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A Landscape Study of Bharat Startups: The Increasing Use of WhatsApp

We at CIIE.CO looked at 25 Bharat startups as part of our Bharat Inclusion Initiative program. We found specific ways in which startups were building adoption to their respective platforms. One of these is the increasing use of WhatsApp to connect and engage with customers/users. While large businesses in India have already tapped WhatsApp to engage with customers, Bharat startups are also quick to realise the platform’s ability to connect to customers. With Jio entering the market in 2016, internet prices were slashed; thus, driving adoption in urban and rural India. This has subsequently also urged the adoption of other digital messenger apps.

WhatsApp ranked number one in a global ranking of messenger apps and has quickly become a popular business platform. In July 2019, the app had 400 million users in India alone, which was an increase from 200 million in 2017. As of June 2020, WhatsApp had 1.5 billion users in 180 countries. Now, India has emerged as the biggest market globally with hardly any competitors in the picture. WhatsApp has been promoting its platform for business in India, given its market penetration in India is rather low at 28%. In July 2019, it partnered with NITI Ayog to promote women’s entrepreneurship and has also launched WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Business API (a paid service) for small and medium businesses.

Why is WhatsApp so popular?

The app is easy to use and widely popular because of the ease of sharing video and graphic content. It works on a 2G connection and also supports KaiOS – a mobile operating system for feature phones. It also remains partly functional during low internet connection and can thus be used in areas with poor internet connections. Research shows that 92% of people trust family and friends’ recommendations for an app and WhatsApp’s business potential is high because of its ability to organize large groups of people online. It is no wonder then that Bharat startups look up to the platform as more than just for ‘staying-in-touch.’

Use cases of Bharat startups using WhatsApp

In our analysis of Bharat startups, we found many of them have successfully leveraged WhatsApp for their respective businesses. Doubtnut and LendingKart are using Chatbots, which is a paid feature by WhatsApp Business. As part of WhatsApp’s drive to encourage ‘Conversational Commerce,’ Chatbots can be customized to give almost human-like responses to handle customer care. Further, Doubtnut – a platform that enables young students to solve their doubts in mathematics and science subjects, uses WhatsApp Chatbots to interact with their users. LendingKart, on the other hand, provides small business owners access to capital and loans and uses Chatbots to receive and verify client documents.

Khatabook, a startup that offers digital ledgering services, sends reminders/notifications to their customers through WhatsApp. Dealshare, a social commerce platform shares the latest offers to its users via WhatsApp groups. Lokal – a news app for regional customers – allows users to set their WhatsApp status from within the app, which helps them generate more leads. Meesho – another social commerce platform, allows users to resell products on their app by sharing information via WhatsApp. In fact, its sellers can build their entire business on it. According to the founders, their resellers do not have to incur huge expenses to get customers they can use WhatsApp for communication and engagement.

These are just a few examples of startups that are driving business growth through WhatsApp. The varied use-cases and the sheer number of startups leveraging this platform shows just how a digital messaging app can drive businesses within the Bharat segment.


This concludes the end of our series on the Landscape Study of Bharat startups. In our analysis of successful Bharat startups, we tried to understand the common factors for their growth. Thus, we found that enabling digital trust, building in vernacular languages, and using digital messaging apps along with a focus on word-of-mouth marketing were driving factors for the growth and success of Bharat startups. For startups servicing the Bharat segment, it is also crucial to address the needs of the extremely economically sensitive customer and offer a combination of products/services that stand out. Further, they must be easily accessible and improve the lives of the Bharat segment.

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