India helps WhatsApp build a global product

India’s large pool of small and medium businesses offer WhatsApp a good testing ground to launch its ad revenue-generating features

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton (left) and Neeraj Arora, head of business, WhatsApp at IIT Delhi.
WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton (left) and Neeraj Arora, head of business, WhatsApp at IIT Delhi.

New Delhi: India has helped us build a global product, more than anything else,” said Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, signalling the country’s growing importance for the instant messaging app owned by Facebook.

The company has reasons to gush over India.

The country is home to 15% of its more than one billion users.

“We certainly look at India as a testing and learning ground… we learn a lot from the people of India,” Acton said.

WhatsApp is available in 10 languages in India, and Acton is looking at introducing more to reach a wider user base.

India also has a unique usage patterns, Acton said, with some people using the app as many as 150 times a day.

“There is a lot of dependence on the telephone and the telephone number—interacting with businesses, friends and family, more than (the) United States, where it is heavily dominated by email, and other messaging products,” he added.

The large Indian population is also a factor for WhatsApp, especially as China is closed to most American Internet companies, including Facebook. Acton said WhatsApp’s launch of new features would help it validate them before they are taken to other countries.

The company wants to test its commercial messages feature (which will help generate ad revenue) and WhatsApp for Business (another new feature in process) in India first.

The country has more than 30 million small and medium businesses, which make for a good testing ground for the launch of ad revenue-generating features.

“That is why we continue to invest in India, and that is why we continue to leverage India to teach us what we can do to make lives better—commercial messaging, digital transactions, etc.,” Acton said.

According to him, India is also a lesson for WhatsApp in what it should not do—stay away from music and Bollywood, which Acton says is a tricky balance between “cultural significance against global opportunity”.

“Bollywood stars come and go, music stars come and go – that’s the natural cycle. What we are focusing on is the evergreen utility of communication,” Acton insists.

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