Bianca Ho and Ken Yeung believe that WhatsApp represents the future for businesses as they engage with their customers – and the rapid growth of WATI, the company they co-founded, suggests they may well be right. Today, the company announces the successful completion of its first funding round just 12 months after opening its door.
WATI – standing for WhatsApp Team Inbox – aims to make it straightforward for businesses to use WhatsApp to talk to customers. The platform offers a range of tools that businesses can simply plug in and play, rather than having to design technical solutions for themselves.
Increasingly, large businesses around the world are focusing on WhatsApp as a much more immediate channel for communicating with their customers – dealing with enquiries, for example, sending out notifications, and building sales and marketing activity. While email largely superseded postal communications, businesses know that today, large numbers of emails never get opened; by contrast, 80% of messages sent view WhatsApp are seen within five minutes.
The problem for small and medium-sized businesses is that they lack the technical skills to use WhatsApp at scale. As a result, as soon as their activity on the channel goes beyond a level that human teams can deal with personally, they struggle to stay on top of communications.
“Our role is to be a one-stop customer engagement solution for businesses on WhatsApp,” Ho explains. “We believe we have made it easy for non-technical users to take advantage of WhatsApp.”
Available through a monthly subscription, WATI enables users to set up automated tools and chatbots to manage messages coming into the business’s WhatsApp inbox, and to generate outgoing messages in any volume. Importantly, the tools don’t require specialist technical knowledge or any coding competency – Ho believes it takes the typical business around 15 minutes to get up and running.
“This is all about offering your customers a smoother experience,” says Ho. “It also represents a means with which to build the sort of trust you used to get with customers through face-to-face interactions; with email, customers often feel as if their messages are disappearing into a black hole, but WhatsApp is much more immediate.”
One important target market for WATI is the huge numbers of small and medium-sized businesses that have staked their future on ecommerce. These firms need to find a way of communicating with customers en masse in a way that also feels personalised.
Another customer segment, Yeung explains, is high-growth technology companies that have built apps and now need their audiences to use them and their features. “We are replacing email notifications,” Yeung says. “For example, edtech providers are using us to remind their users that a particular lesson or lecture is taking place.”
On a similar vein, WATI has proved popular for businesses looking for solutions as they acquire merchants, where the on-boarding process often requires them to nag merchants for particular information or documentation.
With a broad number of use cases, WATI has picked up users at a growth rate of around 15% since its launch. From a standing start, it now has 1,600 subscribers in 54 countries worldwide.
That success has attracted the attentions of investors. WATI is today announcing the completion of Pre Series A funding round from Surge, Sequoia Capital India’s rapid scale-up program for starters (though the company is not disclosing how much money it has raised).
The additional capital will fund further improvements and refinements in WATI’s technology, as well as supporting additional expansion – the company wants to move beyond its English-language base, for example. “Until now, many people have assume that only large businesses are in a position to use WhatsApp to communicate with their customers,” says Ho. “That turns out not to be true.”
Businesses need to think about how people are living their lives, she argues. More and more people are using messaging apps such as Messenger, eChat and WhatsApp, to host real-time conversations with friends and family. Brands now need to replicate this experience for their customers, Ho says, or risk alienating customers no longer prepared to hang around for businesses slow to respond or unprepared to engage.