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Facebook's prized acquisition WhatsApp lost $140 million last year

Facebook's prized acquisition WhatsApp lost $140 million last year

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Facebook's third quarter 2014 earnings are out, and with them, we're getting our first look ever at the financials of messaging giant WhatsApp. Facebook spent $22 billion in cash and stock acquiring the company, but it turns out that WhatsApp has yet to generate much revenue at all. In 2014, WhatsApp lost $140 million, and generated just $10 million in revenue. Facebook, meanwhile has nearly three times as many users as WhatsApp, but generated $3.2 billion in revenue this quarter.

It's not a fair comparison, of course. Facebook is an older company with a gigantic sales team that has monetized in a very predictable way: ads. With 1.3 billion users, it's not so hard to make billions of dollars. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has yet to flesh out its business beyond a $1/year subscription plan, but said that it has no intention of adding ads. Still, Facebook's acquisition of the company was never about acquiring a profitable company — it was about acquiring users. Users across the globe, especially users WhatsApp has but Facebook doesn't, are incredibly valuable. This last quarter, the average revenue per Facebook user in the US was over $7.

To be more precise, Facebook accounted for its WhatsApp purchase as follows: $2 billion for its userbase, $448 million for its brand, $288 million for its technology, and $15.3 billion in "goodwill." Still, it stands to reason that WhatsApp should be generating much more than $10 million in revenue from (at least some of) its 500 million users paying its $1/year subscription fee, right? It's not totally clear how that's working out, but it might have something to do with many users being grandfathered in to free subscriptions:

A final note: of the $148 million WhatsApp lost in 2013, a large part of that money went to paying out stock to employees. This is standard for growing companies hiring new talent, and shouldn't convey that WhatsApp was burning money irresponsibly. $148 million is a lot to lose for a small company, but the company seems to have been doing it wisely. Fewer than $10 million was burned in 2013 in actual operating expenses.