How India Became The Largest Market For This Instant Messaging VoIP App

As India becomes the largest market for Viber, this story looks at how the messaging app has grown post 2013 after it opened up operations in India

Viber India

Mobile and content consumption for information and entertainment are on the rise in India. India, the fastest growing Asian market for smartphones also happens to be a competitive market for instant messaging apps – according to GlobalWebIndex study the country has seen a growth of 113 percent in 2013.

WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app bought by Facebook earlier this year holds its ground in India with 70 million monthly active users. The study shows that 52 percent of Indian instant messaging users are on WhatsApp, while 42 percent use Facebook Messenger, 37 percent use Skype, WeChat has a 26 percent share in the market and Viber with 18 percent market share is in the fifth spot.

While WeChat happens to be the fastest growing messaging app in the country, Viber the messaging and VoIP app acquired by Rakuten earlier this year for $900 million has claimed that India is now its largest market with 33 million registered users who use the Viber app to send messages and make free international calls to Viber users in different countries. The company refrains from sharing active users but it had stated last year that out of 16 million registered users it had 4 million active users. So we estimate that Viber might have more than 9 million active users now.

Founded in 2010 by four Israeli founders, Viber claims to have over 460 million unique users and over 608 million registered users globally. US follows India with 30 million and Russia is the third largest with 28 million, with Brazil at No 4 with 18 million and UK at No 5. Besides India is also among the top five countries by revenue and the largest users of the app’s stickers.

Starting up in India, December 2013

Viber has been known to Indians for its VoIP or free calling feature rather than a messaging app often giving competition to Skype in the country. Talking to Lighthouse Insights earlier this year, Anubhav Nayyar, Country Head, Viber India had shared that India has been an important market leading to an operations unit being opened in Gurgaon late last year. “We started our operations in India in December 2013, but the app has been around for the last three to four years.”

The key idea behind setting up an Indian operations unit was to understand the consumer for Viber which operates across 193 countries. “One of our key imperatives is also to understand what the users like or dislike – not just about Viber, but about the social messaging space in general. It is such an evolving category that it changes every two-three months. So although we have been able to maintain our position, one of the key things is to bring about localization,” Anubhav said.

Building localised product and features

Late last year the company released version 4.0 of its platform along with a marketplace for free and paid stickers or rich emoticons to spike revenues. Over the year the India operation has been focusing on user experience and introducing localized products. It’s presence on all major platforms and localization support to Hindi has helped its growth and since India is still dominated by 80% feature phone market, Viber’s presence on desktop has been a boon.

Viber Public Chat

Last month Viber rolled out a Public Chat feature which transforms the app into a social media network whereby users can engage with celebrities and personalities such as Sachin Tendulkar, Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh among others, and brands. Speaking on the occasion, Anubhav Nayyar, Country Head-India, Viber said, “The release of Public Chats on Viber allows people to interact in a new way, listening to live discussions and staying up-to-date with exclusive content from the people and interests that matter to them most. We are launching this with a great line-up of celebrities, personalities, brands, influencers all over India.”

The most popular chats will be featured on the home screen of the Public Chats section of Viber. Users can easily search to find out who is chatting, or they can access a chat directly through its customized URL. The initial roll out has received a good response, moving ahead Viber plans to add more Public Chats over the coming weeks and months.

“You can’t help but be excited when the counter of followers starts to tick. There are some chats that we opened in UK last week with over 3,00,000 followers and similar numbers in Philippines. We are sure to see similar numbers in India too,” said Viber’s chief marketing officer Mark Hardy.

Marketing and building revenue stream

Earlier this year Lighthouse Insights was informed that Viber was focusing on the product by keeping a hold on introducing ads or games. But it looks like the strategy has been updated. In the third quarter of 2014, the messaging app with more than 20 million registered users launched its first TV ad campaign. The ad showcased how Viber changed the dull life of the dog’s owner and made him more social and connected with friends to ultimately become ‘Mr. Popular’.

Viber has two revenue models: first is via the Viber stickers or rich emoticons, close to 90 percent of stickers are free, but for the rest one has to pay and they are renowned characters such as Garfield or Smurfs. Anubhav stated, “people love to communicate through stickers to express themselves and therefore they are even ready to pay for these stickers.” However, he chose not to share any numbers on what percentage of people from India are opting for the paid stickers. But it is now known that India is amongst the top five countries that converse with other users on the app through stickers.

The second part of monetizing is based on functionality. Viber has Viber Out feature which allows users to make calls to anyone across the globe on their cellphones or landlines. Voice call is a space that every messaging app is trying to grab a larger pie  of; WhatsApp which was focusing on it has now postponed it to 2015 for the firm still has several technical issues to overcome before it can successfully launch seamless voice calling.

Viber which has been in the business of voice call for sometime had earlier stated that it is confident about the superiority of its services. “When it comes to making calls using data connection in the phone, we have better technology. We are confident that we will offer the most clear and reliable calls using data connection. Other app makers may try to include the same feature in their IM apps but our service will be superior.”

Early August, Viber had begun advertising about its app for the first time in the Indian market, through a series of television, digital and outdoor campaigns. “Over the last year we’ve grown 130 per cent on our user base and much of this was driven by the marketing campaign over the summer,” Mark said.

Going further, Viber plans to launch its game store and allow micro payments for in-app purchases which Mark added will drive revenue for the company as it will increase the average revenue per user. “We are a micro-payment business where a big user base spends a small amount of money. Our revenue comes from stickers which retail at $1.99 and Viber Out which lets users call mobile phones at a subsidized rate.”

From acquiring users this year, Viber is already looking at user retention from next year. While Viber may not be as big as WhatsApp or WeChat but its efforts are paying off in India that is gradually becoming a mobile first country.