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WhatsApp popularity soars in India providing a free marketing tool to companies

WHATSAPP is the most popular Android app in India, according to American venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends report.

The messaging app, which has an estimated 200 million users in India, is followed by Facebook Messenger and Facebook itself.

The popularity of WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has helped firms such as digital health start-up 1mg go viral without having to spend any money promoting it. Since its launch in 2015, more than nine million people have downloaded the health app, which helps users research prescription drugs and find the lowest prices.

“One of our users created a long WhatsApp message on what a public service it was, and people just started sharing it,” founder Prashant Tandon told CNBC, “We didn’t do any marketing to get where we are.”

Developers for 1mg then put a database on the app, later adding a transaction component so consumers could use it to buy prescription drugs, order diagnostic tests and consult with a physician online. The idea proved to be appealing to those in rural areas with little access to doctors.

In 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent US$19 billion for the popular messaging service that has generated almost no revenue.

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The messaging app recently added new features such as allowing users to send any kind of file such as a PDF, Word document, spreadsheet or an APK file to WhatsApp’s 1.2 billion users worldwide.

While WhatsApp is still early in proving an adequate business model, evolving the app beyond simple messages is an important task for Facebook to keep growing the number of users.