[Coinbase] Lessons from WhatsApp on international expansion
As part of our mission to increase economic freedom in the world, we’ve been thinking more about how we expand our products internationally. To get 1 billion people using crypto through our products, we will need to have much broader reach in more countries.
I recently caught up with the WhatsApp founders because I wanted to get their perspective on how WhatsApp became so pervasive globally. Almost anywhere you go in the world, even in remote places, you will see billboards and kiosks with businesses listing their WhatsApp number as the main way to contact their business, in addition to individuals using the product regularly. How did they do this? And more importantly, how can Coinbase do for payments what they did for messaging? This is what it will take to build a truly global economy.
Here are the main lessons they shared with me:
1. Develop good global accessibility and empathy
Reduce barriers to entry (such as in onboarding). Instill strong localization that feels natural in native languages. Make the product work seamlessly in adverse environments (low/intermittent network connectivity, old devices, etc). Understand that not everyone is affluent or an expert. Understand that people may use your product differently due to cultural norms (Brazil used a lot of voice messaging, Arabic nations used a lot of broadcast messaging). Learning from your users is key. They will guide you to what to build.
2. Partner with key players
There is an interesting anecdote of WhatsApp history where they signed a global marketing relationship with Nokia. The writing was on the wall for Nokia’s demise but at the same time, they had the marketing heft to put the WhatsApp logo all over the world. It was a big win for WhatsApp. In addition, they signed key deals with phone OEM manufacturers to get WhatsApp pre-installed on a number of devices.
3. Don’t overly fixate on one market
WhatsApp never focused on the US or India or Mexico or Brazil exclusively. They focused on building a global product and global process. Their strategy was more “breadth first” rather than “depth first”.
At Coinbase we will be thinking about these lessons to see how we can further accelerate our ambitious international expansion goals. How could our app perform better in low connectivity environments? What equivalent partnership deals should we be pursuing? How can we reduce friction in onboarding or to make payment? Etc.
There is a piece of the puzzle here for us that is different from WhatsApp: we need the blockchains to scale several orders of magnitude to reach this many users globally. Coinbase to Coinbase transactions are fast (because they’re off chain) today, but on chain transactions are still much too slow. We are spinning up a new Protocol Team of engineers at Coinbase to work on the underlying blockchains, including layer 2 solutions, to see what we can do to help accelerate this.
It will take a number of parts of the company and industry coming together to build a new more fair, free, and efficient financial system for the world. But when we’re successful it will have far reaching implications.