How Does Signal Make Money? The Signal Business Model In A Nutshell

  • Signal is a non-profit organization founded by Moxie Marlinspike and former WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. The organization runs a messaging app that is safe, secure, and private.
  • Signal revenue generation is dependent on donations and grants. To become a larger player among messaging apps, Signal has also relied on a zero-interest loan from Acton with a long repayment period.
  • Many Signal donors are undisclosed. However, some of the known donors include Open Technology Fund, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Elon Musk.

Business Model ElementAnalysisImplicationsExamples
Value PropositionSignal’s value proposition revolves around ensuring private and secure communication for users. For Users, Signal offers: – End-to-End Encryption: Strong encryption ensures only the sender and recipient can access messages. – Privacy-Focused: No ads, trackers, or data sharing. – Open Source: Transparency in code for user trust. Signal prioritizes user privacy and security above all else. Attracts privacy-conscious individuals and organizations.Provides users with a secure and private messaging platform. Ensures data remains inaccessible to third parties, including Signal itself. Builds trust through open-source code transparency. Attracts users seeking a privacy-focused messaging app. Upholds a commitment to user privacy and data security.– End-to-End encryption guarantees message privacy. – No ads or trackers enhance user privacy. – Open-source code fosters trust and security. – Appeals to privacy-conscious individuals and organizations.
Customer SegmentsSignal primarily targets the following customer segments: 1. Privacy-Conscious Individuals: Users seeking secure and private communication. 2. Activists and Journalists: Individuals requiring secure messaging for sensitive conversations. 3. Businesses and Organizations: Entities looking for confidential communication channels. Signal caters to users and organizations valuing data privacy and security.Focuses on privacy-conscious individuals, activists, journalists, and organizations prioritizing data security. Tailors features to meet the specific needs of each segment. Provides a trusted platform for secure communication. Offers a versatile messaging solution for various user types.– Targeting privacy-focused users builds a loyal user base. – Customized features cater to different user needs. – Trust fosters strong user relationships. – Versatility attracts diverse user types and organizations.
Distribution StrategySignal’s distribution strategy relies on app stores (Apple App Store, Google Play Store) and its website for users to download and install the app. It also benefits from word-of-mouth recommendations and media coverage highlighting its privacy features. Signal’s focus on user privacy aligns with its distribution strategy of not collecting user data.Utilizes app stores and its website for user acquisition. Prioritizes user privacy by avoiding data collection. Grows organically through word-of-mouth recommendations and media attention. Ensures accessibility while maintaining a commitment to user data security.– App stores provide easy access for users. – User privacy is prioritized by avoiding data collection. – Organic growth through word-of-mouth builds trust. – Maintains accessibility and security simultaneously.
Revenue StreamsSignal does not generate revenue through ads or user data monetization. Instead, it relies on donations and grants from supporters and organizations that value user privacy and secure communication. Signal operates as a non-profit organization, ensuring its focus remains on user privacy and security rather than profit.Does not monetize user data or display ads, prioritizing user privacy. Sustains operations through donations and grants from privacy-conscious supporters and organizations. Maintains a non-profit status to underscore its commitment to user privacy.– Non-profit status reinforces commitment to privacy. – Reliance on donations aligns with user interests. – Focuses on privacy rather than profit.
Marketing StrategySignal’s marketing strategy is based on user advocacy, media coverage, and grassroots promotion. It relies on word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied users who value privacy. Media coverage highlighting its encryption and privacy features helps attract new users. Signal intentionally refrains from traditional advertising to maintain its privacy-first approach.Leverages user advocacy and recommendations as a primary marketing tool. Benefits from media coverage that emphasizes its encryption and privacy features. Avoids traditional advertising to align with its privacy-first approach. Grows organically through satisfied users and media exposure.– Word-of-mouth promotion builds a loyal user base. – Media coverage highlights privacy features. – Avoiding traditional advertising maintains privacy principles.
Organization StructureSignal’s organizational structure includes teams dedicated to software development, security research, community support, and public relations. Software development teams focus on app improvement and security. Security research teams continuously enhance encryption protocols. Community support teams assist users with inquiries and issues. Public relations teams manage communications and media relations. This structure supports continuous improvement, user satisfaction, and transparent communication.Employs specialized teams for software development, security research, community support, and public relations. Focuses on improving the app’s security and features through development and research teams. Addresses user inquiries and issues through community support teams. Manages communications and media relations through public relations teams. Ensures user satisfaction and transparent communication.– Specialized teams drive software improvements and security. – Community support builds trust and addresses user needs. – Public relations manage transparent communication and media relations.
Competitive AdvantageSignal’s competitive advantage arises from its unwavering commitment to user privacy, end-to-end encryption, open-source transparency, and non-profit status. Unwavering Privacy Commitment: Prioritizes user privacy above all else. End-to-End Encryption: Offers robust encryption for secure messaging. Open-Source Transparency: Builds trust through code transparency. Non-Profit Status: Demonstrates commitment to privacy over profit.Derives a competitive advantage from: – A steadfast focus on user privacy and data security. – Strong end-to-end encryption for secure communication. – Open-source code transparency that fosters trust. – Non-profit status that emphasizes privacy over profit. Sets itself apart in the messaging app space by providing a secure, private, and trustworthy platform.– User privacy and data security are top priorities. – Encryption ensures secure communication. – Open-source code fosters transparency and trust. – Non-profit status underscores commitment to privacy.

