Inside WhatsApp's office in Mountain View

What's behind everyone's favourite texting app

Whenever you ask your friends if they use WhatsApp the conversation tends to deviate to the cost of the service, how does this company make money and the relation with mobile phone operators. There's also well spread urban legend suggesting the service will be cancelled very soon or that it will begin charging a monthly fee. 

I read on the Spanish El País a surprising interview by Laia Reventós, apparently the first journalist allowed in the company's California office. Here's the original article on the online edition, but I'm also highlighting some details mentioned there if you don't want to go through the pains of Google translate.

The most surprising thing about WhatsApp, the company founded by two former Yahoo employees, is the obsession with secrecy. The headquarters in Mountain View are a plain open plan office space without any corporate signs and graffitis on the walls. Despite the effort of the journalist, Jan Koum and Brian Acton decline being pictured or talk about their personal life. The only picture she's allowed to take is a panoramic view of the office with them sitting at their desks in the background. The core of the development is outsourced in Russia while the US operation focuses mainly in customer service. 

The Skype of the SMS

They're proud to have innovated in the field but avoid commenting on the similitudes with Skype. They defend SMS aren't dead as they're an universal standard used by millions worldwide. Also, mobile operators shouldn't worry about losing business since apps like WhatsApp use data, which is more profitable for them than traditional text messages.

"Pricing is secondary. People just want to stay in touch. As smartphones become more affordable and penetrate even in emerging countries, users need to sign up for a data plan. Then, they begin using our services because we deliver. It's a matter of marketing"

The business model is backed by a subscription model of one dollar per year, except on the App Store. The founders defend the value of the product explaining the success is based on the quality of the service (and it's versatility) and not in pricing.