Services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, LINE, Viber and others gave SMS services providers and mobile phone operators a run for their money. Moreover, in 2015 messengers’ combined user base trumped the number of people using the social media.

Minthly active sers for top 4 messaging apps and social networks

According to On Device Research average users have between 2.3 (USA) and 3 (China) messenger apps installed on their smartphones. This figure combined with an accelerated growth of the user base is good news for entrepreneurs looking to challenge the market giants.

So, as you can see, there is definitely a place left for entrepreneurs dreaming to introduce the next big thing into the market of instant messengers. But how to develop a mobile chat app that stands a chance against the established brands?

Buckle up, we are going to share our insights on building a mobile chat app!

#1 How messengers like WhatsApp achieve its glory?

WhatsApp is the most well-known instant messenger out there. From the very beginning WhatsApp’s creators envisioned their app as a completely ad-free environment.

Moreover, they managed to make the messenger extremely popular without spending much on its promotion.

Number of monthly active WhatsApp users. Chart with statistics from 2013 to 2016

If you expect to replicate the success of WhatsApp nowadays, you need to take into account initial conditions and any differentiating factors. So let’s outline the key factors that caused the insane popularity of this messenger.

  1. Being the first of its kind.
    The majority of messengers and VoIP services like Skype were desktop-oriented. WhatsApp was the pioneer that chose the mobile-first approach.
  2. Affordable alternative to SMS services.
    Unlike Skype which is mainly aimed at eliminating the cost of international voice calls, WhatsApp targeted SMS. WhatsApp became extremely popular by charging only $0,99 a year before becoming completely free in 2016.
  3. Word of mouth.
    The creators spent next to nothing on promotion, relying instead on word of mouth.
    According to On Device Research оver 50% of the messenger users install a particular app to be closer to their friends who already use the app. A little more than one third of them download a new app because of its exclusive features.
    This was one of the reasons for WhatsApp’s success and one of the main barriers that prevent new messengers from taking off.
  4. Multi-platform availability.
    Despite starting its life as an iPhone app, the messenger quickly conquered other platforms. It was available on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Blackberry 10, Nokia Symbian s60, and Nokia s40 (and now also on PC and Mac).
    This helped WhatsApp to take the leading position in countries such as India, South Africa, and Malaysia.
  5. Putting users first.
    The messenger’s creators were adamant opponents of in-app advertisements.
    Instead of using an additional monetization avenue they opted for better user experience. Users responded with their love for the app that had no such annoying feature.
  6. Consistent app improvements.
    WhatsApp started as a very simple texting app. Ever since inception it has been adding features like the ability to make audio and video calls; send pictures, multimedia, and PDF documents.
    It may be not the most feature-rich app out there but WhatsApp is in a constant state of self-improvement.

WhatsApp’s success was a combination of unique historical conditions, luck, and hard work. In our times the world is just too different, so launching an exact clone of WhatsApp would be a recipe for failure. So let’s move on and find out the do’s and don’ts for building a modern messenger.

#2 Essentials to keep in mind when building a chat app

The first lesson you can learn from Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp, is to launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP i.e. an app with only the most essential features) first and continue development based on user feedback. Just stick to this rule and it will keep the initial costs of development down and also help you get to market quicker.

Second, you should decide on the platforms for your messenger launch. Apps can be either native, i.e. run on a specific OS or hybrid.

Our advice is to go native as such apps are faster and can make use of the hardware features that are pretty much must-haves for messengers.

You can follow WhatsApp’s footsteps and create a chat app for iPhone first. Or you can begin with Android chat app development instead. Whichever you choose you should remember that in the end your app will benefit greatly from being cross-platform as WhatsApp did.

Next look for a developer who puts  UX/UI design first. The look and feel of your app is the very first thing that influences user satisfaction. 94% of people base their first impressions on the aesthetics. 75% of users judge the apps trustworthiness based on its design. This is why you’ll only have one chance at making your app memorable and pleasant to use.

