It seems the next big thing of the digital age is already here—it’s super apps. These all-in-one, one-stop-shop platforms let users find all digital services in one place. In Asia, super apps are used by millions of people every day. In the U.S., they’ve been overlooked for a while, but with Elon Musk's new venture, X (formerly Twitter), the idea of an “everything app” has finally caught the public eye.
In this blog post, we will explore what super apps are, why companies are building them, and how to create a successful one. We will also take a look at some of the most popular super apps in the world and discuss the key elements that make them more appealing than standalone apps.
Super app is a mobile ecosystem interface that combines different services. Enterprises build them to meet a wider range of users’ needs and to end up on their phone home screen.
Super apps are gaining traction as they provide a convenient and user-friendly way to access many services from a single place. Some of the most popular super apps include WeChat, Grab, and Uber.
The concept of a super app is relatively new. Mike Lazaridis, the founder of Blackberry, coined the term back in 2010. By that, he meant a “new class of applications” that use the power of a digital platform or ecosystem, giving users a seamless experience across the device. In other words, super apps help people manage both daily and less frequent tasks in one interface.
It wasn’t long before the world saw the first real example of a new class of applications, and it wasn’t Blackberry—it was WeChat. In 2011, it launched as a mobile messenger; in 2013, it got a built-in digital wallet; and in 2016, WeChat introduced mini apps by their internal development team and other developers.
If you ever search for an example of a super app on the web, WeChat will always come up first. Still, it’s not the only one out there—there are over 60 enterprise super apps across the world.
Here at HeyInnovations, we are closely watching the market of super apps and digital ecosystems. Let’s have a look at the ones that we’ve been most inspired by.
According to the table, there is no single right choice on how to start a super app. Uber and Grab started with ride-hailing, Rappi and Yummy grew from food delivery, while AirAsia launched as a flight booking service. Eventually, all the companies managed to grow a sizable audience in their regions. Below we explain how they did it.
Over the past 10 years, we have developed 30 applications for ecosystems like Sportmaster and IZI Neobank. Based on our experience, we found that a super app should have four key features to be profitable and earn high customer ratings.
Companies start with a core service and build a large user base around it. Uber, Grab, and Gojek have ride-hailing at their core; Klarna and Vodapay were initially digital payment systems, and the AirAsia Super App’s first service was flight booking.
With a super app, users sign in to many different services with one ID. For example, one Grab account gives a user access to deliveries, mobility, financial and other services.
The user data is shared among all of the services, so the user doesn’t have to enter their information multiple times. This saves time and makes it easier to keep track of everything. For example, if the user orders food from a restaurant through the super app, their address and payment information will already be filled in.
Mini apps are lightweight programs inside a super app. Like native apps, they offer different services: shopping, car rental, food delivery, etc. The difference is that to use a mini app, the user doesn’t need to download and install it or create a profile—it opens in a super app that’s already installed. Global and local enterprises alike have mini apps in super apps, from Walmart and Nike to local coffee shops and movie tickets sellers.
Opening the platform to third parties is beneficial for both sides. For a super app owner, it’s an additional source of revenue. For example, in WeChat users pay in mini apps using a built-in WeChat payment system, and WeChat gets commissions on every transaction.
For partners, developing a mini app is cheaper and easier than developing a native one. Besides, having their app on a big platform gives them access to millions of users and saves them money on promotion.
Not all super apps are open to third parties though—for example, AirAsia’s mini programs are developed only internally. That’s an option for companies who want to develop the services under their brand and be in full control of the content.
The platform usually includes a mobile wallet, like Grab’s GrabPay, or Gojek’s GoPay. Some platforms allow for both online and offline payments, and some go even further and partner with financial companies to provide banking. This is what Rappi did—they partnered with Visa and offered their users to order a RappiCard through the application, both virtual and physical.
It’s cheaper to attract users to one platform than to separate ones. In 2018, Gojek’s founder Nadiem Makarim explained that Gojek “converted” existing users into users of the new services, and it cost the company nothing because users already had the app.
This model created a “positive cycle”—the cost of acquisition of every new customer for every new vertical continued to drop.
“If a food delivery company pays $50 to acquire a customer, and the customer pays $7 for an order, the company will get a payback on the customer acquisition cost (CAC) only after 8 orders.”
“With a super app, it will happen after 2 or 3 orders, because the customer will order food, taxi, flight tickets, and other things in one place.”
A company can keep the audience inside the ecosystem longer thanks to several additional services. For example, Uber combined ride-hailing and food delivery into a super app in 2019 to “upsell” ride customers to Eats deals. According to Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, customers’ engagement with the platform “more than doubles” when they use more than one product. That’s why it was reasonable to unite the products in one interface.
Additional services help businesses generate revenue in times of crisis in their core vertical. According to AirAsia’s CTO Pablo Sanz, the company had been looking for ancillary sources of revenue right before the pandemic started, and had laid the foundation of the AirAsia Super App in 2019. Eventually, it helped keep the business afloat. Capital A, which now owns AirAsia, is considering the new digital platform as a way of mitigating market risks.
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All services in the super app have a shared loyalty program and shared benefits like cash back, discounts, and coupons. For example, members of the Klarna rewards program get points for purchases through the Klarna platform.
Also, Klarna’s users store and access all of their physical and digital loyalty cards in Klarna. Hence, they save money with Klarna because they earn and spend rewards on a larger number of products, and remember about the available discounts in their favorite stores.
With a super app, users don’t need to create a new login, add payment info or free up space for a new service. For example, Grab includes more than 20 services, and its average size on Android is 400MB. A standard Android application takes up 60MB, so if all of Grab’s services were standalone, they’d require more than a gigabyte of storage. That’s why a single app is more practical.
According to a PYMNTS and PayPal’s survey, 7 in 10 consumers are interested in using one application to manage payments and everyday activities. Rappi is a good example of a company closely watching this trend. 6 years after they had started the express delivery business, Rappi team noticed a growing demand from the customers to have financial services integrated into the same app. That’s how Rappi Pay and Rappi Bank were launched—digital payments and banking.
For SMEs or niche businesses, releasing a custom mobile application might be too expensive. In this case, publishing a mini app inside a super app might be a better idea. Existing data and the audience of a super app help developers focus on technology instead of promotion. That’s what made Swapp, a car rental service from UAE, partner with Careem in April 2022 instead of launching its own program.
Apart from saving money, partnering with a super app saves smaller companies time. Owners of super apps usually are interested in attracting partners and help if they don’t have enough expertise. For example, Vodacom helps developers create a mini program in Vodapay from scratch with their quick start documentation. Thus, it takes less time and people to complete the project.
Over the past 10 years, we developed 30 super apps and had 1 million downloads of our ecosystem applications. Based on our experience, we have created a guide on how to build a digital ecosystem with a super app at its core. Download the guide if you’re thinking about your own super app.
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