Business messaging service Eko picks up $2M to fuel push into Japan, US and UK

Eko Communications, a U.S.-Thailand company that operates a messaging app targeted at businesses, has closed a strategic investment of $2 million to grow in Japan and expand into Europe and the U.S..

The funding was led by Japanese corporate Itochu, which provided $1 million and will partner to help expand sales. Existing backers of the company, which include Gobi Ventures, also took part.

Eko provides a mobile messaging app that includes a range of productivity and employee development tools baked in. It was founded five years ago by Thai student Korawad Chearavanont while he was studying in New Jersey. We wrote a longer story about the company in 2015 when it raised $5.7 million.

Chearavanont told TechCrunch that the business counts over 150,000 active monthly paying subscribed licenses, that is the total number of employees on the platform from its paying customers. There is also a free service. The company didn’t divulge revenue data, but it said sales has grown by 630 percent over the last year.

Most paying clients are located in Asia, with around 30-40 percent from China, and this new investment will help find deeper growth in Japan while kickstarting its U.S. and UK businesses, having just opened sales offices in those two countries.

“It seems like many Japanese companies are implementing policies that are favorable to use,” he said in an interview. “This is strategic investment to spark a partnership, we saw this as the opportunity to have access to a huge company, with a vast software business in Japan and international reach.”

Chearavanont who is the grandson of Southeast Asia’s richest man — Dhanin Chearavanont — added that he wasn’t initially looking for investment. He said the partnership with Itochu opened this opportunity to push on to gain momentum before a planned Series B round next summer.

“By showing we can grow in huge IT markets, we can justify a large round. That’s what is needed to invest in tech since we compete with global giants like Facebook and Microsoft,” he said, adding that 80 percent of the startup’s expenditure to date has been on product.

While Eko has found success with large corporate companies in Asia — eleven of its clients have a market cap in excess of $2 billion, it claims — it is looking at small businesses for initial traction in Western markets before fanning out to seek larger clients.