Recently, I moderated a panel at India Internet Day — it focused on messaging (and not the browser or apps) as the primary medium through which a large portion of India will experience the Internet. The discussion with Kavin Mittal of Hike, Nilay Arora of WeChat India, Pratyush Prasanna of MagicX and Saurabh Arora of Lybrate was high quality. Scroll to the bottom to see the video.
The themes we discussed around messaging platforms and communities underscore a number of the new investments we at Lightspeed have made and are looking to make in the future.
What is “the Internet” like inside messaging platforms? It is messy, unstructured, of variable content quality, organic, emergent, social, high frequency, hard to search. It is, in other words, human.
Messaging is commerce, whether between two businesses or between businesses and consumers or between two individuals trading with each other. I see opportunities for startups to take vertical transactions off of messaging clients and turn it into high-engagement commerce companies.
Messaging is community. There are so many thousands of communities on Whatsapp and Facebook today — parents, doctors, content enthusiasts (ahem!), brokers, traders etc. I see opportunities for startups to build vertical communities and then add a commerce layer on top.
Messaging is content. Communities and traders generate and consume content within their messaging groups. I see opportunities for startups to unify these content communities in one place to drive new entertainment experiences.
I believe it is important to understand what basic primitives are available on messaging that are not available on mobile apps and within a browser. These differentiated primitives will allow new experiences within messaging platforms that are not available elsewhere. An example of this is private groups. What can smaller groups (5–50 people) be useful for that a large 500 person (quasi-)public Facebook friends group cannot be used for?
Payments integrated with messaging is a killer platform (assuming broad audience reach of the messaging platform). If you see anybody (Whatsapp, Facebook, Hike, Snapchat, Wechat etc.) launching with payments+messaging, jump on it. Facebook’s Messenger launch (with its bots) is promising, although the paint is still wet on that. Perhaps Whatsapp does something in the future although its promise to keep the experience clean and true to pure messaging will certainly be remembered by its users. Perhaps Hike has something to say on this matter given the recently reported $175 million funding round from Tencent (which of course runs massive platforms like WeChat and WePay). Exciting times ahead.
Should one build a messaging-based community, content or commerce offering on top of a messaging platform (e.g. with Messenger bots or WeChat channels) or create a separate app/service that can take and share content with messaging applications? Building on top of a messaging platform provides a huge audience and high frequency usage but is hard to do today inside most messaging platforms in India. My answer for now would be to build it separately and then add bots/channels etc. on top of messaging platforms whenever it becomes feasible i.e. when the platform reaches large enough scale (30–50M MAUs+ in India), has integrated payments and has formal developer APIs/tools (see my post from 2012 on platforms here).
Here’s the video of the India Internet Day panel: