New Delhi: Bharti Airtel on Thursday partnered with US-based Meta Platforms to announce a hackathon that will incentivize companies to use WhatsApp for Business — to migrate their businesses online. Called the 'Airtel IQ Hackathon', the competition will offer prizes worth ₹1 crore, along with access to 'free' WhatsApp Business conversations, and implementation of the WhatsApp Business application programming interface (API) to create chat-based business deployments.
The hackathon comes under Airtel’s conversation services platform, Airtel IQ, which has been operational for the past 18 months now. Adarsh Nair, chief executive of Airtel Digital, the telco’s services arm, said that the platform already has about 140 clients, which include the likes of food delivery services platform Swiggy, India Post’s Payments Bank services, and Airtel’s own Xstream over-the-top content streaming services.
Through IQ, these firms are already using WhatsApp for chat-based customer services, Nair said. These services include product recommendations, as well as customer support. While IQ presently sees 250 billion call minutes and 60 billion messages per year through its WhatsApp-based customer services, Nair added that its partnership with Meta Platforms could help it reach out to more small and medium businesses.
Select winning startups of the IQ hackathon will be selected for Airtel's startup accelerator program as well, which will offer "business mentorship", access to Airtel's "data, distribution, network and payments" infrastructure, and funding of between $500,000 and $2 million.
The hackathon comes as part of Meta's efforts to expand adoption of WhatsApp for Business, which is aimed at monetizing one of the most used mobile applications in the world. At the moment, companies using WhatsApp's business services need to pay a per-message usage rate. In May this year, Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg said that WhatsApp for Business is used by over 1 billion users around the world, every week.
India, incidentally, is one of WhatsApp's most important markets. As of January this year, data from market statistics firm Statista claims that WhatsApp has 487 million monthly active users in the country.
To be sure, WhatsApp has been looking to cash in on this user base in the recent months. On August 29, JioMart, a hyperlocal grocery delivery platform owned by Reliance Industries' Jio Platforms, rolled out its public grocery delivery services on WhatsApp. Adding to this, Meta also announced a partnership with US-based software services firm Salesforce earlier this week, on September 20. The pilot initiative will see Salesforce's clients, which starts with global cosmetics brand L'Oreal, use WhatsApp's chat interface to handle its customer relationship management (CRM) requirements.
It is this that the Airtel IQ Hackathon will also ask participating startups to build. According to a statement by the telco, startups from ed-tech, banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), travel and hospitality, e-commerce and contact centre operations sectors will be asked to build and deploy customer engagement features by using the WhatsApp Business API. Final applications for the hackathon will be closed on October 9.
On May 19, Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg said at the company's Meta Conversations event that the company will start offering free cloud hosting services for enterprises, in a bid to urge companies to use WhatsApp for Business in their operations. While companies typically use a third party cloud platform to set-up their business online, and apply the WhatsApp Business API on the cloud platform subsequently, Zuckerberg's May rollout meant that companies could avail cloud hosting services from Meta itself.
During the announcement, Zuckerberg said that using Meta's cloud platform can help businesses reduce the time taken to migrate their operations online from days, to "just a few minutes".