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Main article: Line

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Yahoo Japan and Line are reportedly going to merge

19:41 | 13 November

According to Nikkei, messaging app Line and Yahoo Japan are about to merge and form a single tech company. Despite the name, Yahoo Japan is currently 100% owned by Z Holdings, a company that is controlled by Japanese telecom company SoftBank (Yahoo Japan isn’t related with TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Media). Line Corporation is owned by Naver Corporation, a South Korean internet giant.

The two companies are still discussing terms of the deal according to Nikkei. But you could imagine Z Holdings becoming a a 50-50 joint venture between SoftBank and Naver, with Z Holdings owning both Yahoo Japan and Line.

Line operates one of the most popular messaging apps in Japan. In addition to conversations, the company operates Line Pay, Line Taxi and other services. But competition has been fierce in the messaging space.

Yahoo Japan was originally formed by Yahoo and SoftBank in the later 1990s. When Verizon acquired Yahoo in 2017, Verizon didn’t acquire Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. Yahoo created a spin-out company called Altaba to hold those stakes.

Altaba first sold its stake in Yahoo Japan. In July 2018, SoftBank acquired part of Altaba’s stake in Yahoo Japan in order to increase its ownership of Yahoo Japan. Altaba later sold its remaining Yahoo Japan shares, its Alibaba shares and shut down. In 2019, SoftBank received additional shares to become Yahoo Japan’s parent company.

Yahoo Japan is a household name and a big internet conglomerate in Japan. It has an online advertising business, an e-commerce business, finance services and more. Yahoo Japan and Line probably hope to reach more users and boost engagement with the merger.

We’ve reached out to Line Corporation and Z Holdings and will update if we hear back.

 


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Travel activities startup KKday lands investment from Alibaba and Line

16:28 | 8 November

Taiwan’s KKday, a startup in the increasingly competitive travel activities space, has pulled in an undisclosed funding round that adds two strategic investors to its business: Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba and Japanese chat app company Line.

KKday was founded in 2015 to help people who travel overseas to find and book activities, ranging from tours to tourist attraction, transportation, museums and more. The company said it offers over 20,000 “unique experiences” in over 500 cities across 80 countries. There is much potential to move into, it seems, with analyst firm Phocuswright predicting that the travel tour and activities market will grow by one-third to reach $183 billion by 2020.

Unlike Hong Kong-based regional rival Klook, which is valued at over $1 billion and has ventured into Europe and the U.S, KKday is focused on Asian markets only.

We last wrote about the startup in January when it raised a $10.5 million round led by Japanese travel operator H.I.S, and this new Series B funding round is led by Alibaba’s Taiwan-based entrepreneur fund and Line Ventures, the VC arm connected to Japan’s leading chat app.

KKday CEO Ming Chen told TechCrunch in an interview that the two will help KKday with its efforts in China and Japan. Alibaba initially made an investment in July, this new deal represents a follow-up and it’ll see more emphasis placed on KKday’s branded store on Alibaba’s Fliggy travel store in China. Interestingly, Alibaba’s fund has also invested in another Taiwan-based activities service, FunNow.

Similarly, KKday will double down on Japan, where Chen said the company has seen “huge growth” thanks in a large part to its relationship with H.I.S. — a 38-year-old firm which has offices in 150 cities and $5.5 billion in annual sales. Chen, who thinks KKday may be Japan’s largest travel activities booking platform already, said Line will introduce a dedicated ‘Travel’ account that ties into the KKday service to allow Line users to book activities and share details with friends without leaving the messaging app.

Chen and KKday CMO Yuki Huang explained that the company is always open to strategic investments where it believes it can find business value.

“We’re very focused on looking for strategic investors not just money,” Huang said.

Others in the round announced today include existing investors CDIB Capital from Hong Kong and Monk’s Hill Ventures in Southeast Asia. That, added to Alibaba in China/Taiwan and H.I.S and Line in Japan, gives KKday a balanced investor base to help its business in those regions, Huang added.

KKday’s main rival is Klook and a Taiwanese competitor is FunDay, but a plethora of companies have sprouted to offer similar services in other parts of the world. Those include Peek in the U.SCulture TripGetYourGuideHeadout and WithLocals. Still, KKday is sticking to its Asia focus for now, according to Chen and Huang.

 


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Chat app Line’s games business raises $110M for growth opportunities

11:25 | 31 October

Messaging app firm Line has given up majority control of its Line Games business and raised outside financing as it seeks to expand its collection of games titles and look at global expansion options.

The Line Games business was formed earlier this year when Line merged its existing gaming division from NextFloor, the Korea-based game publisher that it acquired in 2017. Now the business has taken on capital from Anchor Equity Partners, which has provided 125 billion KRW ($110 million) in financing via its Lungo Entertainment entity, according to a disclosure from Line.

A Line spokesperson clarified that the deal will see Anchor acquire 144,743 shares to take a 27.55 percent stake in Line Games. It looks like those are from existing investors since Line Corp confirmed that its own shareholding will be reduced from 57.6 percent to a minority 41.73 percent stake.

