Fresh from launching its payment service and buying MixRadio from Microsoft, Japan-based messaging app Line has announced a change at the top with current COO Takeshi Idezawa taking over from Akira Morikawa as CEO.
Line was founded by parent company NHN Japan, and though both Idezawa and Morikawa are its two directors neither is a company founder. Line said Morikawa had “notified” of his decision to leave as his current contact comes to a close, but will remain an advisor. Idezawa has been appointed CEO on temporary basis until the position is approved at the next shareholders’ and board of directors’ meeting in March 2015.
That’s a pretty complicated process in line with the company’s background. Morikawa headed NHN Japan — the Japanese branch of Korean internet giant Naver — as CEO from 2007. In addition to stints heading up games and search businesses, NHN Japan ultimately created Line, which was later spun off and given a global focus, with Morikawa as its head, in 2013.
Morikawa presided over the company attempts to list Line in Japan and the US this year. Ultimately the listing, which was rumored to be a dual one at a valuation of $10 billion, was postponed as Line was thought to have prioritized growing its business outside of Japan and Asia first.
Idezawa has been an advocate of user and platform growth over going public, as he told TechCrunch’s own Ingrid Lunden when interviewed at a technology event in London last month, and that could be telling of his appointment.
Line’s announcement stated that Idezawa’s one year tenure as CEO has seen it make “a significant transformation from a Japanese service to a global service and from a messenger service to a ‘life platform’”, and seems that his elevation to CEO will see that focus continue.
Line has solidified its position as the dominant messaging app in Japan — where it has plans to emulate China’s WeChat with taxi-hailing and food-ordering services — but the interesting part of the equation is what it will do overseas.
It has dominant market share in Taiwan and Thailand, and claims to have seen traction in Indonesia and Spain, but its acquisition of MixRadio, the global launch of its Manga service, and its recent retail push in New York (where it has launched a ‘pop up shop’) and other markets shows a company that is keen to raise visibility of its brand, characters and business in more markets.
Line has over 500 million registered users, of which 170 million are active each month, and it may well be that Idezawa believes it needs to be more competitive globally before deciding to go public. Morikawa previously voiced his intention to take the service to 1 billion registrations by the end of 2015.