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In April, 2016 (a mere seven months ago) Mark Zuckerberg, David Marcus (and, in a smaller side tent, myself) went on stage to proclaim that the future of business is conversation.

Imagine the opportunity to communicate with one billion potential customers   in a personal, private space  that makes it as easy and delightful as messaging your best friend.

But for the first few months, the experience felt more like messaging your ex-girlfriend  — poor response times, misunderstanding of intent, and overall frustration. So the question on everyone’s mind is: What’s real, and what is hype? And when will the future arrive?

The promise…

1. Business used to be personal


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The store owner knew your name and your shoe size. Then the internet came, and it brought scale but replaced Bob the cobbler with a faceless white form and text box.

Messaging offered a chance to make business personal again (at scale). 

2. Customer service  —  the frontline for a business and its customers, was broken

Businesses spent over $10 billion per year to provide the most frustrating experience of your week. Phone calls needed your complete attention, required expensive human operators, and were saddled with slow response times.

Messaging offered an opportunity to provide mobile service, automate common questions, reduce costs, and increase quality.

3. When people shifted their time from desktop to mobile, the money didn’t follow

The screens were too small, payment was cumbersome, and the browsing experience didn’t work  —  you had to choose between using a clunky mobile website or going through the hassle of downloading an app just to make a simple purchase. So you still booked your flights on your laptop.

Messaging offered the perfect solution for mobile commerce  —  better than a mobile website and with less friction than an app — and it facilitated built-in identity plus payments.

4. Consumer software had a distribution problem

Half of U.S. smartphone owners download zero apps per month. Apps are best for things you use frequently: Facebook, Instagram, Uber, Snapchat, Maps. But what about the flight you take once every two months? Or the restaurant reservation you make once a month? How can you interact with the hundreds of businesses and services in your life without downloading custom software each time?

Messaging is already the hub for the plans you make with your family and friends  —  but now it could also seamlessly connect you with the hundreds of products and services that make those interactions more meaningful. 

The reality…

And then we messaged into the future. We asked for the weather in Oakland, and we got an ad-lib from the latest Star Wars movie. It didn’t feel like the future (or maybe it did).

In essence, the adoption of messaging is following the same sequence as the adoption of many advances in technology.

1. The right tools become available in an open platform

WeChat, Kik, Telegram, Slack, and now Facebook Messenger

2. Hobbyists and first movers experiment to find what works and what doesn’t

Games, shopping, productivity, news

3. The killer app. Through iteration and perseverance, a “magic moment” is created for people and/or businesses.

This wave is just starting

4. The explosion


The opportunity…

I left my role as product manager for the Facebook Messenger Developer Platform six weeks ago to assist business messaging from the other side  — helping messaging entrepreneurs navigate the path from today to a future when you’ll be able to message your fridge to order more almond milk.

Here are the four most actionable opportunities in the messaging space right now:

1. Re-invent customer service

Shifting platforms from phone calls to messaging, by itself, creates a better experience. Even if it takes 45 minutes for the business to respond, you’re not chained to your phone. But the exciting part comes next, with automation, instant responses, seamless transactions, and hyper personalization  — services that can anticipate your needs before you even ask. Customer service will no longer be a resource-draining center and will now drive retention, delight, and revenue.

2. Accelerate mobile commerce

Messaging allows companies to complete the marketing funnel through awareness (via a News Feed), search and explore (via Messenger), and purchase (also via Messenger). It’s simply better than mobile websites, apps, or email. Imagine scheduling test drives, booking real estate appointments, or inquiring about TVs over Messenger, all with seamless purchase and delivery.

3. Vertical-specific assistants

Healthcare forms are boring. A personal, private, digital assistant? Useful. Innovative companies are popping up to bring personalization and personal empowerment to important areas of your life, including healthcare, finance, and personal logistics.

4. Interact with the world

I imagine a world where you can message your house to turn up the temperature, turn on the lights, and pre-heat the oven. Your fridge will then message you that it’s low on horse-radish. The Amazon bot will complete the order at the tap of a button.

There are multiple frontiers as ecommerce continues its march to take over the world. In the 90s, people thought you would be crazy to buy something on the internet. Then came increased consumer trust, secure payments (Paypal), easy shipments (Amazon) and easy returns (Zappos  —  you can buy shoes on the internet?). Then we saw the advent of social, real identity, and the next wave of trust (you would get in the car with a stranger you met on the internet?). Now, with conversation and the ability to bring personalized sales to the internet, comes the next frontier. In Q3 of 2016, ecommerce made up just 8 percent of all retail sales in the U.S.  — $100 billion of $1.2 trillion. Who’s going to capture the remaining trillion?

When you talk to three different people about bots you get three different responses:

The entrepreneur: “It’s the future”
The contrarian VC: “It’s all hype”
Everyone else in the world: “What’s a bot?”

The platform shift is real. The problems are real. Now, who’s going to solve them?

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