WhatsApp is a messaging app for smartphones created in 2009 by two former Yahoo employees, Brian Acton and Jan Koum.
It was Koum who saw the potential of operating through the Apple App Store after purchasing an iPhone in early 2009. The app initially focused on statuses; Koum later revealed that part of his motivation was to stop missing calls will he was the gym.
The app, developed by Igor Solomennikov, who the team found through RentACoder.com, leveraged Apple’s new push notification feature to update users’ networks with status updates. Users quickly came to use this as an instant messaging service, planting the seed for what the app would become. WhatsApp 2.0 incorporated the messaging function that would come to be the app’s defining feature.
WhatsApp was unique at the time, outside of Blackberry’s BBM, in providing a free message service that allowed users to log in with their phone number. WhatsApp 2.0 was an instant success, quickly reaching 250,000 active users. This was enough for Acton to convince a circle of fellow ex-Yahoo employees to part with $250,000 in seed funding.
WhatsApp incorporated multimedia messaging later in the same year, and was released on Android the following. From that point, WhatsApp marched to ubiquitous status, ranking in the top three most-downloaded apps on both iOS and Android. By October 2011, one billion messages were being sent per day; by early 2013, WhatsApp could boast 200 million active users. That figure is impressive enough, but by the end of 2017, WhatsApp was up to 1.5 billion active monthly users.
Naturally, this growth has attracted money – even with practically nonexistent WhatsApp revenue. Venture capital titans Sequoia Capital invested $8 million in April 2011 after eight months of negotiations, and a further $52 million in February 2013. This gave us a WhatsApp valuation of $1.5 billion.
By this point it wasn’t only venture capital firms who were interested in the messaging service. Facebook clearly saw WhatsApp as a potential threat to its own offering, and therefore flexed its muscles. In February 2014, it moved to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion – which remains its largest acquisition to date (and one of the largest tech acquisitions in history).
This has caused some degree of controversy related to data sharing with the parent company, despite promises of increasing levels of encryption, reportedly ‘end-to-end’ by 2016. Both founders have left the company based on these concerns, though Koum was reportedly continuing to make an income through resting and vesting.
WhatsApp, however, remains the market leader its sector. Since its simple beginnings, it has added features such as voice calling, video calling, group calls (video and voice), and in early 2018 launched WhatsApp Business. It has also moved into the payments market in its two biggest markets, India and Brazil.
To learn more about how many people use WhatsApp, how it compares to it rivals, and whether WhatsApp revenue figures have climbed, continue reading.
Table of Contents
|Parent company||Facebook (Since February 2014)|
|HQ||Menlo Park, California|
|Key people||Jan Koum (cofounder), Brian Acton (cofounder), Will Cathcart (Head of WhatsApp)|
|Company type||Public (NASDAQ:FB)|
|IPO date||18 May 2012|
Key WhatsApp User Statistics
|WhatsApp MAUs, millions|
|Top Messenger apps by MAUs, October 2020, millions|
Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social
|Facebook-owned apps MAUs, 2020, billions|
|WhatsApp MAUs by country, millions, September 2019|
|WhatsApp MAUs in India, millions|
|WhatsApp penetration levels by country, top-15, 2020*|
*among internet users aged 16-64
|WhatsApp penetration levels by country, other selected markets, 2020*|
|WhatsApp downloads by month, millions|
Source: Sensor Tower
|Users who visit WhatsApp daily by generation|
|WhatsApp US demographics|
|Demographic||Percentage of WhatsApp users/demographic|
|Household income: <$30,000||27|
|Household income: $30,000-$74,999||26|
|Household income: $75,000+||22|
|Educated to: High school or less||22|
|Educated to: Educated to: Some college||29|
|Educated to: College +||20|
Source: Pew Research Center
|WhatsApp usage frequency among US users, Q3 2020|