Origin Story

Signal is an American non-profit organization with a focus on developing privacy technology enabling secure global communication and freedom of speech.

In a nutshell, Signal is an end-to-end encryption service that is owned and operated by a non-profit and not by a corporation. It is similar to WhatsApp and iMessage but with broader security protection.

Signal was founded by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and Moxie Marlinspike. Marlinspike developed the platform in response to the pervasive and powerful surveillance capabilities of authorities, noting that “user-friendly technical solutions” would be the best way to counteract it.

In 2014, the Signal app was born. It was a combination of text messaging and phone call apps Marlinspike had developed four years earlier. During this time, however, Signal had a small user base made up of digital security geeks and was not user-friendly. 

Marlinspike then reached out to Brian Acton, recently disgruntled after resigning from WhatsApp parent company Facebook in 2017. As a result, Acton provided $50 million in funding to encrypt the entire Signal app and support it as a direct rival to WhatsApp.

Signal has developed a large user base, thanks in part to chaotic world events. The app saw a 400% increase in users after the 2016 U.S. election. It also saw significant rises after protests against systemic racism in the United States and the Chinese occupation of Hong Kong.

As of 2021, Signal has an estimated 20 million users.

The Textsecure Protocol

The Textsecure Protocol was the precursor to Signal which Marlinspike built so that only the sender and recipient of a message could read its contents. The first apps based on this protocol were launched in 2010 with one intended for texting and the other for phone calls.

The Signal app was born in 2014 after the two apps Marlinspike developed four years earlier were merged. The platform was mostly kept afloat by a $3 million donation from the Open Technology Fund – a non-profit and supporter of projects that work to counter surveillance and censorship. 

During this early time, Signal had a small user base comprised of digital security geeks and was not at all user-friendly. 

Marlinspike meets Brian Acton

Seeking to influence Signal’s public perception, Marlinspike reached out to WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. Marlinspike, Acton, and fellow WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum shared the same values around user privacy, and, after receiving Facebook’s permission, started to integrate Signal’s protocol into WhatsApp in 2016.

When Signal became a key part of encrypting billions of WhatsApp conversations each day, Marlinspike’s vision of an anti-surveillance internet became that much closer. But after Facebook forced WhatsApp users to make their data available if they wanted to use the app, the trio’s expectations had to be tempered somewhat. Acton was also concerned that Facebook was planning to monetize the platform with ads.

Dismayed at its direction, Acton walked away from WhatsApp and Facebook in 2017. He then teamed up once more with Marlinspike and provided $50 million to encrypt the Signal app and support it as a direct WhatsApp rival.


Acton’s capital had a profound and immediate impact on Signal’s growth. Funds were used to employ staff to make the app more user-friendly, with reaction emojis added (among other features) to appeal to younger generations of protesters. 

