It would appear that OpenAI’s Chat GPT allying with Bing will not be the only threat to Google’s search business model in the future. With its release of WhatsApp Business app (WAB), Meta is effectively building a sort of rival search engine to Google to keep us all inside the app. While this may not trouble U.S. businesses too much — where iMessage retains the lion’s share of messaging habits — in Europe and large swathes of the “rest of the world” WhatsApp has supplanted many other kinds of messaging because of its efficient use of data over even the thinnest of mobile networks.
For instance, the U.K. has the third most WhatsApp users in Europe with 40.41 million, and it’s the most used chat app in the U.K. Around 75% of 16- to 64-year-olds use it.
In November last year, Mark Zuckerberg launched the WhatsApp Business Directory feature. This laid out its future, with In-App Purchases and WhatsApp Business Pages. These are, to all intents and purposes, mini websites, after a fashion. That spells a problem for Google.
So what are the implications? Put simply, if businesses increasingly find they need to also have a “shop window” inside WhatsApp — and assuming they are not so sophisticated as to know how to use the API, they will need a new phone number. And it’s fair to say most people prefer messaging to calling when interacting with businesses.
This would then be used to create a unique ID for the WhatsApp Business app. At this point, many small businesses often face a dilemma: They realize they require a second number (most of the time on another handset). This means they have to choose a second number via a website, a second number via an app, getting a second number via a mobile telco or a dual SIM / eSIM, which can be expensive and a hassle.
This is when all they really need is that Unique ID enabling them to use WAB on their own phone. Realising all small business wanted was to address this pain point, this is what U.K. startup YourBusinessNumber set out to do in 2021.
It’s developed it own unique — it claims — internal tools to make sure that UID is verified by WhatsApp Business and that the connection is made between a small business owner’s personal number and its new WAB number (the cost is a low £4.99 per month). In this way, the small business person can still run their business from their own phone, without having to give out their personal number.
YourBusinessNumber strips out data, minutes, texts and use of apps or VOIP, offering just the UID. It does this by accessing the cheapest mobile/cell numbers available in each market with the thinnest of telco offerings. It also breaks the connection to WhatsApp if the business lapses in payment or breaks WhatsApp’s terms and conditions, thereby slowing down spammers and non-payers. It’s now launched a Google Play Store App to facilitate the service.
While networks might charge £25-100 per month for traditional commercial contracts, YourBusinessNumber’s far lower fees would appear to give it a competitive advantage.
The platform allows businesses to receive OTP / SMS and Calls as well offering a Team solution so that employees can also attend to WAB messages without needing to reveal their phone number. Growing areas for YBN include Estate Agents, Recruitment and Hospitality industries.
Co-founder George Lineker said in a statement: “We are the fastest, easiest, priced solution in the market – growing at 30% MoM. We are live in the UK and USA and have big global plans to solve this problem for others.”
Founders Lineker and Sebastian Lewis have so far raised seed funding for the startup, which is now selling into 50+ countries including, the U.S., and is planning to move into Brazil, India, the Philippines and Germany. The startup launched in June 2021, recently raising £450,000, taking its total raise to almost £1 million. Seed investors include Edward Woodward (Ex Man UTD) and England football legend Gary Lineker (father of George).
Over a call, Lewis told me: “We spent a lot of time and money developing an internal system that checks whether the customer is verified. That’s our unique IP, and we are banking on the fact that we’re going to get the most people verified on WhatsApp business, versus somebody just going out in the street buying a phone number and trying to do it on their own.”
Given that YourBusinessNumber has little to stop its growth, it’s yet another indication that WhatsApp is poised to create a plethora of other services (when will a ChatGPT-like service turn up I wonder?) that is leaving Google with yet another potentially large headache.