|WhatsApp funding rounds|
|Seed||October 2009||£250,000||Private investors|
|Series A||April 2011||$8 million||Sequoia|
|Series B||July 2013||$52 million||Sequoia|
Other Key WhatsApp Statistics
- Around 140 million downloads of WhatsApp in Q3 2020, following on from 175 million in Q2 2020, putting it fourth overall (SensorTower)
- WhatsApp the most downloaded app of 2019, with over 850 million downloads (SensorTower)
- 69% of global internet users globally (excluding China) are WhatsApp members, 61% are users (GlobalWebIndex)
- In the US, WhatsApp is particularly popular among Hispanics, with 52% penetration; it is estimated that this will rise to 70.7% by 2020 (eMarketer)
- WhatsApp is available in 180 countries and in 60 languages (WhatsApp)
- One billion daily active WhatsApp users as of 2017 (WhatsApp)
- 500 million users of WhatApp Status, eclipsing Snapchat Stories, and level with Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories (Statista)
- 100 billion WhatsApp messages sent per day, equal to 69 million per minute (Facebook)
- 2 billion minutes spent making WhatsApp voice and video calls per day (CNet)
- 700 million DAU make calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (Facebook)
- 55 million WhatsApp video calls made per day, lasting 340 million minutes in total (Mashable)
- 85 billion hours of WhatsApp usage measured May-July 2018 (Apptopia)
- 50 million users of WhatsApp Business, up from 3 million in May 2018 (WhatsApp)
- 40 million users view a business catalogue in WhatsApp every month (Facebook)
- WhatsApp valued at $1.5 billion after $50 million investment from Sequoia Capital in 2013 (Financial Times)
- WhatsApp acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014 (BBC)
WhatsApp User Statistics
Facebook reported 2 billion WhatsApp MAUs in February 2020.
The last officially-reported WhatsApp statistics ( dating back to Q4 2017), gave us a figure of 1.5 billion monthly WhatsApp users over 180 countries. This crowns an extraordinary decade of relentless user growth. Notably when the app was acquired by Facebook, it counted slightly under a third of these numbers – making the acquisition look a sharp one on the basis of how many people use WhatsApp alone .
WhatsApp monthly active users, April 2013 – February 2020, millions
Data source: WhatsApp
According to the latest statistics available, as of October 2020, this puts WhatsApp in the number one spot in a ranking of global messenger apps, with a huge 0.7 billion more users than Facebook Messenger. Stats for the latter date back to 2017, but we might have expected some sort of fanfare on reaching 1.5 billion.
China-orientated WeChat comes in third here, on 1.2 billion MAUs, Competition tails off abruptly at this stage, with fourth-place QQ Mobile (also Chinese) in at fourth with just over half WeChat’s figure.
WhatsApp monthly active users vs. other messenger apps, 2020, millions
Data source: Hootsuite/We Are Social
These WhatsApp statistics also put it in the number two spot for users in the Facebook empire, ahead of stablemates Facebook Messenger and Instagram, behind only Facebook itself. Like Facebook Messenger, these Instagram stats are dated, dating back to September 2018. Again, we might assume that it will be announced when the photo-sharing platform reaches 1.5 billion users.
Facebook apps, monthly active users, 2020, billions
Data source: various
One billion WhatsApp users used the app on a daily basis as of July 2017 (at the time, monthly users numbered 1.3 billion). Facebook has been somewhat reticent with providing more recent figures than this.
The jaw-dropping price paid by Facebook for WhatsApp – at the time the highest-ever figure paid for a private company – was based on the growth potential it showed from the off. As the below graph shows, this eclipses the figures attained by the likes of Skype, Twitter or even parent company Facebook.
WhatsApp early user growth vs. other apps
The below graphic dates to 2020 shows WhatsApp MAUs in October 2020 compared to other top social apps. YouTube is the only other app in the same league as WhatsApp, also counting 2 billion users.
WhatsApp pulled ahead of Facebook Messenger in 2019, and level with YouTube in 2020.
