As WhatsApp Hits 430M Users, Founder Vows No Ads, No Games, No Gimmicks

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online
The WhatsApp messaging app has just passed the 430 million-user mark and at a recent conference in Munich, Germany. WhatsApp founder Jan Koum said his company is focused primarily on user experience and not “gimmicks” such as games or disappearing photos – the latter an obvious reference to the messaging app Snapchat.
Koum said the app will continue to be ad-free, relying on subscription fees to bring in revenue. The app was originally offered for free, but now costs .99 cents per year to use after the first year.
“No ads, no games, no gimmicks,” Koum said.
That has become something of a company motto – originally written on a Post-It note by co-founder Brian Acton, who used to work with Koum at Yahoo. Koum said he keeps the note as a reminder of where WhatsApp should remain focused.
“We just want to focus on messaging. If people want to play games there are plenty of other sites and also a lot of great companies building services around advertising,” Koum noted.
The company founder and chief executive refused to mention whether WhatsApp is currently profitable or disclose any significant financial details.
“We are not focus on monetization today because we are still growing,” the Ukrainian-born Koum said. “Someday in the future we will focus on monetization but today we’re more interested in making sure that those people who signed up have a great user experience.”
Koum said his experiences growing up in a satellite-state of the Soviet Union and emigrating to the United States have played a significant role in how WhatsApp’s business model was envisioned and developed, from the no-ads policy, to the reliable and inexpensive communications, to the startup’s privacy policy. As an example, Koum recalled how expensive and difficult it was for immigrants with limited resources to make phone calls from the US to the Ukraine.
“With WhatsApp you don’t have to pay (excessive) fees,” he said.
He added that the ad-free nature of Whatsapp is inspired by his life before experiencing the onslaught of American advertising.
“I grew up in a country where advertising didn’t exist and I had a remarkable childhood,” he said. “Looking back it was an idealistic environment. Even though there were thousands of problems, the joy of growing up in an uncluttered lifestyle (meant) you could focus on other things.”
Koum said his Cold War upbringing has also inspired the company’s privacy policy.
“I remember my parents having no conversations on the phone. The walls had ears and you couldn’t speak freely,” Koum recalled. “It is extremely important (for us) to provide a level of security and privacy…. We don’t collect people’s personal information. We just know your phone number and those of the people you want to message with.”
In the conference discussion hosted by Wired’s David Rowan, the tech mogul also admitted a preference for Android over iOS.
“Android is a lot more open,” Koum said. “We are able to build new features and prototype faster on Android, not to mention that we have a lot more users on Android.”
Despite this personal preference, Koum said his company ultimately wants “to be on every smartphone.”