Mark Zuckerberg keynote presentation at Mobile World Congress 2014 was probably one of the most expected speech – especially since the week before Facebook had bought WhatsApp for $19billion. During approximately 45min, Zuckerberg presented his vision of Facebook future, the internet.org project and evoked the subject everybody was really interested in: the acquisition of WhatsApp. All along his keynote, Zuckerberg did not forget who he was facing – an audience made of telecommunication companies. He took great advantages of this opportunity to directly address them and explain how they could potentially become Facebook’s partners.
First, let’s start with his comments on the acquisition. Zuckerberg described WhatsApp as a very important player in the market that already had 500 million users and was clearly on a “path to connect more than 1 billion users.” WhatsApp changed the rules of the telecommunication game and was probably “worth more than $19 billion.” Very few services are able to reach such a wide range of users in such a short period of time (created in 2009). “If we can do a good job with WhatsApp and grow it, it will be a huge business” said Zuckerberg.
The main reason why the deal was made final according to him was that both CEOs, Zuckerberg and Jan Koum shared a common idea: to connect the world. Zuckerberg here mentioned his project entitle the internet.org – the objective of Facebook-led initiative is to bring internet connectivity to those who, as of today, are not yet or not fully connected to the internet; and those people are mostly living in developing countries: “Why were we excited to do this together? It was the internet.org vision and how we can connect the world” said Zuckerberg. Here I would like to explain the main idea and belief that is behind the creation of WhatsApp – a strong desire to offer an easy-to-use, simple and cheap international communication channel. This is highly influenced by the CEO’s life story – Koum was born in Ukraine and moved to California with his mother and grandmother at the age of 16 while his father remained in Ukraine. At the time, the price of international calls or texts were very high thus rendering basic communication expensive and complicated especially for migrants with low incomes. In 2009, Koum launched WhatsApp with his business partner Brian Acton with the objectives to facilitate communication and connection between family and friends. Since its launch and without any marketing budget, the company became extremely popular. Its messaging volume is now close to the SMS volume of the entire global telecom industry. However, the acquisition by Facebook will not have any impact on the way the company works (for now). Zuckerberg insisted on his will to help and support the company and explained that WhatsApp can now “focus on how to connect the one to two billion people” while having access to Facebook’s resources.
The second topic Zuckerberg covered and seemed to be really enthusiastic about was the internet.org. “The idea” he said “is to develop a group of basic services that would be free of charge to use – a 911 for the internet.” Users would have access to basics services such as messaging, food prices, weather forecast services or Facebook (which he defined as a basic service!) – For free. This would radically change the way people relate to the internet. If connectivity was to become accessible to all, this would also mean basic information, deeper knowledge and wider communication would be rendered available everywhere on the planet. According to him, as of today 2G and 3G connection are already available in 80% of the planet. The internet.org would change the world by creating millions of job, accelerating economies, facilitating communication and even potentially saving lives. Obviously, Zuckerberg did not forget to explain why and how telecoms could make profit out of it and reinforce their leadership position. According to him, to offer free access to some basic services would work as a gateway: “People don’t know why they would need to have access to the internet. They don’t want data plan. But they would want Facebook. Internet.org would give them some context for why they would use other services and that would lead to further consumption for more services.” Zuckerberg who was aware that he was speaking to a room full of telecoms presented his project clearly explaining that at this point he is now looking for three to five telcos to deliver national initiatives in new markets. A pilot was launched in the Phillipines with a company called Globe: “We’ve been doing this for only a few months and people using data in Philippines has doubled since then…From what we’ve seen and rate of improvement we’re highly confident this will be profitable.” The internet.org is a project that he seemed to really believe in, a project that could potentially changed the world. Time will tell!