Customer Development, Invalidation, Karma and WhatsApp

This is an amazing story worth sharing again, and again. In May 2009, an entrepreneur shared this on an online forum that he was active on.

Wouldn’t it be cool if i just set a status for my iPhone, similar to how you can set a status on yahoo messenger or skype. So i spent a couple of months and developed a little tool - it can let you set a status like “On the flight to munich, send email instead of calling me”. I would like to hear your feedback and suggestions on the idea. Hit or miss?

It turns out, there was only one comment in response to his post.

It appears that this requires the other party to also have the app installed, right?

Bummer. The bubble just burst. But just a little bit later, in July `09, the entrepreneur is back with a new update.

Just wanted to mention that version for blackberry is available.

No response on the forum. They were all like whatever, dude. But then, fastforward a few years to Sep `13, and the entrepreneur is back with this post on the same old thread.

so i was looking on this forum for something else (trying to use my M&M miles) and remembered i posted this thread 4 years ago. i am thinking some of you might be using WhatsApp now

It turns out that Jan Koum had left Yahoo, and then taken time off to travel around South America. He then tried applying at Facebook, but got rejected. Later in Jan 2009, he came up on the app idea of Whatsapp, and started working on it. It didn’t click initially, but he hedged his bets and kept pushing along until the numbers started to grow. And the rest as they say, is history. Karma apparently works in mysterious ways, and Jan is back at Facebook.

Karma and Whatsapp

It’s worth pondering about what the MVP for Whatsapp would be. If you’d believe a random source below, the MVP costs $120,000, whatever that means.

Is this really what it takes to build a Whatsapp MVP?

There’s a few questions worth asking

  • What do you think the MVP in this case is?
  • If you followed a customer development approach and spoke to 20-30 people back in ‘09 about this like Jan did, it’s quite possible that most of them may have said they wouldn’t use it since it requires others to be on as well. If that had happened, what would your learning have been?
  • If building a community is a part of the MVP itself, how do you test that out as early as possible?
  • Why did Whatsapp succeed despite the existence of players like Google, Facebook, Skype and others with their messengers? Why were the telecom providers bleeding SMS revenue caught napping? What can we learn from it?