With so much cash thrown around in Silicon Valley, it’s not easy for an acquisition to cause a stir. Facebook's (META) (now Meta) acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014 did just that—surpassing Google's $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs and Apple’s $3 billion Beats Electronics procurement—to become one of the largest tech buys of all time.
WhatsApp, a text messaging app used widely across the globe, stole headlines with its initial $16 billion bid from Facebook. In 2013, the app lost $138 million and brought in $10.2 million in revenue. So how did the company win over Facebook?
- Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014.
- Facebook's bid price was astronomical, even for Silicon Valley, with a bid at $16 billion.
- WhatsApp does not use wireless networks.
- WhatsApp has over 2 billion users worldwide.
- WhatsApp helped Facebook grow in developing markets where internet connectivity is lacking and where WhatsApp is widely used to communicate.
WhatsApp is an ad-free mobile application that allows users to send unlimited messages to contacts without using the wireless network or sustaining data fees. The app is free to download and is an alternative to the cell provider's traditional text messaging platform. The app was founded by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, two former Yahoo! executives.
When Facebook announced its plans to acquire WhatsApp in February 2014, WhatsApp's founders attached a purchase price of $16 billion: $4 billion in cash and $12 billion remaining in Facebook shares. This price tag is dwarfed by the actual price Facebook paid: $21.8 billion.
Facebook agreed to pay $19.6 billion—adding $3.6 billion to the original price as compensation to WhatsApp employees for staying on board at Facebook. However, Facebook share prices soared to $77.56 from $68 when the regulatory approval process concluded in October. By then, the agreed-upon 184 million Facebook shares inflated the final sale price by an additional $1.7 billion.
WhatsApp's six-month revenue for the first half of 2014 totaled $15.9 million, and the company incurred a staggering net loss of $232.5 million. However, the majority of that loss was for share-based compensation.
WhatsApp is Zuckerberg's most significant acquisition and one of the most enormous Silicon Valley has ever seen. It is over 20 times larger than its Instagram acquisition, making quite the splash in 2012. That begs the $22 billion question: why did the social media giant break the bank to buy WhatsApp?
The answer is user growth. In 2014, over 450 million people used WhatsApp monthly, and the service added more than 1 million users per day. With 70% of WhatsApp users being active daily, the app was expected to quickly reach one billion users.
The app launched in 2009 and, as of 2020, had more than 2 billion users. As of 2020, Facebook had 2.8 billion monthly active users. With a shared mission of enhancing global connectivity via internet services, the merging of forces will likely accelerate growth for both companies.
For Zuckerberg's company, user growth comes first and monetization later.
Zuckerberg plans to merge the messaging platforms of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, so that users can communicate easily across all three.
WhatsApp and Mobile Users
WhatsApp helped fuel Facebook's growth in developing markets where internet connectivity is sparse, and WhatsApp is widely used. Facebook then gained access to these mobile user bases. Connecting to WhatsApp users in these areas will also aid the Facebook Connectivity initiative; Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's plan to implement internet access to parts of the world not yet online.
However, the company does believe it will profit from WhatsApp down the line as phone calls become obsolete and mobile messages reign. This is why Zuckerberg spent one-tenth of his company's (then) market value to buy the text messaging app, nearly doubling Google's (GOOG) bid. In doing so, he successfully kept the company out of the hands of other tech rivals.
The Bottom Line
WhatsApp plays a significant role in global areas crucial to Meta's future growth. By putting monetization efforts on hold, Meta is focusing on the future of international, cross-platform communications. Through the acquisition of WhatsApp, the company is poised to reach billions of people, and Meta is sure to find a way to eventually cash in.