WhatsApp had a crisp design and a somewhat minimalistic interface which allowed the users to get straight to what they wanted the most: texting like crazy.

Find a few designers with an impressive portfolio and minimalistic approach. You can choose sole-entrepreneur, design agency or a software development company with a designer in state. The last option is the best one: since new requirements may appear on the development stage/after your MVP is launched, the process would be much faster (=cheaper) and more productive with a team of developers and designers working under one roof.

 #3 What features are must-haves for a modern messenger?

In addition to the obvious functionality (texting), people find it important to call through the messenger app, send photos and be confident that it is secure. I believe the statistics give you a good reason to take care of these in your MVP.

The top 3 most valuable features in chat app like WhatsApp (as for US, UK and German users)

Now let’s proceed to other must-haves.

User login

In WhatsApp all you need to do is to type your phone number and then verify it when you receive a message from the app. You don’t have to set up an account which simplifies messenger onboarding.

WhatsApp login and verification screenshots

This form of user identification is convenient but comes with several drawbacks.

First of all you are restricted to only one mobile gadget. This also means you can’t verify your account without using your phone. Lastly, it raises some privacy issues as people you communicate with will see your actual phone number. That’s why it may be worthwhile to consider a more traditional signup with a username.

All in all, try to find out which option works best for your target audience.

Robust backend

You have to think about your server architecture beforehand. Messengers are extremely high-load systems with millions of daily requests. That’s why your system should be extra reliable and have no downtime.

In the past WhatsApp used Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) as lots of messengers do today.

This protocol is used to organize instantaneous exchange of data between the users and XMPP servers. The protocol is decentralized, secure, and flexible. It can be used to transfer messages both in one-on-one context and in group chats.

The company uses XMPP server called ejabberd. It is optimized for mobile needs, has little downtime, scalable, and friendly to high-load systems. Ejabberd has a great degree of customization and modularity. The server offers high security with SSL/TSL encryption.

To store pictures and other multimedia, the messenger uses Yaws server written in Erlang programming language. The server is created for high-load systems and web applications with dynamic content. It is well-known for its capability to seamlessly handle a large number of concurrent processes.

Integration of geolocation

Lots of instant messengers allow users to share their location together with status changes. There are numerous ways to use this feature.

For instance, geolocation sharing can also be used as an additional means of monetization. A store can advertise itself by sending a message with new products, great deals, discounts, etc. to every messenger user who walks by the shop.

WhatApp Geolocation feature

Image source:

Push notifications

These handy messages can be used in a lot of ways. In most cases push notifications serve as a direct communications link between the messenger providers and its users.

What you can also add is letting users know when friends from their Favorites section come online, when messages are received and read, when a friend begins a response and many more.


In the western world the app’s security has become the top feature that influences the choice of a messenger.

62% of Americans are worried that criminals may hack their PC or mobile devices. The not-so-recent NSA scandals made lots of people all over the world suspicious of government agencies that try to collect your private information. That’s why we see a surge of messengers like Snapchat, Telegram, and Signal that put security and privacy above everything else.

WhatsApp was a bit slow to implement security features. In 2014 it made a deal with Open Whisper Systems to develop an end-to-end encryption system. Now no third party including WhatsApp itself can decipher the content of your messages.

Signal, another secure messenger, has an interesting way of authentication. For each conversation it generates a random phrase consisting of two words. The app shows the phrase to both participants so they can read it aloud and confirm their identity (which comes in handy if your device was lost or stolen). The messages can also be password-protected.

Telegram, a messenger that also takes pride in its security, offers two kinds of messages. Cloud Messages are encrypted but can be viewed from any devices you have Telegram installed on. The second kind is Secret Chats, which can be deciphered only by two devices: yours and that of your friend.

In contrast to the majority of apps, Telegram uses an in-house non-open source encryption protocol. Secure messengers have to ensure that if one of your messages was intercepted and deciphered it would be impossible to hack all of your other messages. Telegram does this by changing the cryptographic keys every week or after a certain number of messages are sent.