WhatsApp userbase versus other top social apps, millions
Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social
WhatsApp download statistics
In Q3 2020, WhatsApp was downloaded around 140 million times, making it the fourth-most downloaded app globally. This marks a decline since Q2 2020, where we saw around 175 million downloads. It’s worth noting, however, that thanks to coronavirus, Q2 2020 was a quarter like no other. Illustratively, despite the higher download figure, WhatsApp still ranked fourth in that quarter.
Most-downloaded apps, Q3 2020, millions
WhatsApp was the most downloaded app of the year in 2019, logging well over 850 million downloads globally.
Most-downloaded apps 2019, millions
WhatsApp was downloaded 58 million times in November 2020, with 17 million of these coming from its biggest market, India.
This represents a relatively low WhatsApp download figure, with December 2019 seeing 112 million downloads. February 2020 – just before lockdown hit many markets, also saw a high level of downloads, at 96 million. Among the months for which we have data, this month also saw peak Indian WhatsApp downloads, at 47 million. This is the highest absolute figure, and also proportionately, at close to half of global downloads.
We have only included months for which we are able to source data, as of December 2020.
WhatsApp downloads by month, India vs rest of the world millions
Data source: Sensor Tower
WhatsApp penetration levels
A 2020 analysis published by GlobalWebIndex shows the percentage of internet users aged 16-64 outside of China who are members of popular apps, and what percentage are users. Here, we see Facebook Messenger has a higher membership rate of 74% of survey respondents than WhatsApp at 69%.
When it comes to actual users though, WhatsApp’s figure of 61% outstrips Facebook Messenger’s 57%. Only Instagram (66%), YouTube (86%), and Facebook (77%) log higher figures.
WhatsApp members and users, versus other social apps
WhatsApp users by country
WhatsApp’s popularity is a global phenomenon.
The below shows the most-popular messaging apps around the world, based on their rank in the Google Play Store – ergo pertaining to Android devices. As is clear by the swathes of green, WhatsApp is the dominant messaging app around the world.
WhatsApp misses out on the top spot in only a handful countries, though these include key markets such as the US, Australia and much of East Asia.
Most-popular messaging apps around the world (Android)
Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social
Looking at WhatsApp users by country, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, with 340 million users according to the same set of stats. Brazil comes in second with 99 million, and the US in third.
WhatsApp is relatively underused in the US. The below show 68.1 million US WhatsApp users, compared to 117.6 million Facebook Messenger users, as of September 2019. We can account its high position here simply to the large size of its population and high internet penetration.
The rest of the top 10 countries for WhatsApp MAUs contains some of the world’s other most-populous nations, such as Indonesia and Mexico.
We also see a concentration of Western Europe markets, such as Germany, Italy, and the UK.
WhatsApp MAUs by country, millions
Data source: eMarketer
India is well out in front. Other stats give us an even higher figure of 400 million WhatsApp users in India – figures uncontested by WhatsApp officials.
This figure, reported in July 2019, represents a doubling of the 200 million Indian WhatsApp MAUs reported in early 2017.
WhatsApp’s popularity in the market has a darker side, however. The app has been linked with spreading of misinformation, which has lead to violence as well the spread of misleading information in the run-up to elections.
See ‘WhatsApp as a news source’ for more information.
WhatsApp MAUs in India, millions
The Brazilian market has also been reported to be as big as 120 million users. With a total population of 211 million, and total internet penetration standing at 66%, it’s clear that WhatsApp is a force to be reckoned with in Latin America’s most-populous and wealthy nation. Hootsuite and We Are Social peg market WhatsApp penetration in Brazil at 89%. It tops the list for monthly active users, and ranks second after Facebook Messenger.
As in India, however, this has led to issues with the spread of dubious and malicious information – namely the dissemination of fake news in support of then presidential candidate (now incumbent) Jair Bolsonaro in the run up to the 2018 election.
In Latin America’s second-largest economy, Mexico, WhatsApp penetration stands at 91% – behind only Facebook.
