14th January, 2016. Today, WhatsApp is the fourth largest “country” in the world judging by the number and place of origin of its users, following (in this order) Facebook, China and India. In only five years, the messaging application has achieved a billion users, an estimation based on the 900 million users registered up until last September (see graph).
No less striking is the fact that 70% of them use it on a daily basis, resulting in 64 billion messages shared through the app every day, as well as 700 million images and 100 million videos. Giant figures that motivated Facebook to pay 19 billion dollars for the application in February 2014.
By that time WhatsApp, led by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, had managed to muster 500 million users with a team of merely 50 people. That is 345 million dollars in capital generated by each team member in only four years.
The success was such that competitors soon appeared, some (see graphic) with similar figures, like Facebook Messenger, with more than 800 millon of active users, which attracts more users since it became available independently of Facebook, Wechat, LINE, Telegram, Skype or Snapchat, popular with teenagers, where messages self-destruct 10 seconds after they are read.
Source: Statista. September 2015.
Until now, WhatsApp’s capacity for propagation–currently one million daily users–is greater than that of any other of the successful social media networks.
But let us ask ourselves: why is it something disruptive with exponential growth? Because…
- It builds on other infrastructures. Specifically, on an enormous market with exponential growth: the internet through smart mobile devices. WhatsApp chose to jump on the back of another business rather than start from scratch.
- It changes the paradigm by using internet IP networks and not SMS messaging in order to send messages at a lower cost. This has allowed them to triple the number of exchanged messages around the world in only a few years.
- It had a winning “motto” for its employees and users. The cofounder, Jan Koum, stated that they were going to be disruptors “stopping wireless operators from cashing in on people’s need to communicate with their loved ones who live far away”. A transformative and popular goal, characteristic of exponential organizations (MTP: Massively Transformative Purpose).
- They chose a great name: WhatsApp derives from “Whats up?”, a way of sharing that is spontaneous, informal, instant and private.
- It offers a transparent and democratic service, compared to the obscurity of the rates offered by operators in the market, empowering less developed economies and offering more mature economies greater transparency.
- It opted for simple and friendly technology. A “simple” business model according to Brian Acton, “without games, advertising or contraptions” and something new, according to Jan Koum, “compared to SMS messages, which are dying, but are still a source of income for operators”.
- It demonetizes the wireless market with a super-reduced rate: 1 dollar a year compared to a minimum of 50 with traditional operators. Also, after its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp also offers voice calls across countries at very reasonable prices.
- It attracts the type of criticism characteristic of all disruptive innovators among the establishment. Whether reasonable or not, it wouldn’t be a company ahead of its time if its creators had waited to have the perfect product. “Time to market”, even it is in a beta version, is very important. WhatsApp could soon be worth almost as much as Nokia, Sony or Ericsson. Its main areas for improvement, however, are still privacy, information storage and security.
The fact is, the ‘best’ is an enemy of the ‘good’.
Ana María Llopis