Wickr goes even further. It generates a new key for each conversation.

Self-destroying messages

Have you ever watched Mission: Impossible and thought: “I could use those fancy self-destroying messages”? You can do this with Snapchat and a whole lot of other messengers without the nasty explosive side-effects.

You just set the timer which starts counting down when the recipient opens a message. When the countdown reaches zero the message is deleted forever.

Mission: Impossible Tom's exploading glasses

The popularity of Snapchat (especially among the teens) shows: the messages/multimedia that destroy themselves are in great demand. Not only does this increase the feeling of privacy but according to the app creators brings about a more natural flow of conversations.

Messengers like Wickr not only destroy messages in a way that makes their recovery with special software impossible, but also prevents you from taking screenshots (which nevertheless can be bypassed using an external camera).

Cloud services synchronization

Cloud synchronization is a process of keeping files stored in different places up-to-date. When you make a change to a file on your device it is automatically applied to all other instances of the file (be it in the cloud or on another device).

For messengers this means that the chat histories and files sent by users are stored in cloud and can be accessed anytime from anywhere.

This is a great feature for people who use multiple devices on a single messenger account, for those who lost their phone or have accidentally deleted the chat app. It’s also used for storage of frequently-edited files.

WhatsApp has no true cloud sync but offers an option to backup your chats and the files sent by utilizing Google Drive or iCloud.

Telegram on the other hand offers full-fledged cloud sync (except for “secret chats” as those leave no traces on its servers). The company stores “cloud chats” on their servers in an encrypted form and the keys are stored locally on user devices.

Among the main challenges of cloud synchronization is the security and the speed of messages exchange.

Event management

Make it so that people will be able to create, manage and share events for upcoming holidays, important dates, and business-related occurrences.

Messages broadcasting

With this function you can create a group of selected contacts once and then repeatedly send messages to all of them. These texts appear to recipients as normal non-group messages.

The thing that sets broadcasting apart from the group messages is that their recipients have no way of identifying other people who received the broadcasted message.

The broadcast feature is mainly used by news agencies but it is especially valuable for marketers. After acquiring phone numbers of customers they can send promotional messages that will be treated as any other personal message.

If you have an idea for a messaging application but lack essential programming competence or qualified resources you can contact us and start working on the project in cooperation with our chat app developers.

#4 Why would people care to use your app?

As of January 2017, 2.2 million mobile apps were available on Apple’s App Store and 2.6 million apps were available on Google Play. Moreover, 23% of users will leave an app after the first use and never come back.

It should be clear that replicating WhatsApp’s success could be really hard nowadays. At the same time you can use our ideas on how to make your chat app of high demand.

Pinpoint your business niche. Having a general-purpose messenger like WhatsApp can be rad but the competition is steep. It may be more beneficial for you to launch a more specialized app.

There are plenty of success stories out there.

In 2015 Mateusz Mach, a 17-year old from Poland made Five, the first messenger made specifically for the deaf. It uses custom stickers and animations which look like sign language. The app’s success was a neat surprise that proves you can succeed with a bit of out the box thinking.

DocTalk is another specialized messengers. It connects doctors and their patients. After finding a physician you can subscribe to him/her and ask health-related questions as in any other chat app.

You can get info on your prescription or a quick consultation without long queues full of sneezing people.

Another thing you can adopt is develop an app for a local market where the competition is low.

As of 2016 the top instant messenger apps, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger boast over a billion active users each. But the geography of messaging apps popularity is far from being uniform.

A so-called “granddaddy” of instant messengers, WhatsApp, is relatively unknown in the USA while being incredibly popular in Europe and emerging markets. But it has a stiff competition in China and Japan dominated by WeChat and LINE respectively.


