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Saved by a Call, True Software Builds Global Phonebook

Truecaller, a caller-ID app that is among the fastest-growing apps in the world, typifies the reality that most tech startups sit on a razor’s edge; the difference between survival and death might be one phone call.

For founders Alan Mamedi and Nami Zarringhalam, the fateful call came in April 2013. After raising about $2 million in the prior four years, the men, whose company is based in Stockholm, Sweden, had nearly run out of cash. Fundraising seemed futile. They kept striking out with U.S. and European VCs, many of whom weren’t familiar with Truecaller because it only had traction in countries like Jordan and India.

Among the firms that passed: New York-based Insight Venture Partners, which focuses on late-stage startups. Still, the men asked the firm for information about Path, a mobile social network that was personally backed by an Insight co-founder. A couple of hours later, Jerry Murdock, the Path investor, called them. He eventually saved them from bankruptcy.

Today, the under-the-radar startup has taken an early lead in the race to build a Web-based global phone book of people and businesses. Its goal is to become a new type of search service for the mobile phone, taking advantage of the address book as a new kind of social network.

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Even if Truecaller can’t make money on its own, it may be viewed as a strategic acquisition target for a social network that wants to juice growth, like Snapchat.