WhatsApp is also the most popular app across Africa (with a few exceptions, mostly concentrated in north and east Africa). The app has reportedly driven internet uptake in the continent – accounting for as much of 50% of data usage in Zimbabwe.
WhatsApp penetration levels by country
According to 2020 WhatsApp stats published by GlobalWebIndex, we find the highest global levels of WhatsApp penetration among 16-64 internet users in Sub-Saharan African and Latin American markets. Kenya leads the way, with a huge 97% penetration.
We might note that WhatsApp helps users carry out some of the most essential functions for which we need phones, and is doesn’t require large amounts of data. It is therefore something easily loaded onto feature phones or by early adopters in emerging markets with lower levels of overall penetration.
Therefore, it is to be expected that we see high levels of WhatsApp penetration in many mobile first emerging markets. On the other hand, we also see nations featuring here with higher levels of smartphone adoption, such as Brazil (91%) and Mexico (86%) in Latin America, and Western European markets like the Netherlands (87%) and Switzerland (86%).
WhatsApp penetration: Top markets, 2020, percentage of internet users aged 16-64
Data source: GlobalWebIndex
Moving away from the very top markets by penetration, we can see varying levels of WhatsApp penetration in other key markets.
Towards the bottom, we fine Japan, where Line is preeminent with 2% penetration, and the US with a relatively paltry 20%. We also see low penetration in the Philippines (31%) and Thailand (25%), while other Southeast Asian nations like Indonesia (87%) and Malaysia (92%) log among the highest levels.
The UK (66%) logs a middling figure, while Germany (80%) and Russia (79%) are not too far off the top-15.
In India, the largest market by dint of the sheer size of its population seemingly, penetration is at 64%. Australia (37%) is a Facebook Messenger market, while Canada (56%) seems more divided.
WhatsApp penetration: other markets, 2020, percentage of internet users aged 16-64
Data source: GlobalWebIndex
Alternative WhatsApp statistics published by eMarketer in 2018 find that the Netherlands tops the list in terms of WhatsApp penetration, at 85% of smartphone users, followed by Spain and Italy. eMarketer predicted that Italy would overtake Spain over the course of 2019. Indeed, penetration in these top-five markets – all European – was set to increase over the course of the year.
WhatsApp users by country: top-five by penetration
Pew Research Center stats show the proportion of different US demographic groups who use WhatsApp. This allows us to build a picture of who uses WhatsApp in the US.
Men (21%) are slightly more likely than women (19%) to be WhatsApp users.
Usage is significantly higher among Hispanic (42%) Americans, followed by black (24%) and then white Americans (13%). In terms of age, we see the highest concentration of WhatsApp usage among those aged 30-49 (31%), followed by 25-29-year olds (28%). Perhaps these users have more use for the simple practicality of WhatsApp.
Interestingly, we see a fall off in usage in the middle bracket for household income (16%) compared to the lowest (19%), while the highest penetration levels are registered in the the top-income bracket (25%). We see the same drop off in the middle bracket with regard to education (18% to 14%); ultimately those with degrees are most likely to be WhatsApp users (28%).
In terms of where users live, there is a clear trend towards city dwellers (24%), who are significantly more likely to be users than suburbanites (19%), who are significantly more likely to be users than those who live in rural settings (10%).
Percentages of US demographics that use WhatsApp
Data source: Pew Research Center
eMarketer stats from 2019 show similar findings regarding race/ethnicity, with 52% WhatsApp penetration among Hispanic US users. Here, however we see higher penetration among Black (17.7%) and Asian Americans (15%) than white ones (12.3%).
US WhatsApp penetration by race/ethnicity
US WhatsApp demographic trends skew male significantly. We see roughly the same trends in terms of the ages of users (despite the smaller percentages), while usage is far more concentrated in urban areas. Similar trends are also apparent in terms of salary bands.