Korea-based Anchor is best known for a number of deals in its homeland including investments in e-commerce giant Ticket Monster, Korean chat giant Kakao’s Podotree content business and fashion retail group E-Land.

Line operates its eponymous chat app which is the most popular messaging platform in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, and also significantly used in Indonesia, but gaming is a major source of income. This year to date, Line has made 28.5 billion JPY ($250 million) from its content division, which is primarily virtual goods and in-app purchases from its social games. That division accounts for 19 percent of Line’s total revenue, and it is a figure that is only better by its advertising unit, which has grossed 79.3 billion JPY, or $700 million, in 2018 to date.

The games business is currently focused on Japan, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, but it said that the new capital will go towards finding new IP for future titles and identifying games with global potential. It is also open to more strategic deals to broaden its focus.

While Line has always been big on games, Line Games isn’t just building for its own service. The company said earlier this year that it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles.

That comes from the addition of NextFloor, which is best known for titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch, at its peak it saw $1 million in daily revenue. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion.

 


0

Chat app Line gets serious about gaming with its latest acquisition

14:05 | 25 July

Line, the company best-known for its popular Asian messaging app, is doubling down on games after it acquired a controlling stake in Korean studio NextFloor for an undisclosed amount.

NextFloor, which has produced titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child, will be merged with Line’s games division to form the Line Games subsidiary. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch — it clocked $1 million in daily revenue at peak. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line’s own games are focused on its messaging app, which gives them access to social features such as friend graphs, and they have helped the company become a revenue generation machine. Alongside income from its booming sticker business, in-app purchases within games made Line Japan’s highest-earning non-game app publisher last year, according to App Annie, and the fourth highest worldwide. For some insight into how prolific it has been over the years, Line is ranked as the sixth highest earning iPhone app of all time.

But, despite revenue success, Line has struggled to become a global messaging giant. The big guns WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have in excess of one billion monthly users each, while Line has been stuck around the 200 million mark for some time. Most of its numbers are from just four countries: Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. While it has been able to tap those markets with additional services like ride-hailing and payments, it is certainly under pressure from those more internationally successful competitors.

With that in mind, doubling down on games makes sense and Line said it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles, from the second half of this year.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion.

 


0

Chat app Line to launch crypto exchange in July but it won’t cover US or Japan

11:54 | 28 June

Messaging app firm Line has confirmed it will launch a cryptocurrency exchange called BitBox next month.

The company said back in January that it planned to enter the crypto space with an exchange, but today it said that the BitBox service won’t be available for users in the U.S. and Japan — that’s presumably down to regulatory uncertainty.

What it will include, however, is support for trading 30 tokens — Line is only revealing big names like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin so far — and a 0.1 percent trading fee. Line said it has picked the tokens following “an extensive screening process” which saw an internal commitment asses what on the market represents “the most reliable and safest trading [options] for users.”

Bitbox will be available worldwide and in 15 languages. It isn’t yet clear whether it will include an option to buy or sell tokens using fiat — a key ramp to getting new money into crypto — or whether this will just be token-to-token trading.

Line has around 200 million monthly active users and it has expanded into adjacent services such as taxis on-demand, music streaming, mobile payment and more, so this foray could represent a step towards accepting crypto for its other services in the future. But the exclusion of U.S. and Japan-based users is a major caveat.

Japan is Line’s largest market for revenue and users, so by excluding the country, it is severely limiting the potential impact that Bitbox can have.

Nonetheless, the company is need of something fresh to revitalize its business in the wake of increasing competition from Facebook, which operates WhatsApp and Messenger, the world’s most popular messaging apps with over one billion monthly users each.

Prior its $1.1 billion U.S.-Japan IPO in 2016, Line had targeted a global audience via its messaging service — which pioneered the concept of stickers — and a connected games business. Its international expansion didn’t go according to plan, however, and the company refocused efforts on its four core markets of Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia, which account for 168 million of its active users.

In those markets, it offers a range of localized services that include video streamingmanga cartoonsshoppingride-hailing and other on-demand services. Last year, it began to sell smart hardware and AI to offer its own cartoony alternative to Amazon’s Echo range and Google Home devices. In some markets, it also offers a Line-branded mobile phone/data service.

There’s plenty of pressure, however. Facebook’s global popularity makes Messenger an option for most internet users on the planet while the company is busy in other areas. WhatsApp recently moved into business solutions that allow companies to correspond with users via its service, and it is tipped to add payments soon. CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to look into whether Facebook can make use of blockchain technology and earlier this year he set up a dedicated division that is headed by David Marcus, the ex-lead for Messenger and former CEO of PayPal.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

 


0

Twilio adds support for Line

19:50 | 24 April

The developer-centric communications platform Twilio today announced that it has added support for line to Twilio Channels. With this, Twilio developers now have the ability to reach users on this service, which has 168 million monthly active users, most of which live in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia. Line support in Twilio Channels is currently in beta but open to all developers who want to give it a try.

With this, Twilio Channels, which allows for sending and receiving messages, now supports many of the most popular messaging platforms, ranging from Facebook Messenger and Slack to WeChat, Kik and the new RCS text messaging standard. Missing from this list are the likes of WhatsApp and SnapChat, though they don’t have APIs that Twilio could easily integrate.

