In Zlango’s World, Emoticons Are The Future (And The Future Revenue Model)

They say if you want to understand the future, you have to look at children. And if my 10-year-old cousin’s chat history is any indication, we will soon be communicating in emoji, Egyptian hieroglyphics or some other kind of pictographic language that renders the 2,000-year-old Roman alphabet obsolete.

Sometimes she sends me full e-mails like this (except it goes on forever): :roll: :twisted: :cry: :lol: :oops: :mrgreen: :evil: :sad: :eek: :shock: :grin: :???: :neutral: :razz: :wink: :roll: :twisted: :cry: :lol: :oops: :mrgreen: :evil: :sad: :eek: :shock: :grin: :???: :neutral: :razz: :wink: :roll: :twisted: :cry: :lol: :oops: :mrgreen: :evil: :sad: :eek: :shock: :grin: :???: :neutral: :razz: :wink:.┬áIt either means ‘My cat ate my homework,’ or it’s the Five Stages of Grief in a single word. I’m not really sure.

Anyway, there is a mobile app for that. It’s called Zlango and it’s backed by Benchmark Capital, Accel Partners and DAG Ventures.

Zlango is a mobile chat app that is on emoticon crack cocaine. Instead of pure text-based chats, it supports emoticons married to words. There are standard packs of pictures in the app, but users can upgrade and pay for new packs of themed emoticons using virtual currency. There are Walking Dead-themed packs, Terminator-themed images and ones that draw their inspiration from anime. When you type words in Zlango, it will auto-suggest different emoticons from its library of more than 1,000 free images.

Mock it as you may, but the app has a few hundred thousand active users every day, which is good for a mobile app that is not a game and is only on one smartphone platform, Android. It came out last October and has delivered 10 billion icons so far. Plus, it had been growing at a 20 to 25 percent month-over-month rate in April.

Zlango is unusual in that it takes a business model from the gaming world and applies it to texting. There are plenty of chat apps out there, but many are very advertising-dependent like Pinger or are paid apps like WhatsApp. By using virtual currency, Zlango can make consumers a little less price sensitive because they’re not paying for packs with real dollars.

The company, which is based in Tel Aviv, has a long history after being founded in 2006. It’s one of those pre-smartphone era companies that is crossing over into an iOS-Android ruled world with a host of feature phone users around the world. Zlango used to rely more on pre-install deals with mobile carriers, but now it needs to go down the direct consumer route. The chief executive Roni Haim came in a few years ago after several telecom and electronics startups, including Alvareon, Gilat Satellite Networks and Foxcom.

“Black and white text is very nostalgic,” Haim said. “Going forward, people will want to send text with images, pictures and videos to express themselves creatively and personalize how they communicate.”

The company hasn’t taken any funding since a $12 million round five years ago and Haim says he has no immediate plans to follow up with more capital.