US WhatsApp demographics
Source: We are Flint
A greater share of Indian WhatsApp users unsurprisingly live in urban centres rather than rurally. We saw a significant increase in urban users between 2017 and 2018, climbing from 20% to 38% of those surveyed by research institute Lokniti-CSDS. Interestingly, though, we also saw a huge surge in rural Indian WhatsApp users, with usage more than doubling over the same period, to reach a level higher than that at which urban penetration had stood the preceding year.
Urban/rural WhatsApp demographics in India
Looking at WhatsApp demographics by social class, again we see WhatsApp usage has increased across the board. While we see higher proportions of users among the wealthier echelons of Indian society, the most significant rise in usage came from those classed as ‘lower income’. Between 2017 and 2018, usage increased six-fold in this bracket. Middle class usage more than doubled in this time also.
Indian WhatsApp user by social class
By age, the story is relatively predictable, with younger WhatsApp demographics, where usage is higher, both seeing an increase of roughly two-thirds. While growth in percentage terms is in fact stronger for older demographics, they remain some way behind overall.
Indian WhatsApp usage by age
A demographic breakdown (drawn from We Are Social WhatsApp statistics) once again shows the 18-35 demographic dominant, accounting for 55% of users. This data is broken down by users who are older or younger than this key demographic. Interestingly, it shows that while the over 35s account for more than pre-adult teenagers, the 13-17 demographic should not be underestimated.
Indian WhatsApp user numbers and demographics
Source: Messenger People
While it could not compete with domestic services WeChat or QQ, WhatsApp counted around two million Chinese users before it was blocked by the government in 2017.
According to We are Flint WhatsApp statistics, usage is most concentrated in younger age groups in the UK, with 84% of 25-34 year olds using the app, followed by 80% of 18-24 olds. That said, usage is nearly as high in the 35-44 year old grouping, and declines relatively gradually as we go up through age groups.
The same applies across social and income grades. Though we see a greater preponderance of WhatsApp usage from those in higher income brackets or in white collar/skilled professions, usage remains relatively high in lower paygrades and among unskilled workers. The same applies to urban/rural users.
Usage is slightly higher among women than men.
UK WhatsApp demographics
Source: We are Flint
Like Facebook stablemate Instagram, WhatsApp introduced a Snapchat Stories aping feature – in this instance known as Status. This allows users to share text, photos, videos, and GIFs that disappear after 24 hours.
And like Instagram, the feature, launched in 2017, rapidly came to eclipse Snapchat, reporting 300 million users as of late 2017; nearly twice as many as Snapchat’s original feature. By May 2018, this had increased even further to 450 million, and by March 2019 we were up to 500 million WhatsApp Status users.
This puts it level with Facebook stablemates Instagram and Facebook’s Stories features. Snapchat continues to linger well behind.
WhatsApp Status users vs other Facebook apps’ and Snapchat Stories
WhatsApp began to verify business accounts in August 2017. A few months later, in January 2018, WhatsApp Business was launched, initially in five key markets (UK, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, and the US).
As of May 2018, 3 million businesses had signed up for WhatsApp Business. Businesses can only contact people who have provided their number and agreed to be contacted. By July 2020, this figure had increased to 50 million.
The app is aimed at small and medium-sized business owners, and is aimed to facilitate better client-customer communication. Businesses can create profiles with useful details, and automate and sort messages, as well as simply replying to them. As with standard WhatsApp, messages from businesses will be encrypted.
In August 2018, WhatsApp launched the WhatsApp Business API, which allows businesses to respond to messages sent by customers, who must message first. Businesses have 24 hours to reply for free (from the last message), after which they will be charged at a fixed per-message rate. This is notable in being WhatsApp’s first revenue-generating enterprise product.
The API is aimed to help businesses programmatically send out confirmations, reminders, or even tickets. The WhatsApp Business app remains free to use. WhatsApp have, however, announced that they are looking for ways to monetise the app in future, potentially by charging bigger businesses.
WhatsApp launched its Catalog function in November 2019, allowing users to browse products on a business’s profile. As of Q3 2020, 40 million WhatsApp users were using this feature every month.
