We've heard plenty of complaints about the 99 cents per year that WhatsApp asks users to pay after their first free year on the instant messaging platform. But if you knew why WhatsApp asks for that dollar you might just find yourself more willing to part with it.
In an interview with David Rowan of Wired at DLD in Munich yesterday, Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp, spoke on a range of different topics, including the cost question. As a bit of background, WhatsApp handled 400 million active users in December and that figure has now risen to 430 million. Two months ago it was 350 million. Not bad considering WhatsApp is still not officially supported on desktop computers or tablets. WhatsApp is now handling 50 billion messages a day. Yes, you read that correctly, 50 billion. That's more WhatsApp messages each day than text messages on all carriers in all countries across the globe.
Despite the staggering success of WhatsApp, Koum is remarkably low-key and relaxed. And despite the phenomenal earning potential of WhatsApp, there are a few key foundations that he is unwilling to budge on. For starters, his co-founder Brian Acton once wrote him a Post-It note that said ''No ads, no games, no gimmicks.'' This mantra has held true, and that is in large part why WhatsApp is free to install and then only costs one dollar a year to continue using: because WhatsApp won't ply you with ads, disappearing photos, mini-games, in-app purchases, stickers and all manner of irritating cash flow generators.
Koum and his colleagues (only about 50 engineers and language support employees) are focused on messaging, on making sure ''WhatsApp has a service that works.'' This is an incredibly impressive stance in an industry where startups with good ideas are instantly absorbed by giant companies, either to adapt or dismantle their fledgling efforts. But WhatsApp has stayed true to its original goals and refused a reported $4 billion acquisition offer, all the while refusing to include ads in the app, thrust sticker markets down users' throats or otherwise try to cash in on the fact that WhatsApp is now the most used messaging service on the planet.
And all they ask for is a dollar a year to keep you in touch with your friends and family as much as you like, ad-free, without any irritating monetization messing with your enjoyment of a service that simply works. Even iPhone users are now in the same boat as Android users, being asked to pay 99 cents per year to use the platform. When you consider what WhatsApp offers, and the tough decisions the founders have had to make (could you refuse $4 billion?) to keep the service ''pure'', suddenly an investment of a dollar a year seems like a pretty fantastic deal. I've got more than that stored in the back of the couch.
The transaction between WhatsApp and the customer means they are accountable to you, not advertisers. Which means the decisions they make have you in mind, not advertisers. Another reason why WhatsApp is not interested in your personal data. They know your phone number and that's it. They're not out to make money off your private messages or messaging habits, they just want a dollar a year to keep things the way they are, which is pretty perfect right now by anybody's standards. Suddenly I feel less inclined to complain about the cost.
Are you using WhatsApp? Are you happy to pay the annual service fee?