What Elon Musk’s X.com + Twitter “super app” ambition means for fintech and crypto
One "super app" to rule them all? First, we unbundled but will we ever re-bundle?
Betting against Elon Musk has historically been an expensive thing to do. But his latest apparent goal - to make a successful ‘super app’ from his dramatic purchase of Twitter - may yet prove more than a technical challenge.
He needs to convince people they need one.
Musk has had an eventful journey to scooping up Twitter for a paltry $44bn. But in a tweet - naturally - this week he unveiled that the social media platform could help accelerate his dream of building an ‘everything app’.
Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
By ‘X’ Musk is referring to a domain name X.com which he has owned since the dot com boom and bust days more than two decades ago. X.com eventually became Paypal but Musk has hung on to the website, which only currently displays a lowercase ‘x' on its homepage as well as making many a reference to the letter throughout his career and personal life. Model X, SpaceX, X Æ A-12 (one of his son’s name) etc.
For the founder of Paypal, Tesla (yes, I know there are some caveats with these two companies) and SpaceX beating the odds whether it be launching the first online payment system, building a viable electric car company or attempting to colonise Mars, bold plans are nothing new.
However, super apps have yet to take off meaningfully outside of Asia. In their home market, the likes of Alipay and Wechat provided a platform for hundreds of millions of Chinese people to move into the formal economy at the same time as the digital revolution was changing the nature of a whole manner of services from food delivery to financial and banking services.
In the West, there are many fintech startups with super app ambitions, aiming to become profitable through scale.
Klarna has also increasingly positioned itself as a super app. It began adding in a shopping experience through a curated feed of deals directly into its mobile app in recent years as well as offering a host of other services to users beyond its core ‘buy now, pay later’ service.
At the risk of sounding obvious, there can only be one…ok, a few super apps.
Revolut or Klarna probably stand out as the most successful start-ups yet of those who have unveiled the strategy as their route to profitability. Nubank has more regular customers than the two but is so far mostly focused squarely on finance whereas the two fintech giants have expanded their services into more disparate areas.
Twitter’s user numbers, something of a sore point in the deal with Musk, are much greater than any existing fintech outside of Asia. Data from its most recent investor earnings report show it recorded c.238 million monetisable daily active users around the world in July 2022.
That is huge and a potentially vast source of super app scale won for a mere $44bn price tag.
But while there is every reason to expect the man known to sleep on his factories’ floor in order to hit a milestone to be successful with his super app ambitions, Western consumers are yet to fully show an ‘everything app’ is what they want.
The essence of fintech is competition. While convenient, having just one app for all services does not on its own tally with the benefits that competition brings. The news that Chase has now hit one million UK customers shows that a very well-funded and slick new competitor offering market-leading savings rates, even in the form of an incumbent, shows how consumers are still keen to try new digital fintech services.
I remain unconvinced that the unbundling of financial and other services over the past decade that has been powered by the smartphone and app era will be followed by a much-prophesied re-bundling anytime soon.