Anubhav Nayyar is the Senior Director- Head of Business Development of Rakuten Viber for Asia-Pacific region. He joined Viber in 2013 as the Country Manager, was promoted to Regional Manager first for South Asia and now looks after the APAC region. He is based in Singapore and his responsibilities include business development, local market initiatives, understanding consumers and essentially finding ways by which the company can offer better services to their users in the APAC region.
Dibesh Dangol of B360 interviewed Anubhav Nayyar during his visit to Nepal to learn about the purpose of his visit, Viber’s plans for Nepal, USPs for the country and privacy issues. Excerpts:
What inspired you to join Rakuten Viber?
The company’s culture and vision; these are the two things that excited me the most to join Rakuten Viber. I believe that the company has always been visionary in terms of being ambitious, providing services like people being able to communicate with each other globally and the ability to offer all kinds of services which at that time weren’t common. Viber continues to be a very innovative company. So, the big ambition and vision along with the core innovation of Viber has always excited me. The most important asset for any company is the people. I am very proud to say that I work for a company where people are very passionate and good at what they do which makes Viber a great company to work in.
What is the reason for your current visit to Nepal?
Nepal is an important market for Viber and is on our global top 20 countries list. It’s important for us to seek ways by which we can continuously grow and invest in the country. Over the course of last 12 months, we have seen that the usage of Viber has grown by 20% in Nepal. This is a big number because we were already very popular in Nepal. My intent for the current visit is to meet prospective business partners, current business partners, talk and communicate with media houses, and also to understand a bit in terms of the Nepali market like wants of users, services we can offer to Nepalis and ways we can provide better experiences. The end result is to eventually build the strategies but right now is to keep understanding more about the Nepali market.
When did the footprint of Viber start in Nepal?
Viber itself started in 2010 and over the course of the next one or two years we were pretty much a global app. So, in about 2012-13 we were available across all countries but we actually saw most of our real growth start from 2014. Over the last 4-5 years we have observed Viber’s popularity.
We’ve seen a lot of love coming in from our users in Nepal and a lot of people use us. Viber is very popular in Nepal. Therefore, it is important that we take care of people who are using our services and also provide our users the best local experiences that we can. Local experiences mean that we are fairly unique in terms of being the only global communication app that tries to provide local experiences to the people in Nepal whether it is in the form of Nepali stickers or contents. We have different partnerships like we have partnered with Hamro Patro through which our users can get their daily horoscope on Viber itself via Hamro Patro. We have also been working with a lot of local influencers. The end objective for us is to provide our Nepali users a great experience. To obtain results of those objectives we want to make certain that we localise, keep offering new and more services and ensure that our services are of the highest quality along with providing our users a safe platform where they can communicate freely.
What has the growth been like in Nepal?
Viber has been very popular in Nepal and especially this year has been excellent for us. Our growth has been one of our highest since the last 2-3 years and we have grown by approximately 20%. This is a cross parameter meaning we have not just grown in basic messaging but also have grown in group messaging and certain new features like Viber communities. The fact that we have grown so much is the reason we will continue investing more time, resources and money in Nepal.
Does Viber plan to enter into the social media platform?
Today if you look globally, the communication platform like messaging and calling are actually growing much faster than social media platforms. Social media platforms are still very popular but if you look at those numbers now, they are either increasing very slowly or declining because people don’t feel safe using them. A lot of people’s sensitive information can get leaked. So, a lot of people are a bit worried about using such social media platforms. We, Viber, think that it’s a very different space but it’s not for us. We are in a space to provide our users a safe and private environment through which they can connect with their friends, family, loved ones, and also interact with different businesses and services. Viber is offering its users with new services like news, following their favourite reality shows, influencers, etc through Viber itself, but is not a social network. The difference between social networks and us is that in social network a lot of people is there whereas Viber is a private and user community oriented communication platform.
What are Viber’s plans for Nepal?
There are four things which we are and want to keep doing. First is localisation. We will also look at also offering a Nepali version of Viber which means Viber will be in Nepali language. I do understand that there are a lot of people who can speak but may not be able to write in English. So, we want to offer Nepali keyboard as well. This is definitely something we will be doing in the near future. We will continue to invest in local contents and stickers which we have been doing so far. In addition to that, we are going to ensure that our users get a very safe and private environment to converse. We are end-to-end encrypted unlike other players out there. End-to end encrypted means that our users’ communication or conversations with their friends, spouse and family stays private and other people cannot see it.
