Lessons from Patanjali's attempt to create a WhatsApp alternative

The messaging needs to change, and the focus needs to be on innovation.
Lessons from Patanjali's attempt to create a WhatsApp alternative
Lessons from Patanjali's attempt to create a WhatsApp alternative
Written by:

Patanjali, a company that’s been dominating the FMCG space, wanted to launch its own WhatsApp alternative for local Indians. The Kimbho app was supposed to be a big entrant into the Indian youth sphere.

Patajanli wanted to leverage its wide popularity and national awareness to traverse into the tech space as well. While the popularity of Patanjali couldn’t mirror that of Kimbho, there were several mistakes that should have been caught early on by their team.

“Big technology-based apps in India are being run by MNCs; Patanjali believes it is time there is a swadeshi app run and developed entirely by our own people. We were only testing it for learnings and over 1.5 lakh people downloaded it. Our app is no longer available and Patanjali cannot take responsibility of various duplicate apps doing the rounds. Our app will be come back again soon after we are absolutely sure of all technical issues, and we will beat WhatsApp. We will never sell private consumer data,” SK Tijarawala, Spokesperson for Patanjali told ET when Kimbho was first unveiled.

The app has faced a lot of criticism over its poor technology and security lapses. Basically, a lot of hacks and errors can be processed through the app. The app was also said to have been a white-washing of an existing chat app called BOLO. This was pointed out by internet researchers, privacy activists and global ethical hackers. They’ve collectively termed the app as a failure, and for now – Patanjali took it down from the play store, claiming it was just a trial.

“Our trial version of #kimbho app is no longer available for download on any platform. We don't take any responsibility for many duplicate apps showing anywhere. Beware! Please stay tuned,” Kimbho Chat App @KimbhoApp via Twitter.

One of the first mistakes that they did was to compare themselves with WhatsApp which has about a billion users per month. This was a straight shot that was entered into the online hemisphere, opening the app up to much contention. Consumers of the app found many holes in the system and the experience wasn’t as straightforward as expected. That being said, it’s been one of the most innovative steps by an FMCG firm that wants to leverage its brand equity. If handled successfully, they could have leveraged Indian roots rather than comparing themselves with global elites.

Because of the failed launch, there have been many copycats that have been trying to steal user data by defrauding customers into thinking they’re the real Kimbho app. This is in part due to the ecosystem of chat-apps development. It’s not a complex or complicated process and local developers can create copycats within days. That’s why they’re able to win when giants like Patanjali couldn’t. Their moves have backfired, as many Indian consumers will blame them for the poor user experience that the app delivers

Patanjali spokesperson SK Tijarawala has communicated via Twitter that the 1-day launch and end of the app was a demonstration to check adoption. They are conducting further testing into servers and technology changes to better reflect what their vision was initially.

While PR and communication could have been handled better, innovation always comes at a price. Whenever you’re launching something huge in the marketplace you need to have a launch strategy that’s effective and learn. While Patajnali claims that they’ve received 1.5lakhs downloads, the data is yet to be fully released. With dozens of copycats flooding the market, Patanjali needs to work with Google to remove these fake accounts before the problem gets out of hand.

If Patanjali also had invested heavier into technology and R&D, they could have created a more robust and feature-packed application. The popularity of Patanjali in Tier 2,3 cities is evident, and a mass-adoption program could have been possible with the Kimbho app. While they may not get a second shot at creating hype and awareness, they can still bounce back if they add new features. Innovation is key when creating local versions of products, and who should know that better than Patanjali themselves.

Whether it’s issues with privacy or data handling, companies need to be 100% sure of their IT infrastructure when competing at a large-scale. They’re out to beat WhatsApp, but need the fire-power, marketing spends and customer-relations to make the app successful. While they should focus on local empowerment and creating an app that’s truly local, they’re too busy focusing on defeating a truly global app like WhatsApp. The messaging needs to change, and the focus needs to be on innovation.

All views expressed are personal.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute