Mobile messaging consolidation is coming fast and heavy recently, with the Viber/Rakuten deal and today’s WhatsApp acquisition by Facebook. Another contender in the space, Waterloo-based Kik, has also seen good traction and growth (though admittedly not on the level of WhatsApp). Kik founder and CEO Ted Livingston tells TechCrunch that this is a clear message that, well, messaging is the new black, in case it wasn’t clear before.
“It’s $16 billion clearer that we’re now in the age of the mobile messenger,” he explained to me in a conversation on his company’s platform. “Now for the fun part: What comes after chat? What does identity mean for mobile? How do you build the best platform? These are questions Kik has been thinking about for four years.”
I asked Livingston what he thinks this means for WhatsApp, which has been a constant rival for Kik since 2009, when both companies were originally founded. Under Facebook’s stewardship, it can probably go one of two ways, he said.
“Is this YouTube or Myspace?” he asked, referring to two acquisition stories that went in very different directions. YouTube, acquired by Google in 2006, continued its growth and exists as a very successful, mostly standalone property that has monetized fairly successfully. Myspace was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $580 million, only to be sold in 2011 for just $35 million after users fled the platform in droves.
It’s a good question, but one that Livingston doesn’t see any answer to yet. WhatsApp and Facebook both claim that the messaging app will continue as usual, acting as a distinct company with its existing revenue model and ad-free design intact. That could help it follow YouTube’s example to continued growth, rather than Myspace’s downward trajectory. As for what it means for the industry in general, Livingston says it’s simple.
“Having a popular mobile messenger is simply going to become table stakes for competing in the mobile era [among big tech companies],” he said.
While some, like Apple, have already achieved this with products including iMessage (and to some extent, Google with Hangouts), there are plenty of companies out there that still need to figure out their mobile messaging play if they want to remain relevant as purveyors of social products, including Yahoo.
Livingston says this doesn’t change how Kik will approach its own product, however. If anything, it only serves to reinforce that they had the right idea to begin with.
“We’ve been working on how to turn a messenger into a platform for the last four years,” he said. “If anything, this just validates our roadmap.” As to what that roadmap entails, Kik recently opened up an in-app browser to web developer partners in an effort to bring content inside the network.
Kik is an obvious target for acquisition at this point in the mobile messaging space despite its smaller user pool. I asked Livingston whether they’re looking around for suitors, and whether they actually received any offers today. He had “no comment” on that second question, but was more willing to share on the first.
“We saw this before, when Facebook bought Beluga and Skype bought GroupMe,” he answered, before getting a bit philosophical, and thus managing to avoid delivering a straight answer. “This is going to be one of the most valuable races of the mobile era. What a privilege [for us] to have the opportunity to take part in it.”