More developers are building apps with Facebook in India than any other country outside the US and today, more than 75% of top-grossing apps in India are integrated with Facebook. Of the $50 million in benefits distributed to Asia Pacific startups through FbStart, more than $20 million went to startups in India. “Through programmes like FbStart and the Internet.org Platform, announced earlier this summer, we are working with developers to build better mobile experiences that demonstrate the power of the Internet,” says Ime Archibong, director of product partnerships at Facebook. His team focuses on accelerating Facebook’s product strategy by establishing partnerships, driving product integrations and unlocking business opportunities for companies across all non-gaming industries. “With millions of people still not yet connected to the Internet in India and around the world, there is a huge opportunity for mobile developers to build some of the first experiences people have with the Internet,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:
Tell us something about the FbStart programme. How can Indian developers benefit from it?
FbStart is a programme that started in 2014 and the whole idea was to identify mobile startups, entrepreneurs and developers that were highly capable and wanted to grow their applications in a way that made sense not only for the community but also for the entire globe. Facebook has a bunch of different platforms that it has made available since 2007 when we launched the first platform that helps developers do just that. Build incredible applications, incredible businesses, grow them globally and also ultimately help make money.
So FbStart programme was an umbrella way to identify those high potential entrepreneurs and developers, work with them, provide them not only the benefits that we just spoke about—which is everything from free work tools, free Facebook ad credits, free parts credit—so that they can help build their mobile applications. But also more importantly, the mentorship from the Facebook family.
And last but not least, create a community and that is I think one of the reasons why we are here in New Delhi. This is our second roadshow, the first one in Bangalore was incredible, it was a packed house. But that’s exactly what we are trying to foster, the community of like-minded entrepreneurs and developers to get to know each other. And forming that community is something I am really, really passionate about because we have seen success happen before.
How do you look at the entrepreneurial climate that is existing in the country, especially for tech startups?
I can summarise it really quickly by saying genius. The innovation, the creativity, the ideas, the passion that come from India is the reason why I keep coming back here, and then definitely the app developer community in Bangalore has inspired me.
Is development of commercial apps the next big trend in India?
We like to think about how we can help developers and entrepreneurs across three different pillars. There is this build pillar, which is where we have everything from Facebook log-in tools to rich information that you can learn about Facebook, in order to build social application for our
social business. This we have been doing for a number of years now.
The second big pillar is all about growing. So you have an amazing business, an amazing application, maybe you have some early traction, most people are falling in love with it, let us figure out how we can actually help you take that from your first 1,000 users to couple million users who want to use it.
But once you get the business of that size, it is no mystery that a lot of entrepreneurs are going to try to turn that into a commercial entity to monetise that. So we have been thinking a lot about how we can bring tools for entrepreneurs and for developers and thinking about how they want to create a commercial application, and we are looking at working with them to unlock the potential of these apps.
Can you give us instances of some developers who have been successfully working with the FbStart programme?
FbStart programme has about 5,000 developers that we are working with around the entire globe. Around 1,000 of them come from the Asia-Pacific region, so clearly a meaningful region for us. We have around $50 million worth of value in benefits across all of Asia and $21 million of those for India alone. So it’s an incredible community for us, we are working with a lot of folks here.
There’s one interesting application called Samosa, based in Hyderabad. It offers a curated collection of clips from popular movies that people can share with their friends, including punchlines, proverbs, love proposals, witty responses, funny expressions and song clips.
There’s a product called Parse, I don’t know if you are familiar with but essentially it takes away a lot of the work that a developer or entrepreneur has to focus towards to build back-end stability, other application, across multiple platforms and let them focus in on the most important things which is the user experience. They have leveraged that in a way that has been really, really meaningful for them. And then, they have also done a really good job of leveraging our organic sharing. So, you can share on Facebook, you can share on messenger via this application as a result, I think over the course of last three months this has taken them from a thousand users every single month to 450,000 users every single month. That is an Indian application, it was developed here, it was local, home-grown, focus is on the local community to, but there’s no reason why what they are building is use case that other folks won’t be excited about across the globe.
Why would developers want to build for the Internet.org platform?
I think when you take a pop back and look back at folks that are online right now, 3 billion of them are already connected, own smartphone devices that you and I have privy to and access to, but there’s still 4 plus billion that are yet to be connected, but will be coming online over the course of the next couple of years. Those folks are on their mobile devices, so that will be their first interaction with the Internet or with connectivity. Smartphones and also feature phones, so I think for developers that are excited, interested about not just building for the 3 billion right now, but they are keen to help close what we think is actually a human right which is the connectivity gap that exists across the planet right now.
India, and I can tell you the statistics about India, but it is pervasive and it is across the Southern hemisphere. They are keen on fixing that, closing that gap. We have rolled out across 18 different countries, the network application has the potential reach of over a billion people already. So building for that platform, building for the next 4 billion people, who will be coming online and so if you as an entrepreneur are aligned to that vision on connecting the next 4 billion, this is a a great platform to do so.
Is there a difference between FbStart and the Internet.org platform?
FbStart is an umbrella programme that helps people navigate all of our different platforms. So there is the core Facebook platform, there’s the messenger platform, you can even think of Instagram and WhatsApp also as a platform. Internet.org is our latest platform from the Facebook family that exists inside the FbStart programme. One of the things that FbStart programme launched this year, was a packaged tailored towards developers that we are excited about building for the
One of the biggest concerns we have heard is I have built an application, I had desktop website and now I have to build for the feature phone. And that’s not my team’s core competency can you help with that? So when we work with Greg Hill Foundation, their core competency is helping people take their mobile applications, their websites, into a feature phone experience that’s going to work well for the next 4 billion people coming online. So the FbStart programme now offers a social good Internet.org package, to any developer who is excited to build for that platform.
What’s next for FbStart?
The programme continues to expand, like I said, the big push this year was we noticed how well the programme did in the US, but we also realised the trends were of 70% of our developers were now outside of the US. So we have spent the last couple more months to go on a FbStart World Tour, engaged with the developer ecosystem and all of the relevant areas kind of around the world that we think make the most sense.