A managing director of Progress Partners, Tim Harned is a prominent figure in the business world. For over 30 years, he has served as a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and capital consulting professional, advising companies ranging from Fortune 500 giants to startups.
Speculation over America’s first native “super app” has skyrocketed ever since Elon Musk’s “be careful what you wish for” acquisition of Twitter.
As Musk put it in a tweet back in October, “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to inventing X, the everything app.” Cathie Wood, CEO and founder of Ark Invest, claims Musk is “thinking about a super app like WeChat Pay.” Remember that Musk started X.Com and then combined it with Confinity to create PayPal.
WeChat, which began as a simple messaging platform in China in 2011, now incorporates more than 3.5 million “mini programmes” developed by its partners, including Meta, Apple Pay, Venmo, Amazon, Uber, Robinhood, Rocket Mortgage, Kayak, and Healthcare.gov. Since at least September 2021, PayPal and Walmart have been promising their own versions of financial super apps, but with far less publicity.
It’s possible that Twitter, PayPal, and Walmart will all be in a race to monetize users’ personal financial data and transactions. That begs a few questions, including: What has changed to make this a good time for super applications in the West? When developing a super app, how should we gauge success? How are major companies like Twitter, PayPal, and Walmart attempting to implement this concept? Is there really only one clear frontrunner, or do we have a few options?
This question has to be answered, but why now?
Super applications have been successful in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, but they have yet to catch on in the United States and Europe. We need answers to why Twitter, PayPal, and Walmart would want to alter that.
According to Ron Shevlin, chief research officer at Cornerstone Advisors, “super apps took root in Asia because Asian customers bought under-powered smartphones that were not suited to operating 40 to 50 individual applications.” Super applications were never a need in the United States or Europe since smartphones did not face the power or memory problems common in devices in less developed nations.
Furthermore, Axios contends that the control over payments in mobile operating systems by Apple and Alphabet has discouraged would-be mega applications.
The average Western customer doesn’t have an issue that a “super app” can fix for them beyond the provision of greater ease and safety (both debatable). A counterargument to this is that such an app might provide underbanked or unbanked people, who may be either excluded from or scared of traditional financial services, with access to financial, banking, and credit-building possibilities.
In that case, why now?
Twitter is no longer competitive in the digital advertising space, which has been taken over by Alphabet, Meta, and Amazon. PayPal is too reliant on the payment processing industry, which is becoming increasingly competitive. In order to catch up to Amazon, which is constantly one step ahead in digital, Walmart needs to do something that the Seattle company hasn’t yet.
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