It seems here as elsewhere, WhatsApp faces an uphill battle on its home turf, with a mere 8% of US smartphone users interested in communicating with brands through the app. This compares with 37% and 22% who would use stablemates Facebook Messenger and Instagram respectively.
It should be noted that the comfortably the most commonly-elected option in this survey was that users were not interested in communicating with brands using messenger apps whatsoever.
Through which platforms are US smartphone users willing to communicate with brands?
Over the first half of 2018, WhatsApp rolled out a new payments feature to selected users in India – reaching about one million by the midway point in the year. the feature leveraged the National Payments Corporations of India (NPCI) unified payments interface. This cuts out the intermediary stage of loading money to a wallet, allowing users to transfer money directly from their bank account, according to Quartz India.
In late 2018, WhatsApp made a formal request to expand the payments system across India to the Reserve Bank of India (India’s central bank). A system to come into compliance with the NCPI’s data-localisation norms, announced in October 2018 did not pass muster with the NCPI unsatisfied with the lack of assurances that data would not be stored overseas.
The Indian government also demanded that WhatsApp set up an Indian headquarters before it could fully roll out WhatsApp Pay. Accordingly, Abhijit Bose – former head of payment device maker Ezetap – has been recruited as the head of WhatsApp India. He joins previously-appointed grievance officer Komal Lahiri.
In November 2020, the NCPI officially cleared WhatsApp payments in India, allowing Facebook to roll out the service.
Credit Suisse predict that the payments market in India will be worth $1 trillion by 2023. The market is currently led by Alibaba-backed Paytm.
India is not the only market being targeted for WhatsApp digital payments. WhatsApp payments were also launched in Brazil in June 2020. Mexico and Indonesia are reportedly being eyed for further expansion.
WhatsApp Usage Statistics
According to official WhatsApp statistics, as of May 2018, WhatsApp users sent 65 billion messages per day. Another 2017 source gave us 29 million WhatsApp messages per minute. By Q3 2020, this was updated to 100 billion WhatsApp messages per day – that works out at 69 million per minite
The 2018 figures also revealed that WhatsApp users spent 2 billion minutes making voice and video calls per day. Back in 2017, it was announced that 55 million WhatsApp video calls were made per day, lasting a combined total of 340 million minutes.
As of Q1 2020, 700 million Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp DAUs made calls on WhatsApp each day.
In August 2018, it was reported (by Apptopia), that between May and July 2018, collectively we spent over 85 billion hours using WhatsApp – vastly eclipsing the 31 billion hours spent on Facebook. In total, that is the equivalent of each human being on the planet spending roughly 11.5 hours using WhatsApp over this period.
Most-used apps globally (by time spent)
GlobalWebIndex stats break down the frequency of daily WhatsApp users by generation (global stats, excluding China). We find the highest concentration among Millennials, 54% of whom use WhatsApp daily. Gen Z are next, at 51%.
Gen X and Baby Boomer WhatsApp usage are less likely to use WhatsApp daily overall, but this is due to simply using fewer apps daily. If they use any app daily, it is more likely to be WhatsApp, ranking third among daily apps.
Among the younger generations, other apps are more popular, pushing WhatsApp down to the fourth most-used daily app.
Percentage of users in each generation who use WhatsApp daily
Data source: GlobalWebIndex
The 2018 We Are Flint stats break results down by market.
WhatsApp usage in the UK greatly eclipses the US in percentage terms at least, with with 35% of UK WhatsApp users using the app every day, compared with 10% of US app uses.
Overall 58% of UK app users vs. only 24% of US users use the app.
Daily WhatsApp users US vs. UK
Source: We Are Flint
Stats published on Statista focus on US users. Here, we find among WhatsApp users, 50% were daily users. A further 28% used the app at least once a week, while 13% of users were monthly active users.
