Idema will help WhatsApp manage its business ambitions.

WhatsApp, the messaging app that Facebook acquired for $22 billion back in 2014, doesn’t make any money. But it’s getting ready to build out a business. Or at the very least, start thinking about what a potential business might look like.

To do that, WhatsApp has brought on its first COO: Facebook executive Matt Idema, who was most recently leading product marketing for all of Facebook’s business products worldwide.

Idema’s role is still being ironed out — his new job was announced internally at WhatsApp just this afternoon — but monetization will be a key focus, according to a company spokesperson.

What, exactly, monetization will look like at WhatsApp is still being ironed out, too. The app used to charge a small subscription fee to users, but did away with that early last year. It’s also vowed to avoid advertisements, which drive the bulk of revenue for Instagram and parent company Facebook. A spokesperson confirmed that WhatsApp’s anti-advertising stance has not changed.

WhatsApp does have a plan, though a nascent one. The company thinks it can offer businesses a better alternative to reach customers than text messages or email. He first mentioned the idea last January when WhatsApp announced it was eliminating its subscription fee.

Here’s what WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum said at the time:

Naturally, people might wonder how we plan to keep WhatsApp running without subscription fees and if today’s announcement means we’re introducing third-party ads. The answer is no. Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from. That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight. We all get these messages elsewhere today — through text messages and phone calls — so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam.

This is where Idema’s new role comes into play. He’ll oversee these efforts and, presumably, help WhatsApp scale up business teams when the time is ready. The company currently has around 200 employees and is working privately with just one test partner today, according to a spokesperson.

It’s a plan that sounds similar to what fellow Facebook messaging app, Messenger, is already implementing. Messenger has already launched an API to help brands and retailers interact with users via the app.

WhatsApp now has 1.2 billion monthly active users, so there is certainly an audience available for whenever WhatsApp turns this idea into something more tangible. Idema will begin his new role in the coming weeks, and will report directly to Koum.


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Author: Kurt Wagner

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