pakistan and we have state of the art structure,” said Jamote. “Anything privacy related we never put on a cloud environment. All those are locally managed by us. All communication between user and server is totally encrypted. It’s kind of state of the art technology,” elaborated Mr. Munawar.

According to Jamote, what has really surprised the team, especially since the whole privacy concern across the globe ignited, are the inquiries from their end users, and especially their younger users, who wanted to read their terms and conditions.

“It was very encouraging because we do a lot of community engagement. The reason we do that is because these concerns are now emerging, and we are trying to educate people about how we treat that data,” he said.

All their infrastructure is localized, because they realize the importance of privacy. Moreover, the public is waking up to what values we have to uphold.

Pakistan’s Homegrown Super App

The platform has lots to offer, with the four main things being communication, content, community and commerce. “It’s a super app. We still believe, we can go much beyond. If international players can do it, so can we,” said Mr. Munawar.

However, the team was quite surprised to see themselves as being the only social tech startup in Pakistan. “We envision a lot more coming into the fold as people start to realize this more. Right now a lot of our eco-systems’ focus is trying to get monetizable services like e-commerce. People are waking up to the realization of indigenization of social media services and the fragmentation it presents,” he said.

According to Jamote,

“a lot of startups here will be hyper-focused on verticals, and people are experimenting with hybrid models, and a spin off is starting to happen. The fear is always that the incumbents are so strong, how do we dislodge them? But we see it’s a market of 242 million people now. If you build a community around it, we see a lot of value that’s coming in,” he explained. For them, the future trajectory is, always start with the user first.

“We want to open up this space to everyone in the market, not keep things to ourselves. We want the whole market to use messaging and we are ready to support them,” add Adeel.

As Mr. Adnan said, “We try to keep our relevance.” This means having to continuously work on the platform, and give back what the user demands. This has led the team to evolve and add in features such as customized keyboards that support all languages. “Language should never be a barrier to communication,” said Mr. Adnan. “So we have given the liberty to small communities to chat in their own language,” he elaborated. The team listens to the user and responds to them, and gives them what they need.

According to Ms. Farnaz, “we always interact with users and ask them what makes them stick around. It’s a constantly evolving platform. We actually look into their suggestions very thoroughly. We interact with users directly, no matter what language. That’s why its so personalized. We take direct feedback and complaints and solve them.” This way, users understand the direct connection being formed. That’s why they love the platform.

On Venture Capital

“When we started four years ago, the landscape was pretty nascent because you had mostly a couple of VCs which were working in the market”. At the time, incubators had just started off, and the VCs in Pakistan were raising funds themselves.

“The conversations we had with local VCs at that point were quite long and drawn out, because they were going through their own transformation,” he reflected. But what was great about what the team was doing was that they were able to generate their own income pretty quickly. “The vertical of our business was functioning quite well, so it was quite profitable for us. When we started to aggressively raise, that’s when we started to see a lot of foreign interest come towards Pakistan, and very quickly,” Jamote explains. However, things are very different now from four years ago.

“When we were getting up to do another fund round, which is yet unannounced, it just took us 60 days because the structure was already in place, the traction had already been built, and the investment landscape was a lot more mature than it used to be back then. The process was a lot less painful,” he elaborates.

This is testament to the way Pakistan’s ecosystem has evolved, and has allowed innovative ideas to trickle down, paving the path to a better future. Tello Talk may be the first of its kind in Pakistan, but it has opened the gateway for more initiatives like this, and is a landmark of what Pakistan can achieve, if given the opportunity.

 

Interview conducted & edited by: WebStudio/IDG