WhatsApp usage frequency among US WhatsApp users, Q3 2020
Data source: Statista
As with general usage, India is the biggest market for video calls. WhatsApp announced in 2017 that Indian users made 50 million minutes of video calls per day.
WhatsApp groups, messaging volume, and response time
A small Israeli study of university-age students (18-34) carried out by the Jerusalem College of Technology and Bar-Ilan University analysed the differences between male and female WhatsApp usage. The study found that female users tended to send a good deal more messages per day on average – though the received messages per day totals are relatively similar.
It seems that female users are more likely to be in smaller groups than males. Both male and female users have the same number of groups on average.
WhatsApp usage by gender (university-age users)
The study found that around seven out of every 10 WhatsApp groups contained the minimum of two people. Around one in 10 contained three, with the preponderance of groups falling as they become larger (though nearly 1% contain over 50 people).
Proportion of total WhatsApp groups by size
In terms of reply time, the most popular response by some time was under one minute – suggesting that the sample investigated (using propriety software that doesn’t unencrypt the content of messages) use the app almost akin to an instant messenger service. Percentages for any other response time were relatively low, with the exception of ‘no response’.
Notably, the survey does not include a section for replies that take over an hour (perhaps counted as no response). Perhaps less of an issue for a demographic that is still studying, though this option would probably rank relatively highly for those in or messaging others in full-time employment.
Response time to messages
As we might expect, the most-active times on WhatsApp are the 12 hours between midday and midnight, peaking in the first four hours.
Most-active times on WhatsApp
Based on the results above, and further demographic data, the researchers built various predictive models, all contained within the paper.
WhatsApp as a news source
In India, WhatsApp/Facebook are less trusted than traditional media as sources of news, with 61% finding information gleaned through these sources untrustworthy. That said, 29% do trust them as news sources, which can have dangerous repercussions – namely a spate of lynchings that occurred in the wake of fictitious allegations forwarded through viral messages. WhatsApp moved to restrict the forwarding of messages, under threat of legal action from the state, to prevent further tragedies. Indian WhatsApp users reportedly forward more than those from any other nation, WhatsApp revealed.
Trust in WhatsApp as a news source vs. other media in India
The spread of misinformation through WhatsApp has also been cited as key factor in deciding recent Indian elections.
WhatsApp Revenue Statistics
Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for the princely sum of $19 billion. This remains Facebook’s largest acquisition – and one of the biggest in history.
It’s therefore difficult to give precise WhatsApp revenue figures, given that Facebook does not release separate stats for its various business segments. In Q4 2018, Facebook reported close to $17 billion worth of revenue, with net income of a little under $7 billion. These figures represent 30% and 61% increases year-on-year respectively.
Total Facebook revenue over 2018 stood at $56 billion, compared to $41 billion in 2017.
The WhatsApp revenue model has never delivered high returns. In the year preceding the acquisition by Facebook, the figure stood at a relatively paltry $1.3 million – generated by a $1 per year charge levied by WhatsApp up until early 2016 (with the first year free) in some markets, or a fixed $1 download charge in others.
The company announced this charge would be scrapped in a blog post in January 2016, hinting at a future WhatsApp revenue model which hinged on WhatsApp Business. Later the same year, Forbes predicted that WhatsApp would come to generate revenue of $4 per user, up to a total of $5 billion. Notably they had also forecasted total monthly user levels of 1.3 billion by 2020 – a level WhatsApp had attained by midway through 2017. At this point, the estimates for prospective WhatsApp revenue were upped, ranging from $5 billion to $15 billion, with ARPU ranging from $4 to $12.
ARPU for Asian rivals Line and WeChat stands at around $7 and $9, respectively, though both apps incorporate ads.
As mentioned above, in the WhatsApp Business section, it is in this function we see a first concerted push towards a WhatsApp revenue model aimed at achieving significant returns – with the API set to charge businesses for slow replies to customers with whom they are connected. With WhatsApp Business currently targeted at SMEs, a move to charge larger businesses to use WhatsApp services may be on the cards in the future. We many finally see a clear answer to the often asked question: how does WhatsApp make money?
