Whatsapp’s Secrets To Lean Hypergrowth

Last week, I was asked an interesting question on Quora. It was about how Whatsapp managed to scale up so quickly with a relatively small team.

What Hypergrowth Really Looks Like

Back at Onavo, we studied Whatsapp’s growth very closely, as part of our Onavo Insights product. Check out the following infographic, which shows just how quickly the app was growing almost all across the world. I took the graphic from “iPhone in Canada”, as the original Onavo blog was taken down post-acquisition:

Messaging apps map4

Success Factors

Obviously, there were many elements that led to Whastapp’s success. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear some “behind the scenes” tidbits about the company’s success, and the following factors come up in almost every one:

  • Whatsapp was one of the first truly viral mobile products. Have you ever seen a Whatsapp ad? I haven’t. But I did have friends talking non-stop about this cool new app that’s just like SMS only better.
  • The app’s onboarding process was so frictionless it was virtually non-existent. Piggybacking on the existing contacts network was a stroke of genius, and was complemented by one of the quickest download-to-value mobile experiences ever.
  • The product just worked. No useless features. No redundant user flows. Users wanted to send texts and know that they were received. Without being limited by their mobile operator. Whatsapp did one thing. Perfectly.
  • All of the above meant that user acquisition was dirt cheap. Customer acquisition costs are one of the biggest budget items for consumer mobile companies. But Whatsapp was virtually distributing itself.
  • The first iOS versions were paid. Remember paying $0.99 to download Whatsapp? I do. It was the first and only app I paid for in the first years of using my iPhone. I’m guessing the company made enough revenues to sustain its operations where other companies would’ve had to raise significant $$.
  • The company had an insanely talented engineering team. I can’t stress this enough. The company’s few dozen engineers set up a system that very quickly sustained more messages than were sent via SMS globally. That’s another typically significant budget item.

Given how overwhelmed the mobile app ecosystem is today, I’m doubtful that any company will be able to replicate Whatsapp’s growth rate and success. But one of the things I love about tech is that new ecosystem are always popping up, creating fresh opportunities for huge plays.

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