Instant messaging app Telegram is "approaching" 500 million users and plans to generate revenue starting next year to keep the business afloat, its founder Pavel Durov said on Wednesday.
Durov said he has personally bankrolled the seven-year-old business so far, but as the startup scales he is looking for ways to monetize the instant messaging service. "A project of our size needs at least a few hundred million dollars per year to keep going," he said.
The service, which topped 400 million active users in April this year, will introduce its own ad platform for public one-to-many channels -- “one that is user-friendly, respects privacy and allows us to cover the costs of server and traffic,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.
"If we monetize large public one-to-many channels via the Ad Platform, the owners of these channels will receive free traffic in proportion to their size," he wrote. Another way Telegram could monetize its service is through premium stickers with "additional expressive features," he wrote. "The artists who make stickers of this new type will also get a part of the profit. We want millions of Telegram-based creators and small businesses to thrive, enriching the experience of all our users."
Some analysts were hoping that Telegram would be able to monetize the platform through its blockchain token project. But after several delays and regulatory troubles, Telegram said in May that it had decided to abandon the project.
For this project, Dubai-based Telegram had raised $1.7 billion from investors in 2018. It had planned to distribute its token, called grams, after developing the blockchain software. Telegram offered to return $1.2 billion to investors earlier this year.
"Telegram has a social networking dimension. Our massive public one-to-many channels can have millions of subscribers each and are more like Twitter feeds. In many markets the owners of such channels display ads to earn money, sometimes using third-party ad platforms. The ads they post look like regular messages, and are often intrusive. We will fix this by introducing our own Ad Platform for public one-to-many channels," Durov wrote today.
All existing features will remain free, said Durov, who is one of the biggest critics of Facebook -owned WhatsApp, adding that Telegram is committed to not introduce ads in private one-to-one chats or group chats because they are a “bad idea.”
“We are not going to sell the company like the founders of WhatsApp. The world needs Telegram to stay independent as a place where users are respected and high-quality service is ensured,” he wrote. “Telegram will begin to generate revenue, starting next year. We will do it in accordance with our values and the pledges we have made over the last 7 years. Thanks to our current scale, we will be able to do it in a non-intrusive way. Most users will hardly notice any change.”
On Wednesday, Telegram also introduced a new group Voice Chats feature. The new feature, which is similar to Discord's always-on room, supports a few thousand participants.
Telegram groups get a new dimension with Voice Chats – persistent conference calls that run in parallel to existing text chats. Voice Chats add a live layer of ephemeral talk to the group and can be used as informal lounges or virtual office spaces.https://t.co/08dyFMWok6 pic.twitter.com/13XcszUzob
— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) December 23, 2020