This has become very important for people nowadays. The third aspect is that we are going to be opening many multiple services within Viber itself. So, Viber is not only going to be about just for communication. Two years back, Viber was largely about friends and families communicating with each other. Now, we have started getting into communicating users with their favourite services like booking restaurant table or movie tickets, ordering a taxi, reading news, etc through Viber. So, we will be opening multiple services like the current one i.e. reading horoscope offered by Hamro Patro on Viber. These are the things that we will be continuously doing. Nepal is in our top 20 countries and we will continue to put more and more efforts, people and resources behind these to ensure that we continue to grow in Nepal.
Are there any specific features that Viber is planning for the region? Are business strategies of Rakuten Viber different by region?
We have been offering a localised user interface only for Nepal which we will continuously be working on and improving. We recently introduced Viber communities. We will be continuously investing in it because that’s something from where we have seen continuous growth. The point is not just to have partnerships but we will also use AI to offer more and more good and relevant services to our current users. I can’t really reveal all the features that we have lined up but all I can say is that we definitely have a lot of new things and services lined up for Nepal.
The business strategies are different according to regions and countries. Firstly, the strategies depend upon the level and numbers of internet and smartphone penetration of a country or region. For example: in a country where we see these numbers to be very low, it’s important to educate users that you can use Viber for messaging and calling. In some countries where the penetration is very high they already know all of these. So, the higher focus in those countries is given to ensure that Viber offers new types of experience. Sometimes it is also a challenge. Like in a country like Nepal, while we continue offering many things there are also a lot of people who are using a smartphone for the first time and if they open Viber for the first time and there are a lot of things that come their way, people get confused. So, it is a challenge in a market like Nepal to find that right balance to offer something which is easy and simple and at the same time has multiple features.
Nepalis have been using other instant messaging services and social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Line and WeChat, apart from Viber. In this small and crowded market space, how is Viber differentiating itself?
Two things. Firstly, we think Viber has put in more effort for Nepalis and we care more for the people of Nepal than some of the other mentioned platforms. We do believe in the future of Nepal and that’s why we are putting our efforts around localisation and launching local partnerships with businesses that are Nepali and not of foreign countries. We do try to ensure that we have a lot of local efforts. Secondly, the majority of mentioned apps belong to the Facebook family. We know that we provide a platform where users don’t have to worry about their information being misused. All these services have faced closing issues and that’s why we have seen in a number of countries and also in Nepal that many people have reduced using these services. For us money is not an issue. Example: In Viber if two people are talking, no one can see their conversation whereas in Facebook Messenger other people can see it. A number of times, businesses have asked us about what people are talking about so that they can throw advertisements to our users. Suppose, if two people are talking about pizza, then pizza advertisements will come their way. To such advertisements, we said no. Though we do lose money by taking such decisions because advertisers would pay us, we put users’ privacy higher than money. We are also a business, we do make revenue but we don’t do such things that can comprise our users’ privacy. Leaking users’ information, behaviour and data is something which other social media channels mentioned above do.
I don’t think a lot of people have realised and given importance regarding such online privacy stuffs right now, but what I can tell you is that in a couple of years when people will get more aware, realise that privacy is their birthright and something which they need to protect, privacy will become one of the most important issues.
Does Rakuten Viber have its own data privacy standards and regulations and how do you protect user data and privacy?
There are certain global practices that Viber tends to follow which all other companies also do. At the end of it, we are a service provider and one of the advantages we have is that we are not a social media platform. So, we haven’t faced so many challenges in that respect because Viber is not a broadcasting mechanism.
We protect our users’ data and privacy by being end-to-end encrypted. It means that the moment a user clicks the send button, that message can only be read on that particular user’s device. So the moment the message leaves his/her phone, it becomes encrypted and the key to decoding that is there in his/her device only. People aren’t aware that Viber is end-to-end encrypted by default. It means that when a user downloads the app and starts using it, it’s already end-to-end encrypted. I am not going to name but there are certain players who claim they are end-to-end encrypted, but they aren’t end-to-end encrypted by default. It’s the same question I again want to ask the users how many times they themselves have gone into such apps, click more, settings, privacy and turn on encryption? The answer is many times. No one likes to do that and face such puzzlement which is why Viber was made end-to-end encrypted by default.
What are your predictions for your industry and technology markets for 2020-2025?
From a global perspective, AI is definitely the future though it’s already happening. It’s also important that it has to be used in a way that it adds certain benefits. I do think that a lot of automation will happen for services such as banking, booking, etc. Such practices have already started in the developed markets and will definitely happen soon in Nepal as well.