Importantly, Acton’s investment in the company came without caveats. Unlike other investors and because of his previous experience at Facebook, he did not require Marlinspike to add trackers that could compromise user privacy.

As the number of users has increased, Signal has had to balance growth with user privacy. While the organization preaches security and non-intrusiveness, it has come under criticism for the way that a new user’s contacts receive a notification whenever they first download the app. 

Nevertheless, Signal’s growth is commendable in an industry where most free platforms collect personal data on their users to make money in some way. In early 2023, the platform reported an estimated 40 million monthly active users.

To some extent, Signal’s user base is also due to recent world events. The app saw a 400% increase in users after the 2016 U.S. election. It also saw significant rises after protests against systemic racism in the United States and the Chinese occupation of Hong Kong.

Signal revenue generation

As a non-profit organization, Signal accepts donations through the tax-exempt Signal Technology Foundation. This helps the organization pay for the development of the app moving forward in addition to ongoing server, bandwidth, and staff costs. Donations can be made in cash or cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether.

In December 2021, the company released a feature that enabled users to make in-app donations. Users can make monthly or one-off contributions using Google Pay or Apple Pay with payment information not associated with their Signal account. When shoppers purchase from, the eCommerce company will also donate 0.5% of the total amount to Signal.

The company expects to be self-sustaining from a financial point of view after it passes 100 million users. Until that time, the $50 million capital injection from Acton is the largest financial contribution to the company to date. Acton’s contribution has since grown to just over $100 million.

Many consider this a donation, but it is in fact a zero-interest loan that must be re-paid in full by February 2068.

Other donations

In keeping with the company philosophy, Signal does not disclose the identity of the majority of its other donors.

Having said there, here is a list of known Signal donors and donation amounts (if disclosed):

  • Shuttleworth Foundation.
  • Knight Foundation.
  • Open Technology Fund ($3 million).
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation – which operated crowdfunding efforts in the early days of Signal. Donations here are in the millions of dollars.
  • Elon Musk – who donated to Signal in 2020 and will reportedly do so again in 2021.

Key Highlights

  • Origin and Founders:
    • Signal is a non-profit organization focusing on secure global communication and freedom of speech.
    • Co-founded by Moxie Marlinspike and former WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton.
    • Signal offers a messaging app with a strong emphasis on privacy and security.
  • Growth and User Base:
    • Signal was developed to counter powerful surveillance capabilities by offering user-friendly privacy solutions.
    • Founded in 2014, it initially had a small user base of digital security enthusiasts.
    • Brian Acton provided $50 million to enhance Signal’s encryption and compete directly with WhatsApp.
    • Signal experienced significant user growth during world events like the 2016 U.S. election and protests against racism and Chinese occupation of Hong Kong.
    • As of 2021, Signal had an estimated 20 million users.
  • The Textsecure Protocol and Marlinspike’s Vision:
    • The precursor to Signal was the Textsecure Protocol, enabling end-to-end encrypted messaging and calls.
    • Marlinspike’s vision was to create a privacy-focused alternative to mainstream messaging platforms.
  • Meeting of Minds: Marlinspike and Acton:
    • Marlinspike approached Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, to integrate Signal’s protocol into WhatsApp in 2016.
    • Acton’s $50 million investment transformed Signal’s growth and user experience.
    • Acton’s investment was without strings and aimed to uphold user privacy.
  • Balancing Growth and Privacy:
    • Acton’s investment enabled Signal to enhance user-friendliness and add features like reaction emojis.
    • Signal faced criticism for sending notifications to a user’s contacts when they join the app.
    • Despite challenges, Signal’s user base grew to an estimated 40 million monthly active users in early 2023.
  • Revenue Generation:
    • Signal relies on donations and grants for revenue.
    • Accepts donations through the tax-exempt Signal Technology Foundation in cash or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether.
    • Introduced in-app donations and partnerships for fundraising, like Amazon’s donation scheme.
    • Aiming to become self-sustaining after reaching 100 million users.
    • Brian Acton’s $50 million investment is a zero-interest loan repayable by February 2068.
    • Many donors remain undisclosed, including known supporters like the Shuttleworth Foundation, Knight Foundation, Open Technology Fund, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Elon Musk.

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