New Delhi: WhatsApp, India’s social media portal of choice for good morning and good night messages and viral forwards, means so much more to Aditya and Gayathri Sharma of Rajasthan. It helped them shed weight, change their lifestyles, and tap their inner entrepreneurs.
The couple from Rajasthan is part of a growing brigade that has taken an app primarily used for chats to hone their entrepreneurial skills and mint some serious money.
Aditya and Gayathri’s journey to weightloss started in 2015, with a diet and exercise advisory group named ‘Squats’. Since then, while Aditya, 41, an employee of the Rajasthan education department living in Sirohi, has brought his weight down from 72 to 58 kg, Gayathri, 32, has lost 10 kg, now weighing 52 kg.
Speaking to ThePrint on their 14th wedding anniversary, Aditya described their experience with Squats.
“I was obese and nothing I read on the internet worked. A friend suggested I join this WhatsApp group where I met my guruji JC.”
JC is short for Jitendra Chouksey, the founder of Squats, who has since carved an app out of the group. The app has earned $10 million since its launch in January 2016.
JC was able to build this business with little initial capital, given that WhatsApp is free of cost. “Oh, absolutely,” he told ThePrint when asked if WhatsApp had been crucial to his success. “WhatsApp has been an incredible foundation for this business.”
“WhatsApp is a powerful social media tool and we use it only for good reasons like becoming fit — not for sending nonsensical information and TikTok videos,” said Aditya, who added that the lessons he learned on Squats had inspired Gayathri to open her own gym in 2016.
WhatsApp Grand Challenge
Squats was among the 10 finalists at a competition for startups organised this month by WhatsApp and Invest India, the national investment promotion and facilitation agency of the government. The competition, ‘Startup India — WhatsApp Grand Challenge’, was part of a startup programme launched by the two entities in October 2018, aimed at inspiring entrepreneurs to develop solutions “that have socio-economic impact on the Indian economy at scale”.
Javis, one of the five winners of the competition, who were awarded $50,000 each, is another success story to emerge from WhatsApp.
Based on the chat app, Javis is an artificial intelligence-driven service for automated messaging. For example, if a company salesperson wants to know about his performance-related statistics, he can key in certain keywords and the platform will tap the firm’s database to give the answer.
Nine months old, Javis is now earning a monthly recurring revenue of Rs 20 lakh, according to founder Parthasarathi Sinha.
Javis is able to run its messaging platform on the app because the ‘WhatsApp Business API’ tool allows select businesses to integrate their messaging system with WhatsApp’s.
According to Sinha, Javis pays WhatsApp a “nominal fee” to use the service.
WhatsApp’s own struggling bid to monetise
While providing a platform for several entrepreneurial endeavours in different ways, WhatsApp has so far been unable to monetise its own popularity in India, which, with an estimated 200 million monthly active users, is the biggest market for the Facebook-owned app.
For example, the service for media publishers to push content via WhatsApp is reportedly shutting down, while the chat app is yet to receive the RBI’s approval to broaden its payments feature beyond the one million users allowed for the pilot phase.
In addition, guidelines reportedly being mulled by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology might force WhatsApp to break its encryption feature, one of its primary USPs among users.
The app is said to be planning to monetise its status updates platform by allowing ads in ‘Stories’ by next year. The app is currently ad-free.
However, Javis founder Sinha said the road ahead for WhatsApp looked bright. “People used to wonder how Facebook will make money…” he said of the social media giant that now has a market cap exceeding $500 billion. “WhatsApp’s model is similar. First it will hook people and businesses to its service and then explore monetising… Once WhatsApp monetises things like its status updates, it’s going to be huge,” Sinha added. “The potential of WhatsApp to make money is scary.”