WhatsApp just hit a major milestone: 400 million monthly active users for its sleek, streamlined cross-platform messaging service. Most companies would be euphoric about this achievement. But WhatsApp has an ax to grind. The third sentence in the blog post announcing the massive achievement takes a seriously cranky tone: “We bet that if our team of engineers could make messaging fast, simple, and personal, we could charge people directly for the service without having to rely on annoying banner ads, game promotions, or all those other distracting ‘features’ that come with many messaging apps.”
As we mentioned, WhatsApp is a seriously sleek messaging app — so sleek it has no effective monetization strategy. Much like SnapChat and a host of other West Coast apps, WhatsApp never bothered to focus on revenue generation. In the meanwhile, tacky, vulgar Asian rivals like LINE and WeChat are signing up hundreds of millions of users with messaging apps equipped with aggressive sales pitches about paid stickers and games with in-app monetization features.
WhatsApp seems to be gripped by a holy fury of nearly religious purity and abstemiousness. The sacred temple of the messaging app shall not be defiled by banner ads, game promotions or other “features.” Those scare quotes around the word “features” drip with venomous contempt…. and perhaps secret envy?
LINE is cruising towards what is widely expected to be a $30 billion IPO in Tokyo sometime in 2014. Its annual revenue from messaging app games and stickers may hit $1 billion in 2014. With shameless avarice, LINE is getting ready to embrace online retailing, with plans to hawk all kinds of merchandise to its audience. Even smaller messaging app vendors like Kik and Tango have their own angles — Kik is hot among teens, recently hit 100 million registered users and has started amassing 1 million downloads to new games it promotes in less than one day.
Of course, WhatsApp towers over rivals when it comes to monthly active user base competition. There is a reason why the other apps release registered user stats rather than active user numbers: they are shying away from direct competition with WhatsApp. But what a cranky emperor we have reigning over the messaging universe. Not only does it shun monetization itself, but it chastises its rivals for making money with deeply passive-aggressive blog commentary.