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Meta Checkmates ByteDance In Africa, Chinese Company Shuts Down WhatsApp Clone App


Meta Checkmates ByteDance In Africa, Chinese Company Shuts Down WhatsApp Clone App

ByteDance, the Chinese tech company behind TikTok, shuts down its messaging app LetsChat in Africa after failing to make significant inroads against Meta’s WhatsApp. The closure, announced on March 23, 2024, comes three years after ByteDance launched the app in an effort to challenge WhatsApp’s dominance on the continent.

In a statement on its website, ByteDance informs users that LetsChat will no longer function, and all logged-in users will be logged out permanently. 

The company cites a strategic shift in priorities as the reason behind the shutdown. “This decision was made after careful consideration and evaluation of our strategic business objectives,” a ByteDance spokesperson tells Rest of World.

Despite ByteDance’s substantial investment in hiring local teams, promotional campaigns, and incentives for users, LetsChat struggled to gain traction against the popularity of WhatsApp in Africa. Nigerian tech analyst Benjamin Dada believes the app had little chance of success, stating, “Facebook and WhatsApp are some of the most used platforms in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest market.”

LetsChat, launched in March 2021, offered a data-saving messaging platform with features like text messaging, free voice and video calls, and in-app games. ByteDance hired local staff in Nigeria and enlisted popular African influencers to promote the app. In 2022, LetsChat teams visited Nigerian schools, organized events, and launched a campus ambassador program to incentivize students.

Initially, the efforts seemed promising, with LetsChat reaching over 5 million downloads on the Google Play store by June 2023, primarily from Nigeria, Mali, Angola, and Côte d’Ivoire. However, user engagement quickly declined, and monthly active users peaked in December 2021 at around 440,000, according to Sensor Tower data.

Despite a brief uptick in downloads in early 2024, LetsChat’s monthly active users continued to drop, declining by 33.4% between December 2023 and February 2024, from 125,150 to 83,412. In contrast, WhatsApp had 500 times as many monthly active users in Nigeria as LetsChat through February, benefiting from its decade-long presence in app stores.

Experts believe ByteDance’s strategy fell short in challenging the main players’ dominance. “To beat the incumbents, you need to be locking in distribution,” Dada explains, referring to partnerships between tech giants like Meta and Google with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to pre-install their apps on new devices.

While ByteDance’s retreat from the African messaging market is a setback, the company’s focus on its core products, including TikTok, remains strong globally. Meta’s WhatsApp, on the other hand, solidifies its position as the leading messaging platform in Africa, a region with immense growth potential in the digital economy.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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