The real secret behind ‘WhatsApp’ super success

The real secret behind ‘WhatsApp’ super success

We all know who Brian Acton and Jan Koum are and more importantly their success story. We also read their life stories and the struggle they have gone through building the world’s most used messaging mobile application ‘WhatsApp’. Of course, we also know the large amounts of money they made personally and professionally after Facebook bought them for whopping $19 billions.

So, how are they different from the many other Silicon Valley wizards? And more importantly what’s the real secret behind this super success?

Common Vision

Brian and Jan knew that Yahoo had to work through advertisements to run as a commercial business. But unfortunately most users did not like these flashing and disturbing advertisements. So they wanted to build an App without any of this fuss and give users freedom from every possible disturbance. They had the common goal and the long-term vision to build a world-class product, even if they had to sustain without revenues.

Level 5 Leadership

Both Brian and Jan were humble beings. In fact they became friends and the friendship got stronger because they were frank and straightforward in their approach. “Neither of us has an ability to bullshit,” says Koum, in an interview. Their tweets that they made after they were rejected by Twitter and Facebook was a testimony to their grounded behavior.


Personal Humility and Professional Will are the true qualities of a Level 5 Leader. They have been living these all their lives, even today. Though they continue to run WhatsApp even today, they are still simple and humble. I must say that Jim Collins got the ‘Good to Great’ concept right 🙂

Money was always secondary

When they started their journey, they made it clear that there wouldn’t be any Advertisements or Pop-ups. They are a multi-billion organization, yet they follow their initial resolve not succumbing to anyone, be it investors, mentors, or even few users. Following your gut is a great thing. Sticking to it even in tough times or under pressure is even great.


Forward Button

The satisfaction of sharing information, knowledge, wisdom and xyz with others has never been easy. More so if its with your friends, family or colleagues. This is true play of human emotions. Once a geek or a wizard creates a good joke or some useful information, the fwd-chain-run goes on and on… Thanks to the change in the new human behavior who would like to take as much content as possible and of course share it with as many people as possible trying to prove to others that he/she is on top of things. The ease at which you could share has been the key to their FWD success.

While all these are on one side, to me the biggest reason for their success has been the below two reasons. The most powerful, yet very simple. 



This to me has been the biggest difference that made WhatsApp what it is today. They were competing with the SMS and few basic Apps, which had limited or no possibility to share ‘facial expressions’. The main aim of the app was to provide a simple interface to its users enabling them to stay in contact with their loved ones. What better way could you share your feelings other than an easy to use emoticons!! The way emoticons are changing the way we express is really great. We could now communicate a strong message and yet make it easy by adding an emoticon…

In a way, they created a blue ocean and thus created an uncontested market space for themselves by not competing with the traditional SMS or other chat/ messengers. They didn’t compete with their competitors; in stead they made the competition irrelevant. They targeted those who didn’t have a laptop or a desktop.



They tapped the Tier1,2,3 Non-customers with a meticulous Blue Ocean Strategy. They knew what they wanted and were very clear in terms of their goals.


With this, they made sure that the conversations are truly personal and much much more effective.


Truly Lean 

Can you believe that WhatsApp has just 55 employees to serve millions of people each day? Isn’t that fantastic?

What’s more truly lean to me is their thought process. They haven’t really changed the app much in the last few years. Compared to many apps that our phone hosts, who ask for an update almost every quarter, WhatsApp doesn’t believe in too many unnecessary features. So, to me “Not adding a feature” is a great thing. They would have made some very minor changes, but not to the tune of an organization who could boast of tens of billion dollars. They never believed in hype and hence didn’t felt the need to make major (unnecessary) changes.


These to me are the biggest reasons behind their super success!!

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