At the beginning Facebook had a tiny presence in India. The company had just started slowly expanding its team in the country and was entering into contracts with telecom operators to give users free access to its service and even offer incentives such as free voice credits.
India’s Internet population, now the second largest with more than 500 million connected users, was very small in itself. In early 2011, the country had fewer than 100 million internet users.
But Facebook played a crucial role over the past decade. So much so that the social juggernaut ended up reaching almost every internet user in the country. Whatsapp India alone reaches more than 400 million internet users, more than any other app in the country, according to App Annie, a mobile intelligence company.
This reach of Facebook in India did not go unnoticed. The country̵
Rumors that have cost lives have spread on WhatsApp and politicians from India’s two major political parties have in recent weeks accused the company of favoritizing the other side.
To address these issues and the role Facebook wants to play in India, Ajit Mohan, The head of corporate business in the country came to us for Disrupt 2020. Below are some of the highlights.
A recent report in WSJ alleged that Ankhi Das, one of Facebook’s top executives in India, had decided against stealing a post from the ruling party politician. It did so, the report claimed, because it feared it could hurt the company’s business prospects in India.
In Mohan’s first interview since the controversy broke out, he denied claims that any executive in the country had the power to influence how Facebook enforces its content policies.
“We believe it is important for us to be open and neutral and impartial,” he said. “We strongly believe and believe that our empowering role is a neutral party, allowing speech of all kinds, allowing speech of all kinds, including political speech, and many of the guidelines we have developed are designed to ensure that we Really allow our diversity of opinion as long as we can ensure that people’s safety is protected. “
According to Mohan, the internal processes and systems in Facebook are intended to ensure that every opinion and preference of an employee or group of employees is “completely independent of the company and the objective enforcement of its own guidelines by the company”.
He said individuals can contribute to decisions, but no one – including Ankhi Das – can unilaterally influence the decision Facebook makes to enforce content.
“We also allow freedom of expression within the company. We don’t have any restrictions on people making their point, but we see this as separate from enforcing our content policy. […] Content policy itself is a different team in the context of India than the Ankhi-led public policy team, ”he added.
About India and monetization
Although Facebook has hundreds of millions of users in India, the world’s second largest market contributes little to bottom line. Why is Facebook so interested in the country?
“India is in the middle of a very exciting economic and social change in which the digital is playing a major role. More than 500 million users have gone online in the past four years. The pace of this transformation is unlikely to be comparable either in human history or in digital transformation in countries around the world, ”he said.
“When you look at the family of apps on WhatsApp and Instagram for a company like ours, we believe we can play a useful role in driving that transformation,” he said.
Even if Facebook doesn’t generate a lot of revenue with India, the company has established itself as one of the most trusted platforms for marketers, according to Mohan. “They see us as an essential partner on their marketing agenda,” he said.
He said the company is confident that advertising as GDP will increase in India. “Therefore, ad revenue will grow significantly over time,” he said.
India is also vital for Facebook as it allows the company to create some unique products that solve problems for India but could be replicated in other markets. The company is currently testing an integration of WhatsApp, which currently has no business model despite more than 2 billion users, with the new Indian e-commerce JioMart, so that users can easily track their orders.
“We believe there is an opportunity to build India-first models, to experiment at scale, and in a world where we are successful we see great opportunities in using some of these models globally,” he said.
Facebook as VC
Facebook doesn’t usually invest in startups. In India, however, the company invested in social commerce firm Meesho, the online learning platform Unacademy – it even participated in its follow-up round – and sent a check for $ 5.7 billion earlier this year Jio Platforms issued. Why is Facebook taking this investment route in India?
“We wanted to create a program for minority start-ups to find out how we can help start-ups and the whole ecosystem. The starting point was to support teams building models that were in some ways unique to India and could go global. Since we made an investment in Meesho, You made a strong push in Indonesia. These are companies that we believe we can add value to and learn from these startups, ”he said.
The partnership with Jio Platforms follows a different basic principle. “The transformation that we have been talking about in India over the past few years sparked Jio,” he said. Aside from that, Facebook is exploring ways to work with Jio, such as partnering with Jio’s company JioMart. “It can really fuel the small and medium-sized businesses that are good for the Indian economy,” he said.
Mohan said the company continues to look for opportunities for Indian startups, especially those where the teams believe Facebook can add value, but he said there isn’t a mandate for Facebook to invest in, dozens of say Startups in three to four years. “It’s not a volume game,” he said.
During the Q&A portion of the interview, Mohan was asked if Reliance Industries, which operates Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will have special access to Facebook’s services. What if Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers or Flipkart also want to be integrated into WhatsApp? According to Mohan, the Facebook platform is open to any company and everyone receives the same level of access and opportunities.
Interviewed by Mohan, who ran the Disney-run hot star The on-demand streaming service in India also spoke about the increasing use of video in India, the state of the adoption of WhatsApp Pay in the country, Facebook’s opinion on India’s ban on Chinese apps, and more. You can see the full interview below.