WhatsApp Business, however, is coming up against a perhaps unexpected rival: traditional SMS messages. Mobile operators reportedly made $9 billion from business messaging in 2017 – three quarters of the total value of the market. It is predicted that this percentage could rise to as much as 84% by 2022. Mobile operators have one clear advantage over WhatsApp: ubiquity, with prospective reach taking in every single mobile device that receives phone signal.
Integration with Facebook Marketplace and the payments platform in India have also been earmarked as potential WhatsApp revenue streams. The latter in particular could play a large part in how WhatsApp makes money in the future. The mobile payments market in China, dominated by Alipay and WeChat Pay, handled 81 trillion RMB worth of transactions in the first 10 months of 2017 ($12 trillion). It is estimated that WeChat Pay’s share of these transactions accounted for $2 trillion over 2016 – a figure that is likely to have increased substantially. Line handles around $6 billion worth of transactions per year, with around 10 million monthly transactions (as of late 2017).
There are concerns, however, around data security – particularly given Facebook’s chequered history on the subject. Could a way toward profitably possibly include the sharing of data that users believed to be confidential for profit? It was concerns about Facebook’s intentions in this department which led to the resignation of WhatsApp founder Jan Koum in April 2018. Cofounder Brian Acton cleared his desk in 2017, going on the found rival app Signal – notably with a focus on security and privacy.
WhatsApp valuation history & funding rounds
In the years leading up to the Facebook acquisition, WhatsApp received two sizeable investments from tech-focused venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. The first, in 2011, was of $8 million, followed two years on with a heftier $52 million. This was said to give Sequoia a stake in the “high-teens”. This, of course, paid off handsomely for the investors, with the NY Times DealBook estimating that they made 50 times the stake in the sale – $3 billion, of which was $2.3 billion was Facebook stock.
Sequoia Capital added to its stake in Facebook in 2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the concomitant dip in Facebook share price.
The only other WhatsApp funding round of note was the $250,000 seed investment raised by Brian Acton from a circle of fellow ex-Yahoo employees.
The $19 billion paid by Facebook was well in excess of the last prior WhatsApp valuation, during the 2013 funding round. At this stage WhatsApp’s valuation was set at $1.5 billion. The 2011 funding round gave us a WhatsApp valuation of $80 million.
At the time of the purchase, Forbes estimated that WhatsApp could be worth $100 billion when it monetised. We are yet to see such monetisation take place.
WhatsApp is a humble messenger app, the core functionality of which ostensibly offers nothing that one could not achieve using traditional SMS messaging.
Yes, it does include a reasonably wide range of other functions on top, but again, these are all available through a range of apps that predate it, and some that have been released since too.
Some worrying – and pressing – questions around data privacy have hurt WhatsApp’s reputation; not helped by its parent company Facebook’s track record on this issue. From a business point of view, it remains a non-revenue generating service.
Yet here we have an app that caught the eye of one the biggest modern business superpowers, who deemed it to be worth an astonishing $19 billion. This is well in excess of any prior WhatsApp valuation. This is also an app that can boast one of the biggest active user bases in the world – second only to Facebook. Perhaps it may be that Facebook could not risk having such a huge rival outside its stable, a potentially hindrance to its march to global dominance.
Of course, a (very) long game is being played. WhatsApp Business and the mobile payments market look set to play a key part in how WhatsApp makes money in the future. As life shifts increasingly online, the way we communicate with and transfer money to businesses will be a key digital battleground of the future.
Targeting India as a key market for digital payments shows a desire to engage with informal as well as formal economies – effectively taking on cash itself.
We should also not forget the key role that WhatsApp has played in the ongoing communications and digital revolution. It has brought many across the developing world into the online sphere, and has provided an affordable alternative to prohibitively expensive carrier charges in many markets.
In a way then, this humble app can be said to have changed the world, subtly but widely. There may be more yet to come.