It’s not a secret that Facebook is considering adding payments to its Messenger app. The company poached PayPal CEO and payments expert David Marcus to lead the business, and evidence of a peer-to-peer cash exchange feature was unearthed by a computer science student last month. But if and when it finally arrives, what will Facebook Messenger payments be like?
Usually I’d tell you to look to Asia — specifically China where WeChat has been offering payment-like services for some time. But now there’s a U.S. example in the form of web and mobile chat app Dasher. The startup has teamed up with payment specialist Venmo to allow users to transfer cash to each other via chat messages. It’s as simple as that.
The payment side of things is handled entirely by Venmo, and it has now gone live in beta in Dasher for iOS and the web version of the service. Android users aren’t supported at this point, but Dasher co-founder Jesse Boyes payments will come to the Google OS when the feature is officially launched following this trial period.
“Our [early] beta testers have used Dasher payments for coordinating lunch, drinks, splitting ride shares, and even on-the-ground service jobs like dog walking,” Boyes told TechCrunch.
The payment feature will initially only support “small amounts,” however, as the Dasher team studies how it is being used. Neither Dasher nor Venmo will make money from the transactions.
Standing Out from the Crowd
Dasher added rich sharing, GIFs, and location sharing to its service this summer, and this latest update gives us another differentiator, as it hopes to stand out in a crowded space that includes big hitters like WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Kik — each of which boasts tens of millions of users in the U.S. and millions more worldwide.
“We’re focused on taking all the friction away from human-to-human interaction,” Boyes added. “A lot of what we’ve done so far is about facilitating and coordinating in real time and real space. If we want to meet for coffee, Dasher can help find where to go, tracking our locations as we travel there, etc. — so made sense to close the loop with payments.”
The Dasher team isn’t revealing how many users it has because it is says it is still a relatively new entrant, but Boyes says that engagement from existing uses is “very high.” With a unique feature like payments, he hopes the network will continue to grow via word-of-mouth and friend-based recommendations.
Example from Asia
The idea to adopt payments is a solid one, and Dasher will hope for even just one iota of the success that WeChat, China’s top chat app, has seen. The service, which is creeping up on 500 million active users — most of whom are in its homeland — began supporting payments in China in August 2013, but the feature has really taken off this year.
Tencent, the company behind WeChat, cleverly used it to take the Chinese New Year tradition of gifting money to friends and family with red envelopes into the digital era. This New Year a reported 20 million “envelopes” were shared — at its peak, 585,000 people were said to have sent money using the chat app during a five-minute period.
Tencent is putting a major focus on e-commerce, which is why it is so keen for users to pair their bank accounts and credit cards with the app. These days you can shop for clothes inside WeChat, pay your utility bill, cover your bill at a Dairy Queen and do countless more. So once you’re onboarded, who knows what you might buy.
WeChat’s monetization push, which includes games, saw the company’s net profit rise 59 percent year-on-year in its last quarter of business. Though it didn’t break the figures out, payments and e-commerce have a huge part to play both now and in the future.
Dasher’s payments feature may help it stand out from the crowd (for now), but Facebook might be likely to adopt a more Tencent-like approach: get people to pair their cards and then push e-commerce services. That’s all speculative for now, but if you want to play with payments in chat in the U.S., and don’t fancy the trip to China, Dasher is your answer.