Focusing on product not technology – Customer needs first

Disruption as a result of breakthrough technology

At a time when digital technology is transforming one industry after another, large companies tend to view innovation and disruption as the result of breakthrough discoveries or technological wonders.

They look at the explosive growth of companies such as WhatsApp or Instagram and assume that true innovation is the realm of digital wonks and ambitious entrepreneurs.

A straightforward proposition – Focusing on product not technology

WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging app that serves as a reliable, affordable alternative to SMS and MMS – for which carriers often charge per-message.

WhatsApp is hardly revolutionary in terms of its technology, but it is easy to use and allows people to do what they want – chat securely, share pictures and videos, make internet calls – all without fearing that someone is watching over their shoulder or playing with their data.

That was enough to allow WhatsApp to go viral and produce incredible growth, powered mostly by word of mouth among online communities.

From the beginning the founders of WhatsApp had a straightforward proposition:

Create a messaging app that people wanted to use without bombarding them with advertising

In an interview with Fast Company:

When you get that message from your loved one, from your family, or from your best friend, you want to be able to reply to it right away, you don’t want to be distracted by any advertisement.

Anti-marketing growth

Not only do they refuse to run ads inside WhatsApp, the company has remarkably spent absolutely nothing on advertising or customer acquisition.

They believed a better model was to charge users a fee and create a small, agile team devoted to improving the product incrementally, as their blog post titled “Why we don’t sell ads” explains:

At WhatsApp, our engineers spend all their time fixing bugs, adding new features, and ironing out all the little intricacies in our task of bringing rich, affordable, reliable messaging to every phone in the world. That’s our product, and that’s our passion. Your data isn’t even in the picture. We are simply not interested in any of it.

This approach has proven incredibly effective. Despite – or perhaps because of – their avoidance of all things marketing, the company has enjoyed impressive viral growth thanks to a product that truly resonates with users and essentially markets itself.

More affordable alternative

Without question the most significant contributor to WhatsApp’s impressive growth curve is the fact that the app is an exponentially more affordable alternative to SMS and MMS messaging.

No doubt that conditions were ripe for WhatsApp to explode. The sheer size of the existing base of Internet-connected phones has made WhatsApp’s growth possible. Because they rely on established infrastructure – mobile internet access via the data packages that are increasingly standard components of mobile contracts – the company has been able to scale quickly and inexpensively.

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Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and United Kingdom

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