What The WhatsApp Co-Founders Are Doing Differently And Why That Makes Them Successful

If you were struggling to find yet another reason to like mobile messenger WhatsApp, you can now chalk "humble swagger" onto your list. The California-based company, which offers unlimited instant messaging between smartphone users across different platforms and helps them evade hefty SMS charges from wireless carriers in the process, spontaneously flexed its muscles Thursday morning in announcing that it has accumulated 400 million active users.

The figure marks a remarkable growth for the company, which announced 300 million users in August and a growth spurt of 50 million by October. The announcement was more than a mere progress report for the world's most widely used messaging app, and one co-founder candidly expressed his motives behind the release:

“We want to steer the conversation to be about active users, not registered users,” CEO Jan Koum told Liz Gannes of All Things Digital, before alluding to the way in which WhatsApp competitors have gone about their business. “We’re a bit fed up and frustrated about people talking about registered users. We think it’s important for us as a leader in the space to speak up and be ethical.”

What Koum is referring to, precisely, is the tendency of certain companies to release their numbers under the ambiguous title of "users." As Gannes points out, Canada-based Kik Interactive announced last week that it had 100 million users, while Japanese competitor Line said it had 300 million users last month. Both, however, declined to differentiate between their number of registered users, those who have signed up to use the app, and active users, those who actually use the app at least once a month.

It's easy to understand why Koum would take exception to such an issue, especially with so much riding on how statistics are framed for press and in turn, how people view certain companies relative to their competition.

Take the Wall Street Journal, for example. When Kik released its numbers, the Journal welcomed the company as "a new member of the 100 million users club in the crowded messaging wars." It's a small statement, but it nonetheless distinguishes the app amongst an elite group in the relevant industry, a group that includes WhatsApp.

And while that fact may have prompted the Mountain View, California-based company to make a statement, its numbers speak for themselves. Even with the debate of registered versus active users, WhatsApp has a gap that boasts at least 100 million active users between it and its nearest competitor.

WhatsApp is, quite simply, a company that is killing game, the undisputed superstar of its field. And, like most beloved icons, they attribute their success to the fans:

"We are excited to have reached 400 million monthly active users, and even more excited to have achieved this without spending a dollar on marketing,” Koum told Forbes in an e-mail statement. “Our growth has been driven by our users, and we want to thank each and every one of them for their support over the years.”

Koum's gratitude is more than just lip service, though, as the company's consideration for its users extends beyond words. WhatsApp co-founders, who formerly worked at Yahoo!, have notably declined to implement ads into their app, regarding it as an insult to the user's intelligence, despite the fact that the company's revenue would foresee a massive increase.

For now, Koum, along with co-founder Brian Acton, are content with charging users just one dollar per year, and that's after 12 months of free service. So far, the policy has proven rewarding, as the company has been able to generate substantial profit. That's more than what can be said for the likes of Twitter and Snapchat, the latter of which is trumped by WhatsApp by tens of millions when it comes to the number of photo messages sent daily.

Having helped people all over the world communicate across national lines, the success of WhatsApp is well deserved. The co-founders have a budding reputation as the genuine good guys of the industry, as they continue to maintain focus on their users, instead of increasing revenue for themselves.

“We want to get out of the way. We want to let people have a conversation,” Koum told the Wall Street Journal. "...Despite the fact that we’re able to monetize today, we’re not focused on monetization.”

Photo credit: Bubble News