Implement some killer features. Sometimes only one exclusive feature can lead you to success. That’s what happened to Snapchat with its option to share images or video clips that can only be viewed for a matter of seconds. It made messaging through mobile app more natural and Snapchat occupied teens mobile phones. Now the app is really popular in Europe and USA.

Number of US teens who use social networks and messangers (Snapchat comparing to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest)

Even though WhatsApp is an extremely influential app, the development team is looking for ways to be like Snapchat.

Here are a couple more features you may add to your chat app.

  • You can provide video streaming within your app and give cable operators and streaming services a run for their money.
  • Think about vibrant customizable designs to make your app stand out. The ability to customize the chat threads helps to give those conversations the emotional coloring they may otherwise lack.
  • How about going a step further in chat app development by creating a perfect platform for chatbots? A lot of instant messengers are positioning their apps as platforms for chat bots (AI-based programs that act as a conversation partner for the messenger users). Most of them are designed for a specific function such as customer support or weather reports. Chat bots’ aim is to respond organically to users’ questions as if they were real people. Moreover, unlike Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp is a little bit slow on this front. The app hasn’t yet made itself available for chat bots. You can use this as an advantage if you can make your app friendly to the bots.

You should definitely brainstorm on what different value you offer your users.
Doing out of the ordinary stuff can make your app profitable with minimum initial investments.

#5 Decide on your monetization strategies

Messaging app development can be very costly so you have to find a way to generate revenue. You can learn a lot from the market leaders and their competitors.

WhatsApp single monetization avenue was subscription fee. The app used to cost $0,99 per year after a one-year free trial period. Subscription can bring substantial revenue if your user base is large enough. Most messengers are free nowadays and subscription fees may act as a barrier preventing lots of people from using your app.

Advertising used to be a cornerstone of earning money online. It lasted until WhatsApp became a success with its anti-advertisement philosophy. Its triumph proved that people prefer their messengers without invasive ads. So, advertising might make a few $’s but likely to annoy your users.

Paid stickers are one of the main sources of revenue for a great number of messengers.

Stickers are small pictures oozing with style. They can be used to express emotions or just for fun. Stickers are usually sold in packs for a modest price. Free stickers are there to help the users familiarize themselves with the feature. This strategy is a win/win for users and entrepreneurs, so it’s worth a try.

Branded stickers can also be used by companies to promote their products, such as upcoming movies.

In addition to stickers, messengers can sell other customization options such as wallpapers, themes, filters, etc.

Some messengers have an option for brands to create paid official accounts to better connect to their clients. Facebook plans to use two of its messengers to create a platform for organic communication between businesses and consumers.

Video games have become the main source of revenue for several messengers such as Japanese LINE. These games can be played directly from the chat threads. The revenue comes from in-app purchases such as game currency, experience or items, i.e. everything that helps you to progress the game. Pure cosmetics can also be a source of in-game revenue.

Don’t limit your app and think about other opportunities to monetize it.

It is important to understand how each of these monetization techniques work and what ROI you can expect.

Of course, I can’t give you exact ROI for each strategy because different apps need different investments and will achieve different results. But you may use data about approximate revenue for each of these strategies from this presentation. If you’d like to find out the approximate figure for chat app development cost, check out this article that goes into detail on how to determine the costs of making a mobile app.


In many ways instant messengers represent the future of communications. They allow people from across the globe to remain in contact while paying no extra fees. Real time chat apps have defeated SMS and are on their way to conquer phone calls with VoIP features. Only time will tell if messengers will leave social media behind as the main means of social interactions.

Nowadays all the main markets for messengers are divided between a handful of apps. Despite fierce competition there is definitely space for quality messengers. Now you know how to create a chat application like WhatsApp or even better. Everything is possible with some outside of the box thinking.

We at MindK take pleasure in developing challenging and innovating projects. If you’d like to create the next big thing in instant messaging or get some additional info, feel free to contact us.

Do you have other tips to make a rad chat app nowadays? Do not hesitate to make a comment so that all could learn from your insights.

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