GIF and sticker platform Emogi gets $12.6M as the battle of GIF startups continues to heat up

It looks like the capital continues to flow into startups looking to provide some easy way for users to share GIFs, with another startup called Emogi announcing today that it’s raised $12.6 million in a new financing round.

Already there’s enormous activity in the GIF space, of all things. Google earlier this year acquired Tenor, a GIF platform that supplies a GIF search engine across multiple messaging channels (the company recently added LINE as one service). Tenor earlier had said it had around 12 billion GIF searches every month. Meanwhile, Gfycat, which focuses on creator tools, says it has around 180 million monthly active users with more than 500 million views every month. Giphy, one of the other largest GIF platforms, says it has around 300 million daily active users (and we hear recently held talks for a massive funding round).

So, in total, this is a very hot space, and potentially for good reason. As messenger services — iMessage or otherwise — become the dominant form of communication, users are looking for ways to compress more and more information into a small amount of space. Whether that’s stickers on LINE or animoji for iMessage, there’s a clear hole for companies to find some new or creative way to help users send over what amounts to some snippet of emotion baked into a clip of their favorite game, movie, or huge moment in a basketball game.

“We were looking at the behavior of consumers [in our previous app and] we realized they weren’t even reading the content,” founder Travis Montaque said. “They were literally reacting with emoji, and that’s it. That behavior was interesting to us. At the time it was me, a team of several engineers and data scientists, and we decided this way of expressing yourself could increase engagement. We decided we should take a look at how the environment is treating these types of formats, and that caused us to transition the business to being Emogi, working with lead investors to provide richer content experiences across their apps — whether that’s in the camera or the keyboard.”

Partners integrate Emogi’s SDK into their keyboards, which then sends information about the user’s context — like typing or other attributes — to figure out the best GIFs to show and drop a model onto the phone. Montaque, however, stressed that delivers the model to a user’s keyboard and does analysis on the device without sending any info back to its servers about the user’s conversations. Amid the massive privacy-related snafu Facebook faces, it does seem like many of these communications companies are tuning their tone to emphasize that. That information includes views, shares, and other kinds of information about what type of content users engage with as a means to understand what content to deprecate over time.

There’s also a consumer-facing side with the Emogi app, where users can move up stickers or GIFs within messaging services. Emogi’s goal is to surface that content directly based on context, rather than providing a search engine like something like Tenor. Obviously that search component was a tantalizing one, as Google found it an attractive company to acquire. But Tenor, too, sought to find ways to figure out the exact right GIF for the exact right moment — and removing that clicking around and lowering the barrier to getting a GIF out the door is one that makes sense in the scope of messaging.

Like some other GIF platforms (including Tenor), Emogi works with brands like Proctor & Gamble to give them an alternative vertical for their marketing efforts that can capture a different slice of a user’s behavior outside of the advertising juggernauts. All of this is still in the sort of experimental case — while some of these platforms have a lot of engagement, they obviously aren’t Facebook — it does offer a second or third option to the traditional firms as a way to find new buckets of users that they might otherwise not reach.

But all this does mean Emogi is entering an increasingly crowded space, and one that larger companies are definitely starting to take notice of. While platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn look to tap ones like Tenor, it’s clear that all these companies are seeing that figuring out a way to compress that emotion into a short window is increasingly important when it comes to messaging. It may be that Tenor and Giphy end up building a strong enough content base and moat, though alternative players like Gfycat are still showing they’re able to grow. Montaque says the company’s content shows up in messaging apps around 1 billion times a month, which seems like at least a good start to see if it can keep rolling.