The Business Model of WhatsApp: How Does WhatsApp Make Money?

By: Gaurav pathania

WhatsApp has undoubtedly become the most popular messaging app globally, with over 2 billion monthly active users. Considering that the app is completely free and devoid of advertisements, you might wonder how WhatsApp earns money. In this article, we will delve into the business model of WhatsApp and shed light on its revenue generation strategies.

WhatsApp’s Founding and Initial Growth

WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, who had previously worked together at Yahoo! for nine years. Interestingly, before the app’s inception, Koum noticed the need for an app that could display his status, informing friends that he was currently at the gym and unable to take calls. This idea laid the foundation for WhatsApp, initially serving as a platform to update status and share activities.

Initially, WhatsApp did not support messaging functionality. However, as users began utilizing the status feature as a means of communication, the founders realized the potential of transforming the app into a messaging service. This decision proved to be a tremendous success, especially since BlackBerry’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was the only other free messaging app available at the time, but limited to BlackBerry users.

With the introduction of messaging capabilities, WhatsApp quickly gained popularity, especially in European, Asian, and African countries. Users loved the app’s simplicity and reliability, leading to rapid organic growth without the need for marketing or advertisements. Meanwhile, telecommunications companies charged exorbitant fees for SMS and phone calls, making WhatsApp an attractive cost-saving alternative.

To cover expenses, WhatsApp initially relied on investments from various companies. However, as they searched for additional revenue streams, they introduced a business model involving a small annual subscription fee. Users were charged $0.99 per year, while still benefiting from a user-friendly experience and continuous app improvements.

WhatsApp’s Transformation and Acquisition by Facebook

This model proved highly successful, transforming WhatsApp into a profitable company within three years. The generated revenue primarily went toward enhancing the app, adding new features, and ensuring a seamless messaging experience. WhatsApp’s focus remained on its core functionality and commitment to user satisfaction.

In 2014, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion, making its founders overnight billionaires. Facebook’s primary motivation behind the acquisition was to eliminate WhatsApp as a significant competitor to its own messaging platform, Facebook Messenger. Additionally, Facebook recognized the potential value of WhatsApp’s user data for monetization purposes, aligning with their existing data-driven business model.

Following the acquisition, WhatsApp faced internal conflicts with Facebook regarding data privacy and the desired business model. The founders eventually left WhatsApp due to these disagreements, and Mark Zuckerberg took full control of the platform.

WhatsApp’s Post-Founder Era and Differentiation from Signal

so let’s explore what happened to WhatsApp after the departure of its founders. Following the departure of Brian Acton and Jan Koum, Mark Zuckerberg established his control over WhatsApp. Brian Acton went on to establish the non-profit Signal Foundation, which led to the creation of the messaging application Signal. Signal is often compared to WhatsApp and is considered superior in many aspects, including data privacy, being a free application, and being a non-profit entity.

Brian Acton’s decision to establish Signal as a non-profit app was driven by a desire to avoid compromising the principles of the company in pursuit of profits. By remaining non-profit, Signal focuses on ensuring user data privacy and providing users with a truly free messaging app. This approach resonates with users who prioritize data privacy and value a messaging platform that aligns with their principles.

It is worth noting that Signal and WhatsApp have different business models. While WhatsApp introduced the WhatsApp Business app and the Business API to generate revenue through business interactions, Signal’s non-profit status allows it to prioritize user privacy without the pressure of profit-making.

WhatsApp’s Revenue Generation Strategies

 Subsequently, Facebook launched the WhatsApp Business app, allowing businesses to create profiles, link websites and Facebook pages, and engage with customers.

To monetize these business interactions, WhatsApp introduced the WhatsApp Business API, which enables companies to automate responses, send shipping confirmations, appointment reminders, and even sell event tickets. Businesses can reply to customer queries for free within the first 24 hours. However, a small fee applies if they respond after this period.

In addition to the WhatsApp Business API, Facebook integrated a payment feature called WhatsApp Pay, initially targeted at Indian users. While regular users can enjoy free peer-to-peer payments, businesses are charged a flat fee of 3.99% per transaction. However, WhatsApp Pay faces stiff competition from India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI), which offers a more cost-effective solution for businesses.

Looking ahead, Facebook is considering the introduction of ads within WhatsApp statuses as an additional revenue stream. Although detailed revenue breakdowns for WhatsApp are not publicly available, estimates suggest an average revenue per user of $4 to $12. Notably, WhatsApp’s Indian division reported revenues of ₹68.4 million in 2019, with a profit of ₹5.7 million.

WhatsApp’s Role and Future Prospects

Ultimately, WhatsApp has evolved from a simple status-sharing app to a multifaceted platform where businesses can interact with customers, facilitate transactions, and potentially advertise their products. However, concerns about data privacy persist, and WhatsApp users remain cautious about how their data may be utilized by Facebook.

As WhatsApp continues to evolve, only time will reveal its true potential and the impact of its revenue generation strategies. Meanwhile, users can appreciate the app’s convenient messaging features and the opportunities it presents for connecting with businesses and making seamless transactions.

Despite the controversies surrounding WhatsApp’s privacy policy and data usage, the app remains widely used for its convenient messaging capabilities. With over 1 million businesses utilizing the WhatsApp Business app globally and approximately 5 million businesses worldwide, WhatsApp has become an essential platform for conducting business and enabling seamless communication with customers.

The concept of WhatsApp Commerce has emerged, with many businesses exclusively selling their products and services through the app. Moreover, Facebook’s investment of $5.7 billion in India’s Jio Platforms led to the integration of WhatsApp into JioMart, further facilitating transactions and expanding WhatsApp’s reach in the e-commerce sector.

While the exact revenue breakdown for WhatsApp within Facebook’s overall earnings remains undisclosed, it is clear that the app plays a significant role in Facebook’s monetization strategy. Facebook’s interest in acquiring WhatsApp stemmed from its desire to eliminate a major competitor and harness the vast user data that WhatsApp possesses.

As WhatsApp moves forward, there are ongoing discussions about the potential introduction of ads within WhatsApp statuses. This move could provide Facebook with another lucrative revenue stream, while also raising concerns among users about the intrusion of advertisements within their messaging experience.

It is crucial to note that WhatsApp’s journey has not been without challenges and controversies. The clash of visions between WhatsApp’s founders and Facebook regarding data privacy and the direction of the app has resulted in significant shifts within the company. However, WhatsApp remains a vital communication tool for billions of users worldwide, offering a user-friendly experience and enabling seamless connections with friends, family, and businesses.


The success of WhatsApp’s business model lies in its ability to provide a free messaging platform while finding innovative ways to generate revenue. Through the WhatsApp Business API, integration with JioMart, and the potential introduction of ads, WhatsApp continues to evolve as a versatile platform for both individual users and businesses. As the digital landscape evolves, WhatsApp’s future will be shaped by its ability to balance user satisfaction, privacy concerns, and revenue generation.

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