India’s newest tech unicorn, messaging app Hike, announced that it has closed $175 million in funding increasing valuation to $1.4 billion, reports Tech Crunch.

The funding round was led by new investors, Chinese tech giant Tencent and manufacturing firm Foxconn. Tencent is the company that pioneered messaging with Chinese favorite, WeChat.

How does Hike work?

Born out of a joint venture between Bharti and SoftBank, Hike includes standard messaging app features, as well as free voice calling. The app emphasizes features such as privacy options to hide messages, and a function that allows users to send messages to non Hike users. The company heavily focuses its marketing on young people.

“Hike understands India, a highly diverse market with many nuances,” says Martin Lau, Tencent President.

Hike has stated that it has over 100 million registered users, 90% of whom are under 30 and send approximately 40 billion messages per month. 

Less like WhatsApp, more like Line

According to Hike’s founder, Kavin Bharti Mittal, every country has two messaging apps that do well, “there’s one that replaces SMS and one that does a lot more than that. Hike doesn’t even compete with WhatsApp, it is used very actively in addition to other apps.”

Hike has been focused on building differentiation from WhatsApp, which has largely retained a bare-basics approach to chat. It has left an option for a more integrated messaging app, in which Mittal has filled the gap with coupons and localized stickers within the app. Games attract over 100 million play sessions per month, and the news feature has 50 million plus users, and sees 1.5 billion stories viewed a month.

These added functions make Hike very similar to Asia’s favorite chat app, Line.

With Tencent’s involvement, Hike is likely to evolve into a ‘services’ app, reflecting Tencent owned WeChat’s numerous services which includes food delivery, ecommerce and much more.

According to Mittal, Hike is likely to introduce a payment solution within the next six to twelve months, among other new service offerings.

Hike is the only billion dollar social company in India, as of now.

 A version of this appeared in Tech Crunch on August 16. Read the full version here.

Popular, but media shy Indonesia mobile ecommerce platform Sale Stock has launched a partnership with messenger platform Line, reports e27.

Aside from announcing the partnership, the companies also introduced two new features; credit card payment system and an AR-based ‘changing room’.

Sale Stock was also the first in Indonesia to implement a one-on-one chat feature to shop.

The partnership aims to leverage from Sale Stock customers’ preference to chat and shop. Line’s user profile (45% female) are seen as the perfect target audience to support this strategy. The shopping culture in Indonesia is characterized by three distinctive features:

  1. Heavy use of cash and bank transfer (only 1.4% of Indonesians own a credit card)
  2. Use of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook for SMEs as a channel to promote products
  3. The use of chat apps provides direct interaction with customers

In general, Southeast Asia is seeing a rise in the use of chatbots as a means for brands to interact closely with their audiences, as Southeast Asian customers are generally more comfortable communicating with customer service officers through messaging rather than self-browsing.

The AR-based ‘changing room’ function will be installed in various shopping mall across Jakarta. This function will allow users to try on available clothes on the Sale Stock platform, and purchase it directly from the machine installed at the mall.

Sale Stock is listed among the fastest growing ecommerce startups in Indonesia. The company provides imported, local and in-house fast fashion collections for women.

 A version of this appeared in e27 on July 27. Read the full version here. 

Line has made its long awaited debut on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, reports CNBC.

The Japanese messaging app spiked 30% in market debut after opening at $42 per share in what appears to be the biggest tech IPO of this year. The company is owned by Naver, a South Korean Internet company, who offered 22 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange and 13 million on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Shares are trading under the symbol ‘LN’.

Shares of the company jumped more than 30% valuing the company at more than $9 billion. The stock closed at $26.61.

The company was formed in 2011, and is currently the seventh most used messenger app in the world, with more than 35 apps for downloads. Stickers are a main source of revenue, contributing to more than $270 million in sales. Line’s most popular markets are Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Moving forward, Line will be focusing more on domestic growth rather than global expansion. The company will also be moving into taxi hailing and music streaming to compete with Facebook and WeChat. Line sees an opportunity in the expansion of services as more customers become accustomed to a one-stop-shop platform.

Line is the fifth tech company to go public this year. Since 2015, 14 companies have gone public.

The entire IPO market has slowed down this year. Last month, 31 companies had gone public in the US, down from 69 in Q1 of 2015.

Line debuts as 2016's biggest tech IPO


Dual IPO Listing: Japan

According to Bloomberg, Line debuted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange today, and opened at $46 (4,900 yen), compared to its IPO price of $31 (3,300 yen) giving it a valuation of approximately $9.5 (1 trillion yen). Yoshihiro Okumura, GM at Chiba-Gin Asset Management Co, comments,

As New York debuted strongly, we’re seeing it being bought here too. A lot of the buying is coming from retail investors.

Line’s Chief Financial Officier, In-Joon Hwang said in an interview with Bloomberg that the company plans to use money for any investment opportunity to strengthen existing business in Line’s key makets, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Update at close of trading: Line ended slightly down at the close of New York trading, valued at $8.7 billion.

Versions of this appeared in CNBC and Bloomberg on July 14 & 15. Read the full versions here and here.

Amazon partners with Line for prime day

Amazon is reaching out to a wider customer base through Line. Source: mobilecommercedaily

Amazon is tapping into mobile messaging app Line to drive sales for its ‘Prime Day’, reports Mobile Commerce Daily.

