Product Strategy Done Right: WhatsApp Case Study

Start Small, Go Live

WhatsApp when started, all it did was to display user status updates, and then to now the product it is.

Inference: In software terms MVP (minimum viable product) is the way to go. This can be beneficial in below two ways:

Company Point of view: A startup cannot heavily invest in a product adding a lot of features thus spending a lot of resource (time and material) on the product and then realising that the product is not working.

User Point of view: Let users get used to a product and then add on features based on KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and as and when the business asks for it.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Philosophy

This helps you minimise or avoid the mistakes at the start of the project by analysing the product-market fit for your idea.

User Survey and Feedback

During early days of WhatsApp, the application kept crashing or getting stuck. “Jan Kuom” personally took notes on a notebook of problems and concerns his friends had with the application.

Inference: Hardly any product kicks off in its first iteration. Its learning from mistakes (your’s and other’s) and rectifying them which makes the product great. Keep on talking to your users and pivot your product around their problems and aspirations.

Sprint Sprint Sprint

WhatsApp developed the Blackberry native application in a span of 2 months including testing.

Inference: In a world where a startup is created every minute, its critical to go live with the idea(iteration), because if you don’t, there is someone else, who will. There are frameworks which could help you quickly create prototypes of your idea and validate with your users rather than having an epiphany after the product is already finished.

Competition doesn’t matter, User Experience does

When WhatsApp came into existence, popular chat apps like BB messenger, Skype, Facebook chat already existed but it was WhatsApp chat which made the experience so simple that any user could adapt an instant chat messaging thereby replacing SMS and other chat services.

Inference: Today where there are numerous others doing exactly what you do, what sets you apart is “How you do it”. Its the simplicity and ease which increases the recall value and keeps a user hooked to your application.

Marketing can always get an app installed but a good UX is what keeps that application from being uninstalled.

Stick to Basics

A number of chat applications had already started with advertisements and exploring other revenue streams but WhatsApp had it loud and clear “No Ads, No Games, No Gimmicks” and stuck to what it does best: Messaging.

Inference: When developing a product stick to one core functionality and no matter how many features you add to it, your application as a whole should compliment the core functionality.

Understand User Empathy

At a point in time where WhatsApp introduced feature of “Read receipts” similar to BBM. A lot of users felt this was an infringement to the privacy. Hence WhatsApp rolled an update where user can disable “Read receipts” by not receiving them himself.

Another instance where after user chats and emails being leaked to the outside world, WhatsApp updated the application wherein all the chats are encrypted in a way where WhatsApp and other third parties can’t read or listen to them.

Inference: Do not assume, understand user empathy. Applications should be designed and enhanced based on what a user is looking for and not what you want him to look.

Simple On Boarding

So all WhatsApp does in the name of setup is verifies your mobile number and accept a Name. It couldn’t be simpler than this. This enables anyone and everyone to start using the application, have a steady learning curve as to how to use the application and in turn get hooked.

Inference: Keep the on boarding process as simple as possible. Throw only as much as a user can consume. Cluttering user space just confuses the user.

Less + Better is the key to minimal design philosophy.

Cross Platform Support

Name a mobile operating system and WhatsApp has an application for the same. From Android, iOS, Symbian, Bada, Windows to now desktops, WhatsApp has made sure you stay connected.

Inference: In todays world, when a user is connected to multiple devices and interacting with other users who in turn use multiple operating systems, its always an added advantage to provide support. This is the extra mile which distinguishes your product from the rest.

Never Give Up

One of the WhatsApp founder “Jan Koum” almost gave up when the initial models didn’t do as expected but then the continuous effort led to the first launch in November 2009. Rest as they say is history or as I say present and who knows future as well.

Inference: Building a product is not easy and don’t expect it to be. Its continual effort in the right direction that will make sure you taste success.