Mobile messaging service WhatsApp is hiring a business head for the Indian market as a part of its expansion plans for this year, along with a few other markets, its Head of Business Development Neeraj Arora told MediaNama, responding to a question from MediaNama on whether things will change for the company on the business development front, following the $19 billion acquisition by Facebook.
“The roadmap was, for this year, to expand the business development team, and to have some local presence. For 5-7 countries which are really important, India being one of them, we actually want to have one person in that country to help us with business development, press, other miscellaneous activities that happen in that country like relationships with carriers, OEM’s and everything else”. Arora did emphasize that Facebook and WhatsApp are going to operate independently and nothing will change, but “it might happen that if someone from Facebook is interested in doing this for us, and if we like it, then we’ll do it.”
WhatsApp has around 40-45 million users in India, and two key partnerships with telecom operators: its first partnership was inked with Reliance Communications, and subsequently, it partnered with Tata Docomo. The first partnership was an important one, Arora told us, because they didn’t know what will come out of it. The partnership with Reliance Communications “has done exceptionally well, and that’s why we launched the second one with Tata (Docomo). There are a couple more in the pipeline,” Arora said, adding that “On the messaging side, I see no challenges. People get it, the carriers get it now. Also, there’s a very strong pull from the end users. Both of us serve the same users, and we have to listen to what the users want. We are providing a service, and they’re providing the data underlying it. If we go to the market combined and provide something which is better than what users can get if they just take some data connection off the shelf. Or, if people ask why do I need data connection, and they can say that you need it because we’ll give you unlimited WhatsApp. It makes a lot of sense.”
India isn’t a no-revenue market, but it isn’t a significant revenue market either, because WhatsApp has chosen not to push subscriptions on Android so far. Arora puts this down to the difficulties faced with lack of integration of carrier billing on Google Play: “Our philosophy is like this: Countries like India, where payments are very challenging…even today, if you want to make a payment on Android, you don’t have carrier billing, you have to take out your credit card and you know how bad credit card penetration is in India. People don’t trust using credit cards on their phones even now. So we don’t want to penalize the end user just because the payments in India are not at a stage where they feel comfortable paying. It’s not a free product, and we’re waiting for a time where there is a carrier billing layer on top of Google Play.”
He added that WhatsApp can’t integrate with services Boku or Fortumo for carrier billing, because Apple and Google, the two biggest app stores in the world, do not allow third party payment systems for their app stores. “It is not possible for us to do it even if we want to do it. It’s confusing for the user as well. The cleanest is credit card billing or carrier billing. It’s so simple. That’s the world we’re driving towards: this phone will be your payment system over time. We’re not in a hurry to charge people in India today. The focus of this company is not on monetization today. The focus is the best user experience, the best product, the most reliable service, keep on adding great features like voice, and think about monetization in 2016, 2017, 2018.”
Much more in our interview with Arora, out tomorrow.