The ecommerce company is starting conversation with users to drive them to its native online store, ramping up subscriptions ahead of Prime Day, which goes live today (July 12). The company shared a tweet that promotes its new keyboard within Line app, made up of various emojis in the form of its iconic dog mascot.

Within the conversation thread, Amazon shares content such as giveaways, polls and playlists in order to drive consumers to the site.

Shuli Lowy, Director of Consumer Success for the Americas, TVTY, comments, “as a general rule of thumb, marketers see the highest conversion rates when they provide the shortest route possible to the intended conversion.”

Each additional page consumers need to go through to get to the ‘purchase page’ creates a 50% drop off rate. Mobile messaging apps provides that element of a shortcut.

Amazon Mobile Messaging Tactic 

Users of Line can search for Amazon under the ‘official accounts’ section to get exclusive brand content. Although the user cannot interact exclusively one-on-one with Amazon, followers of the account will be able to access content created specifically for Line by the brand.

There are multiple links within the messages for users to conveniently visit Amazon without leaving the app.

To boost Prime Day and promote signups, Amazon includes an image within the message thread to advertise discounts. Users that click on the image are brought onto Amazon’s special deals page. Shoppers can sign up for Prime and receive a 30 day free trial as well as purchase items from the site.

Users can sign up through Line and get 30 day free trial. Source: mobilecommercedaily

Users can sign up through Line and get 30 day free trial. Source: mobilecommercedaily

Amazon’s partnership with Line is a well rounded example of how to market consumers through mobile messaging by providing a dynamic mix of purchase pages, invitations to engage and enforcing natural brand participation. Line facilitates an ongoing conversation with consumers to stay top of mind.

If the partnership provides a large degree of conversion rates to the site, it could very well be the start of Line’s foray into the US as they open up the East to the West.

A version of this appeared in mobile commerce daily on July 11. Read the full version here.

The popular messaging service Line is now targeting a $1.14 billion raise in what could potentially be this year’s largest tech IPO, reports Bloomberg.

Line has set the price of its IPO at the top of the targeted range, and will also exercise an option to sell more stock as potential investors shrug off market volatility initially caused by Brexit.

The company announced that it will sell 35 million shares at $32 apiece (3,300 yen).

It will also sell 5.25 million shares through a greenshoe (a clause that allows underwriters to buy up to an additional 15% of shares at the offering price), boosting the total raised to $1.3 billion.

The shares will begin trading in New York on July 14 and the day after in Tokyo. The company’s New York traded stock was priced at $32.84 with Line selling 25.3 million shares in the US, including the greenshoe.

Line is clearly gearing up for a big battle with larger rivals such as Facebook and Wechat owned Tencent Holdings. The company is looking to expand its 218 million user base beyond its strongest markets in Japan and Thailand. An expansion to target more users in Asia and eventually the US is planned for the future. Line initially filed to go public two years ago, but held off in hopes of getting stronger reception from investors, a strategy which may have cost the company as Facebook took this time to begin infiltrating its sector around the same time the market for technology company IPOs cooled.

The company made $1 billion in revenue in 2015, but isn’t yet profitable. Almost 90% of its revenue comes from Japan, while more than 60% of income comes from games. Sales grew 40% last year to 120.7 billion yen, with games, streaming music and comics accounting for 41% of that. But Line chalked up a net loss of 7.6 billion yen in the period, according to its IPO filing.

No technology company has raised more than $150 million in an IPO this year.

A version of this appeared in Bloomberg on July 11. Read the full version here.

Line announces price listing amid a poor IPO market


LINE, popular Japanese messaging app, is slated to come public in New York under the symbol “LN” on July 14 and in Tokyo the following day. Just over 40 IPOs have been priced in the US this year, down over 50% from last year making 2016 the slowest quarter for IPOs in the last 7 years, with most of the volatility caused by uncertainties regarding the Chinese economy, according to Yahoo Finance.

Line plans to offer 35 million shares at a price range of $26.50 to $31.50 per share. This would value the company at approximately $6.5 billion.

At most, the company could raise $1.3 billion, making it the biggest tech listing of this year so far. Initially, Line was planning to delay its price announcement due to the Brexit craze, but decided to price the company as planned. This could be the biggest tech IPO since 2014.

Line announces price listing amid a poor IPO market

Further worries regarding Brexit followed this month and after a quiet first quarter, the IPO market is going through a phase of normalization. Pricings in the market were held back by a public-private valuation disconnect in the tech sector, and poor trading of 2015 IPOs. The Brexit cloud and its effect on interest rates also contributed to the first quarter slump in the market.

In 2014, Line highlighted its potential valuation at $10 billion, much higher than its current $6.5 billion. The company has seen a deceleration in sales growth, which was up 40% to $1.1 billion in 2015, as it has focused on profitability (operating income swung positive in the 1Q16).

“Instead of trying to expand dramatically, they’ve focused on existing markets and reduced marketing spend, becoming profitable at the expense of growing users,” said Kathy Smith, Manager at Renaissance Capital.

Line currently has around 218 million monthly active users, and is the dominant messaging application in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia. Globally, it faces competition from China’s WeChat, which has 760 million monthly active users, and Facebook’s Whatsapp and messenger, which have a total of 2 billion active monthly users combined.

Line’s performance in July may be indicative of the remainder of 2016 IPOs.

A version of this article was published in Yahoo Finance on July 6. Read the full version here.