Over the last few years messaging apps have developed from SMS-like services with a few extra features into platforms that are almost like internet portals. Kakao, LINE and — most notably — WeChat are examples where users can buy products, read news, pay money or more inside the app.
Over in the U.S. market, however, iMessage is the dominant messaging service and, while Apple has taken steps to advance the sophistication of its service, it seriously lags its Asian competitors when it comes to being a platform. The iMessage App Store, introduced just over six months ago, was seen as a way to level the field, but it hasn’t panned out how Apple may have expected. Sticker apps rather than utilities have been the dominant players, but overall growth has slowed significantly as developers — and users — lose interest.
That’s where a new startup — Loji — is aiming to make a difference.
Loji, which is competing in the Battlefield competition at TechCrunch Disrupt New York, wants to bring much-used information and snippets of the web into iMessage conversations without forcing users to leave the app. The service was founded last year and is available as an iMessage app. It uses interactive brand logos, which can be added into chat conversations where they appear as interactive thumbnails.
“I like to think we’re doing what iMessage apps are intended to be,” Loji CEO and founder Kathryn Harper said in an interview. “It’s an example of how a brand can customize and extend into messaging.”
So, for example, rather than opening the Yelp or Foursquare app to find a restaurant, Loji users can simply navigate into the app from within iMessage, pick their restaurant destination and share it with a friend. All without leaving the app. Additions not already in the database can be added by users — Loji pulls data from Google Places to quickly fill out their details.
The brand logos themselves function like an information hub. Beyond the location data — or map — for a destination, they include a listing of a company’s social media presence — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope — any ongoing offers, the option to hail an Uber or Lyft to get there and, for some like Starbucks, a direct link to order/buy/shop. There’s also an option to promote a chatbot.
Harper explained that a brand’s Loji page is entirely customizable. The database itself is extended by user-driven additions, but brands can jump in at any time and take control of their presence. Today, she announced that Red Bull has done just that after it agreed it a partnership that will allow it full control of its presence which, beyond drinks, spans the New York Red Bulls soccer team and the Red Bull Studios in New York. Red Bull’s Loji page will also promote its Facebook Messenger chatbot.
Using Loji, Harper said, Red Bull can interact with fans by adding value to conversations.
“Connecting meaningfully through chat is uncharted waters,” she said.
Alongside Red Bull, Loji said it has agreed to similar deals with other undisclosed “tier-one brands.” Harper declined to say whether these deals included a financial component, but brands are the the company’s monetization efforts. Harper explained that revenue-generation approaches included premium placement of logos inside the iMessage app and branded content. The company is also considering app-to-app linking and services around data analytics, too.
Right now, Loji’s team of six is fully focused on the iOS experience, but it is also developing a Messenger app experience. For now, there’s no immediate plan to develop an Android version — Android users can currently receive Loji content — but the upcoming Messenger app will expand its reach to non-iOS devices, which will allow other users on to the platform.
The company previously raised an undisclosed round of seed funding to get started, and Harper said she is looking at raising the next seed round to advance the business now that brands are coming aboard as partners.