Harvard Hero Moment #20: Why we all love WhatsApp

Pete Marcus

04 Feb 2020

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014, it paid nearly $18bn. About $2bn of that was for WhatsApp’s user base – then around 450m people – while $448m was for the value of the brand and $288m for its technology. But a whopping $15bn of the total acquisition price was explained as being for “value from future growth”. In other words it was clear that WhatsApp had a very bright future indeed ahead of it. Messaging has become the next major tech platform after social media – which was precisely why Facebook acquired it, of course. That’s because there’s a wonderful simplicity to messaging which appeals to people increasingly overwhelmed by the noise and chatter of our social networks. After a while, as we build them up, those networks can become sprawling and hard for us to manage. The beauty of messaging is that it cuts through all of that and returns us again to more of a one-to-one relationship with our closest friends and family. Arguably it delivers on the original promise of mobile technology – making us feel more connected to what matters to us, wherever we are. That’s certainly the case if WhatsApp’s popularity is anything to go by. The latest stats suggest that over 1.5bn people use the app every month and it’s had more than 5bn downloads from the Google Play Store. It’s become the number one most used business app too, and it’s even been accused of changing politics by enabling more plotting and disloyalty among MPs. In less than a decade, WhatsApp has become the default way for us all to communicate, whether that’s to our families, our significant others, or our colleagues and clients. It’s easy to overlook this everyday miracle, but we should appreciate that it’s WhatsApp’s very simplicity that makes it so special.