Keep the WhatsApp brand DNA intact Zuckerberg, and you’ll be alright!

I’d rather be Mark Zuckerberg on any day, and this does not have anything to do with the fact that he is a filthy rich young man with a great empire. Ok, maybe I am a little envious of his vast empire. He bought Instagram last year, and not even quarter way in 2014, he’s acquired WhatsApp, one of the best messaging platforms of all time. Totalling US$16 billion, Zuckerberg offered up $4 billion in cash, and up to $12 billion worth of Facebook shares. Jan Koum, the brains behind WhatsApp and his investors were smiling all the way to the bank, while Zuckerberg maintains his presence in Silicon Valley, and the rest of the world.

With most acquisitions, I always prefer to be the buyer than the seller. To acquire great properties is an investment that, with time, pays out handsomely if proper management takes place. It’s a love of the ‘game’ that drives the likes of Zuckerberg and Bizos (he bought The Washington Post last year) to amass properties and grow their empires. And what is the game? The game, in whatever sector you play, is all about market share, outsmarting competition, cutting edge technology and in the last decade, integration of multiple disciplines – whatever they are. And Zuckerberg is at the top of his game.


Image by Sam Azgor, courtesy of Flickr

As a businessman, the Facebook founder struck gold and the secret to continued success of WhatsApp will be to carry on with the same pulse that grew the messaging service into the giant it has become. Certain strengths have defined and sustained the brand, making it one of the world’s largest messaging service, and new ownership must play to these strengths in order to keep WhatsApp at number one:

• WhatsApp is focused on premium user experience at a low-cost, and nothing but the best will do. That kind of laser focus must not be lost. It’s palpable in the experience of the product.

• WhatsApp must continue to fill the gap that it filled when it swelled in 2009: a cross platform messaging service that bridges iOS, Blackberry OS, Android, Windows and Symbian. Mixit, WeChat, Viber and other new entrants do not rival the stability, user experience and simplicity of WhatsApp.

• The user community that rallied around the WhatsApp Blog must continue to be engaged the same way Joum did – sharing information on developments, bugs being fixed and most importantly, feedback on product development.

• WhatsApp has always viewed its users as prosumers, and this inherent in its brand DNA. Its users must continue to be invited for beta testing new developments, as they have been in the past.

• Defying the odds, not only with its revolutionary design, but also in its interface with users must continue. In September 2010 when most platforms were aiming to be listed on app stores, WhatsApp pulled out to offer direct downloads from its website in order to ensure a restriction free, global access for all. That was ballsy and defied the norms of that time.

• Most importantly, WhatsApp must continue standing its ground in not selling ads. This is quite ironic coming from an adman, but it is that stubbornness that has been pivotal in differentiating this platform from other players.

These longevity of these strengths is also substantiated by certain trends and truths that define the consumer landscape globally. Trends like convenience, engagement and connectivity converge on the entire architecture of the messaging service. A growing trend in the business to consumer space has been focusing on the bottom of the pyramid and WhatsApp has been, to say the least, affordable and accessible.

WhatsApp free for the first year, then $0.99 annually thereafter

Image by Kai Henry, courtesy of Flickr

Questions have come up around how WhatsApp will evolve and start to monetize as the current model will not be sustainable in the long run. In agreement, I think Facebook would not have spent as much if the only opportunity is to make much less than $1 billion annually – there has to be a bigger plan for monetization. This has brought speculations on possible advertising like other apps and services seem to be doing. Perhaps a different model would work better, like Try-vertising (offering consumers the opportunity to try products before launch), or geo-tagged directory services ingrained within the messaging service. Given how WhatsApp has focused and grown in emerging markets, money transfer could be another avenue they could try. Consumers, especially in emerging markets, are moving towards cashless systems and an add-on to WhatsApp that allows for money transfer through messages could benefit users. Whatever happens, we should expect a roll out for increased monetization, than just the $0.99 annually from second year of use.

Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp largely means access to new demographics and market share gain. An acquisition of this magnitude is not a first in the tech world: Microsoft did it with Skype and Google has been doing it for years too. Some of Google’s acquisitions that extended its market space were Android, Motorolla, Double Click and one of their best acquisitions yet, YouTube. When lines between communities are blurred as such, companies wield better prospects to increase technological prowess as teams get bigger and resources are made available, and naturally this fosters integration across different platforms and communities. And looking into the future, Zuckerberg’s acquisition of WhatsApp will add to his expanding vast empire.