How one British company is going head to head with WhatsApp

How do you compete against some of the biggest and most successful apps in the world? That’s a question that Tengi has had to answer. The year-old company makes an eponymous app that’s up against the likes of WhatsApp, LINE and other major names in the field of messaging. So what’s the story behind Tengi, and what makes it unique?

How one British company is going head to head with WhatsApp

The core concept of Tengi is that it’s a messaging app that gives back, something like WhatsApp but with prizes. Chatting earns you virtual tickets for a regular free prize draw, with a top prize of £10,000 and hundreds of smaller cash prizes. The company earns revenue from advertising within the app.

However, the idea for Tengi didn’t come from the a simple commercial idea. Instead, according to Neil Laycock, CEO of the company, it started as a way to educate people about the plight of the planet. “With the founders, we looked around for  way we could educate people on a global scale. We decided the best way to do this was through a messaging app because people are connected all the time and chatting to each other.”

tengi_neil_laycockNeil Laycock, CEO

However, the app also had to be a commercial proposition from the start. Laycock believes that the opportunity to win prizes while doing something you’re doing anyway – chatting – is a simple for people to understand, and compelling enough for people to want to do it. Importantly, it’s also the kind of thing that people will share with their friends, making the product more “viral” and reducing the need for expensive marketing.

Laycock thinks there are some interesting comparisons to be made with his previous company, Plusnet. “Plusnet was disruptive because it was early to market,” he says “where Tengi has to be very disruptive in a mature market. That means the greatest challenge is coming up with the biggest combination of motivational hooks. We’re trying to get to a point where it’s a simple as possible, and the question becomes ’why would you not use Tengi?’”


Although Tengi is a commercial product first and foremost, there’s an element of “doing good”. Winners are encouraged to make a small donation to the Heart of England Forest trust, which has the goal of reversing centuries of decline by creating a huge unbroken woodland in England.

Laycock’s business experience is extensive. Made CEO of Plusnet in 2007, he grew the company from 20 employees to 700, making it one of the largest ISPs in the country. So his advice about starting a business could be invaluable.

“The most important thing is to do the work before you start – do as much research as you can. Don’t just dive in. Spend a lot of time talking to former colleagues who could help. Research as far as you can – there’s a point at which you have to throw yourself into making things, but make sure you’re prepared. Know everything about your market. If you do that, you’ll have a much better chance of surviving the difficult first year.”

READ NEXT: How Britain is brilliant at startups

*The Heart of England Forest trust owns Dennis Publishing, which runs Alphr. That’s why we love planting trees.*

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