How does WhatsApp make its money? This is a question that must have bugged a lot of people, from investors to users. Now, it seems WhatsApp is slowly moving towards business plans that will help it monetise its 1.2 billion user base. According to WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, the opportunity is in connecting its millions of users with enterprises. And the ball is already rolling, as he says WhatsApp has started creating “foundations of how businesses will engage with consumers”.
But the company is treading with caution as it has traditionally shown an aversion to ads and anything else that will distract the user. This is why it has not allowed any third-party access to the platform, offering games, or dating or even stickers for chats. Acton said the effort will be to ensure that the business plans are done “in a way that is clean, straightforward, simple and spam-free communication”.
He thinks connecting customers with business for transactions and customer support is positive and a value-add for customers. And WhatsApp could create the tools for this from APIs for enterprises to mobile client for small businesses. “We are really in that exploratory stage,” he said.
The intention to monetise is clearly there, but the exact business plan might be a bit tougher. “The business model is probably the million dollar question, how all this will manifest in terms of dollars and revenue. We are actively ideating on that,” he says. Again, he underlines that the thought process is more around how WhatsApp can build this business in such a way that we can “preserve the utility and simplicity of our product.”
Asked if there could be a Slack-like offering to tap into the large number of enterprise users already on the platform, Acton was categorical that this was not in WhatsApp’s game plan today. “We think about other types of users, like a mom who has to pick up her kids from school and is coordinating with a mom’s group for a carpool. We think about all walks of life and building a product that is universally available,” explains Acton. He says a Slack-like enterprise usage is not a big goal of theirs. “There are other enterprise opportunities… more to do with connecting enterprises with the end consumers, like an airline telling you that a flight is late.”
Acton is really impressed by how India has used WhatsApp for instance to connect politicians with their constituents. So is there an opportunity in helping the government connect with its people? “You could look at governments like any other enterprise or build something uniquely for them,” says Acton, adding that they haven’t really decided on this.