WhatsApp eyes biz app segment in India, to make money from commercial messaging

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app, is working on a new platform targeted at small businesses, and will use India as the testing ground for the global launch of a product it sees as a potential money spinner.

‘WhatsApp for Business,’ meant for commercial messaging through which WhatsApp wants to make money, is still in the design and testing phase. The platform is largely targeted at India, where WhatsApp has 200 million users.

“WhatsApp for Business is all about small and medium businesses, where you have a small employee count and have a large customer count, and the goals are very different,” Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, said in an interview on the company’s eighth birthday on Friday.

Over the past few years, millions of Indians, much like in the US and other developed and developing countries, have downloaded WhatsApp on their mobile phones to give up SMS because the instant-messaging platform was simple and free.

If Facebook is about real identity, WhatsApp is about a faster, reliable and easier way to communicate with people. That is also how WhatsApp founders, Jan Koum and Acton, envisaged it to be.

“(While) users can keep stay in touch with families and their loved ones, they order grocery from their local grocer… there are stories of doctors using the product to communicate with patients,” Acton said.

WhatsApp for Business will be a separate app for small businesses to send targeted messages and videos.

Neeraj Arora, head of business at WhatsApp, explains: “If you are a small shop owner, and there is a bunch of people who buy from you, it will make communication easier…”

WhatsApp for Business will first be launched in India, which Acton says offers a “fantastic ecosystem” for the platform, and then taken to other markets such as Brazil and Indonesia.

India has 35 million small and medium businesses. “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 transaction, etc….,” he said.

The co-founder met India’s information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Friday to discuss commercial messages and digital transactions. As India’s internet user base, already larger than that of the US, grows, India will become a more critical market for WhatsApp.

Acton is not willing to tap other popular Indian obsessions such as Bollywood and music.

“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, connecting people and letting them talk to each other,” he said.

Already, Whatsapp is available in 10 Indian languages, making it easier for merchants to use the app. “We will continue to grow the languages. There are more than 10 languages here,” Acton said.

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