Chat app Line begins offering delivery on-demand services

The future of mobile messaging is pointing towards services, but don’t assume that only applies to digital offerings like money transfers and shopping. Japan’s Line, one of the world’s most used chat apps, has just made a move into on-demand services.

The pilot move is initially in Thailand — one of Line’s strongest markets and a previous test bed for music and video streaming services — where its 30 million-plus users can make use of courier, food and grocery delivery services via the new ‘Line Man’ app. Earlier this year we reported that a digital butler service was coming and this is it.

The Line Man service is powered by Lalamove, a logistics startup that has raised more than $20 million in funding and will provide motorbike delivery staff wearing green jackets clad with Line’s cartoonish emoji characters. Line said that Thailand is the first market for the service, but it could expand to other parts of the world if it proves successful.

While Line has over 218 million active users according to its most recent data, 69 percent of those are based in four countries: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia. The maturing of messaging markets means most countries already have their top apps which people use, and thus growing a userbase in a market where your chat app is not top dog becomes hugely challenging. Line’s prospects of growth in other parts of Asia — the continent where it is focusing its resources — are tough, but having a strong following in those four aforementioned markets does mean that services like Line Man have a decent shot at gaining traction where Line is popular.

Beyond existing courier services, such as FoodPanda, Line is likely to be challenged by ride on-demand services. Grab recently launched delivery services in Indonesia, where another on-demand startup Go-Jek already plays in that space in the country. Uber has non-taxi services in the U.S., but it has yet to expand those to Asia — that could change in the future, though, given that it now operates a fleet of motorbike taxis in some markets. Uber Moto is currently in India, Thailand and Indonesia, but is likely to expand to other parts of Asia over time.

As if that wasn’t enough crossover, Line has actually operated its own Uber-like service in Japan since 2015, although it remains to be seen whether that initiative will expand overseas.

Line has been linked with a public listing for the last two years. The Japanese company reportedly canceled dual U.S.-Japan listings in 2014 and 2015, and already there’s been talk of a renewed effort this year. Showing growth is the name of the game for going public, and this move into services is part of the company’s efforts to be “more than just a messaging app” for its users.