J2ME and WhatsApp

TextIt, “Your Path to a $16B Exit? Build a J2ME App”:

That was the genius of WhatsApp really, they recognized that messaging apps are all about network effects and instead of focusing on the comparatively small market of the ‘developed world’, instead targeted the other 3 billion people who don’t have smartphones. And at that they have been supremely successful.

If you are anywhere apart from the States, WhatsApp is the de facto standard for messaging. Here in Rwanda, it has far more penetration than Facebook, it is used by literally everybody who has a capable device. That came about not by having some edgy new user interface, or by a gimmick around disappearing messages, but by providing real value, value that can be measured in the pocketbook of a market that is massively under served.

So the next time you are thinking about “putting a dent in the universe”, maybe you should look a bit farther, and maybe, just maybe you should start with a J2ME app.

I think they’re right that building apps for all phones is what got WhatsApp to 450 million users and the attention of Zuckerberg. I don’t think the lesson holds for any other sort of app. It was an opportunity unique to messaging.

(And WhatsApp didn’t start with a J2ME app — they started with an iPhone app.)

Thursday, 20 February 2014