Yes, the messaging app space is super-hot and super-crowded. It’s probably the most competitive part of the consumer app space, with giants like China’s Tencent and Facebook in the ring along with established venture-backed companies like WhatsApp.
Yet it’s still luring entrepreneurs and there are new breakout apps every year like NHN’s Line or Snapchat. Now a veteran team from the social gaming world is taking a stab with a new app called MessageMe.
It’s light, It’s fast and it isn’t just limited to texting or photos. If you’re meme-oriented in your messaging, the app can pull in images from Google search, music from iTunes, videos from YouTube or doodles that you draw. Whatever suits your mood, really.
“We weren’t originally thinking about building a messaging app,” said CEO Arjun Sethi, who started MessageMe after growing a social gaming company called LOLapps to a peak headcount of 150 and 50 million monthly active users on Facebook. He founded the company while an entrepreneur-in-residence at former Facebook vice president Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social + Capital fund. While the company has some funding, they’re not disclosing investors yet.
“We thought about how you just communicate,” he said. “We want people to choose whatever medium they feel most comfortable with.”
MessageMe pre-populates your friend list using your address book or through a Facebook log-in. When you send a message, it’s a quick one-click switch between text, photos, images, videos, music or doodles. Then there are two other options for stickers and money that the company will build out later. Beta testers I’ve talked to like the app for its speed and the ability to pull in ridiculous images and songs quickly.
“This isn’t about sending file formats. It’s about sending how you feel,” Sethi said. “We’re really, really focused on asynchronous communication. We’re not thinking about doing voice calls or FaceTime. We’re focused on what we consider natural human communication.”
In early beta testing, the startup found that users would do things like use doodles to physically draw out words or messages they wanted to send. They also didn’t expect that users would send so many videos or photos. Right now, if you want to send a goofy LOLcat in iMessage, you have to go out to the browser, search for the image and then bring it back into your camera roll to send it later. MessageMe makes that whole process a lot quicker.
They designed it around the idea that it would be just for the 7 to 10 closest friends or family members you communicate with every day.
MessageMe faces off against a global array of competitors including Facebook Messenger, Sequoia-backed WhatsApp (which is dominant in Europe), Line in Japan, KakaoTalk in South Korea and Tencent’s WeChat in China.
“We obviously admire the companies that are out there. We’re scared of the companies that are out there,” Sethi said. “But it makes us focused on what we’re about and the context and mediums in which people communicate.”
With the team’s social gaming background, they understand growth and are tapping into the address book to get users (a technique that helped NHN’s Line messaging app get to about 100 million users in a year and a half).
They don’t have a built-in business model, but with “stickers” and a “money” button in the app, the path is somewhat obvious. Line sells “stickers” or special emojis, which brought it at least $3.75 million per month in July through that method. It’s much higher now actually but the company hasn’t disclosed revenue growth. Other startups like Path have recently copied this approach. Other messaging apps like WhatsApp take the paid app approach, while the biggest companies like Facebook use messaging as a tool to increase the stickiness of their networks.
Sethi is adamant that he won’t rely on advertising, which he says erodes the user experience. Nor does he want to use it to drive downloads of other apps. KakaoTalk, the most popular messaging app in South Korea, has become a powerful distributor of mobile games, driving up its earnings. Five of the top 10 grossing apps in the country are made specifically for the Kakao platform.
“We really don’t want to focus on advertising. We don’t want to be on moving users out of the experience to download game,” he said. “It’s not something that we think is core to what we’re building.”