New Delhi: Facebook, which has so far kept WhatsApp out of the revenue-churning loop, now plans to tap the money-making potential of its instant messaging app.
The social networking giant is working on what it calls WhatsApp for Business, a platform that will allow small businesses to download a different version of the app, and engage with a large number of WhatsApp users. It is still in the design and testing phase.
On the face of it, WhatsApp for Business sounds like Facebook at Work, or its rival Slack – both communication platforms for businesses. But the company insists that what it has in mind is different.
“This is for very small businesses, employing less than 10 people, and they are asking for a mobile client, which will help them manage businesses in an easier manner, whether it is about managing customer contact lists or multi-agent support,” Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, said in an interview.
Facebook at Work is for large enterprises such as International Business Machines Corp., which employ thousands of people, said Acton.
On the other hand, WhatsApp for Business is for the millions of small merchants, neighbourhood shop owners and doctors who are already using WhatsApp and want to reach out to a larger number of people.
WhatsApp, which turned eight years old on Friday, waited all these years to monetize its business because the instant messaging platform, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, was readying itself for advertisers.
Acton said it’s too early to say how WhatsApp will make money off the new platform, but an analyst with a large Netherlands-based consulting firm said on condition of anonymity that the business model may be a mix of subscription fee and ad revenue.
WhatsApp for Business will debut in India, which has over 200 million active monthly users or over 15% of WhatsApp’s total user base, this year.
“We built this for India… and the users can give us feedback on how to make this product better, and then we will take it to Brazil and Indonesia,” Acton said.
He insisted that there would be no compromise with regard to the simplicity of the platform. “We have this long-standing theme—no ads, no games, and no gimmicks,” he said.
WhatsApp for Business will allow small businesses to send targeted messages and videos.
“If you are a small shop owner, and there is a bunch of people who buy from you, it will make communication easier,” Neeraj Arora, head of business at WhatsApp, explained.
Many businesses in India already use WhatsApp. For instance, The Tiffin Carrier, a food delivery service in Assam, gets around 90% of its sales through the messaging app. Its founder Nayen Das said that 80% of his conversations with clients are on WhatsApp.
Mukesh Patel, promoter of Gujarat-based solar power operator Sun Agro Systems, said he had been using WhatsApp for three years to stay in touch with dealers.
Acton clarified that there would be no change in a user’s experience on WhatsApp for Business; he will continue to have full control of who he wants to engage with.
“In emails, I don’t feel I am in control. I don’t want to see WhatsApp becoming that, and I will fight that till my dying breath,” he added.