Pioneered by WeChat almost four years ago, mini-apps are now common in China and India, and gaining traction in other markets, too. Mini-apps, or lightweight apps designed for integration into host apps, allow smartphone users to access several services through one app, saving them data and storage space. They also give host apps more ways to make revenue. But most mini-app ecosystems are currently tied to a specific app or company. Appboxo, a Singapore-based startup, wants to make mini-apps more accessible by allowing any developer to turn their app into a “super app.”
Appboxo announced today it has closed $1.1 million in seed funding, led by FF APAC Scout, a Founders Fund vehicle; 500 Startups’ Southeast Asia-focused 500 Durians fund; Plug and Play Ventures; and Antler. The new funding will be used on product development and to add more mini-apps to Appboxo’s ecosystem.
The startup currently works with about 10 host apps, including Booking.com, Klook and Zalora, and has about 80 mini-apps on its platform. Examples of how host apps have used mini-apps include travel apps that added hotel, restaurant and activities bookings; and mobile wallets that integrated insurance-buying and e-commerce services.
Appboxo was founded in 2019 by chief executive officer Kaniyet Rayev and chief technology officer Nursultan Keneshbekov while they were participating in Antler’s Singapore incubator program. Rayev told TechCrunch that the two initially wanted to build an all-in-one travel app, with different travel-related services integrated into one platform.
“But when we actually started developing it, we realized there is no easy way to plug in third-party services,” Rayev said. They began thinking of ways for developers to create and offer mini-apps as a plug-and-play solution.
The mini-app economy is currently siloed, with apps or companies like WeChat, ByteDance, Meituan, Paytm, PhonePe, Grab and Go-jek either developing mini-apps for their own use, or running mini-app marketplaces for their users. But last year, the W3C Chinese Web Interest Group started looking at ways to standardize mini-apps. The group, including people from Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei, Intel, Xiaomi and China Mobile, published the first working draft of its white paper in September 2019 about how mini-apps can be created to work across platforms.
“It was a really perfect time for us to read that paper, because it was around the time we started our platform,” said Rayev.
Adding mini-apps can increase engagement because users open apps more frequently if they can access different services through it. It also gives app developers more ways to generate revenue through affiliate partnerships, commissions or transactions fees.
But many native app developers simply don’t have the resources to develop their own mini-apps, too, so Appboxo simplifies the process with an SDK that allows them to integrate any of its platform’s mini-apps. Another barrier for many app developers is working out business and development partnership deals with mini-apps, so AppBoxo helps guide them through the process, too.
Since Appboxo is based in Singapore, a lot of its current users are in Southeast Asia, and it also plans to target India. While mini-apps are less common in Europe and the United States, where most smartphone owners still use apps with one core offering, Rayev said that is starting to change. For example, Uber announced it was merging its ride-hailing and food delivery service, Uber Eats, into one app last year, while Snap introduced Minis a few months ago.
AppBoxo already has partners in Europe, and “the whole super app concept is coming to the Western world,” Rayev added. “Hopefully we can find some new partners in the rest of the world as well.”