How Does WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum Keep 200 Million Users Across The Globe Happy?

Police officers in Spain use it to catch criminals. Grandmothers in Brazil use it to keep in touch with their family. Italians use it to organize pickup basketball games. The app's secret sauce? Alignment.

To hear WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum tell it, his messaging app has a lot of uses: Police officers in Spain use it to catch criminals, grandmothers in Brazil use it to keep in touch with their family, people in Italy use it to organize basketball games.

How did the mobile messaging app--now reportedly at over 200 million users--get such broad reach? From what Koum said to AllThingsD's Liz Gannes, it's a matter of user experience--which comes from an understanding of how people use their phones.



Koum first picked up an iPhone in 2009, he says, and he immediately knew it was the future--later that year, he and his cofounder Brian Acton would launch the company. From the beginning, they wanted to integrate into the way people use their phones, as "an extension of who you are."

Because of this, they made the early decision to steer clear of advertising.

"When you get that message from your loved one, from your family, or from your best friend, you want to be able to reply to it right away, you don't want to be distracted by any advertisement," he says. "Smartphones in general are so small, so personal to you, that putting an advertisement there, on that little screen, that wouldn't be right."

Similar to what GitHub CEO Tom Preston-Werner has described, Koum explained the triangulation that happens in an advertising model: While the user is the person who accesses the product, the customer is the advertiser writing the check.

And that division of interest splits the company: If your revenue comes from advertising, you'll have engineers dedicated to making better ads. But if you bring in revenue via payments--as WhatsApp is beginning to introduce--your team will build better user experiences.

"We wanted to build a service where user and customer are one," Koum says.

Bottom Line: Your alignment is where your revenue is.

[Image: Flickr user Keoni Cabral]

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