Unsurprisingly, the Line support also extends to Twilio Studio, the company’s drag-and-drop app builder, and Flex, Twilio’s recently announced contact center solution.

“The most successful organizations realize that delivering a seamless, elegant experience for customers on their preferred channels is a way to differentiate,” said Patrick Malatack, Vice President and General Manager of Messaging at Twilio in today’s announcement. “When developers use Twilio to build these experiences – they trust that they will be able to use one API, now and in the future, to support the communication channels their customers want to use. We are thrilled to add support for LINE to the Twilio platform and can’t wait to see what our customers build.”

 


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Lyft Line may be prepping for launch in Toronto

23:33 | 2 April

Lyft seems to be gearing up to launch its carpooling service, Line, in its first international city. This comes after Lyft launched its standard, Plus, Premiere, Lux and SUV services in Toronto back in December.

“With the response we’ve had since coming to Toronto, the growing network of riders and drivers makes it easier than ever to match passengers traveling in the same direction,” Lyft’s Kae Hondorp wrote in a blog post that has since been deleted. “Line is available when requests are in high demand based on traffic patterns, helping us bring new sustainable and affordable transportation options to the city.”

Lyft says Line will only be available when the requests in a popular area are high. I’ve reached out to Lyft and will update this story if I hear back.

 


0

Chat app Line announces plan for cryptocurrency services, loans and insurance

04:55 | 31 January

Line, the messaging app with around 200 million monthly users, is embracing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to fend off increased competition from Facebook and others.

The Japanese company today announced the creation of a new financial services division which will spearhead a move into cryptocurrencies and other services including loans and insurance. Line already operates a payment service — which claims 40 million users $4 billion in annual GMV — but now it plans to do much more.

Line said it has applied for a cryptocurrency license in Japan — where more than a dozen exchange and other businesses have been approved — which is currently under review.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Line was considering a move into crypto, but at this point it isn’t clear exactly what that will entail. From the announcement, Line said it will operate a marketplace inside its app where people can trade crypto and get loans or insurance. It said, too, that it will look into how it can use blockchain technology within its services.

Loans and insurance, while not as attention-grabbing as crypto, may prove to be lucrative ventures in markets where Line has strong recognition among consumers.

The company is need of something fresh to revitalize its business in the wake of increasing competition from Facebook, which operates WhatsApp and Messenger, the world’s most popular messaging apps with over one billion monthly users each.

Prior its $1.1 billion U.S.-Japan IPO in 2016, Line had targeted a global audience via its messaging service — which pioneered the concept of stickers — and a connected games business. Its international expansion didn’t go according to plan, however, and the company refocused efforts on its four core markets of Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia, which account for 168 million of its active users.

In those markets, it offers a range of localized services that include video streaming, manga cartoons, shopping, ride-hailing and other on-demand services. Last year, it began to sell smart hardware and AI to offer its own cartoony alternative to Amazon’s Echo range and Google Home devices. In some markets, it also offers a Line-branded mobile phone/data service.

There’s plenty of pressure, however. Facebook’s global popularity makes Messenger an option for most internet users on the planet while the company is busy in other areas. WhatsApp recently moved into business solutions that allow companies to correspond with users via its service, and it is tipped to add payments soon. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also pledged to look into whether Facebook can make use of blockchain technology.

Line will hope these new services can boost its business in its strongest markets and pick up new users in other countries.

Line might well be the largest consumer-focused business to adopt crypto to date. It is far from the only chat app, though. Kik raised $100 million in an ICO earlier this year, while there are also newer blockchain-based solutions such as Status. Then there’s Telegram, a chat app that has over 150 million users and is popular among the crypto community, which is planning a much-anticipated ICO that could raise upwards of $1.2 billion.

Line’s announcement comes as the price of bitcoin dropped below $10,000 for the first time since the end of November, according to Coindesk’s price tracking service.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

 


0

Selfie app Snow, once a Snapchat clone, raises $50M from SoftBank and Sequoia China

09:23 | 22 January

It’s been a while since we heard from Snow, the Snapchat clone app in Asia that Facebook once tried to buy, but today the company behind it has scooped up a $50 million investment from SoftBank and Sequoia China.

Snow was started by Naver, the Korean firm behind popular messaging app Line, and it had proven popular in Japan, Korea, China and other markets in Asia thanks to a focus on localized filters, stickers and features. Not to mention Snapchat’s famous lack of effort in Asian markets.

The Snow app has changed significantly since we last wrote about it, however. It’s no longer a Snap clone.

A major updated that dropped last week removed Snow’s user-to-user communication features and turned it into a dedicated selfie camera app. Without chat, the app doubles down on filters, stickers, augmented reality (AR), and other selfie-related features to make photos and other media that can be exported to social networks or chat groups.

Snow users can now, for example, record a video set to music from artists that include Charlie Puth. There’s the usual array of photo filters, alongside a GIF maker and Instagram-like Boomerang feature.

Snow plans to use this new investment to develop its augmented reality and facial recognition technologies. Its App Store listing shows it is working with Chinese unicorn SenseTime on facial recognition.

It is also aiming to build partnerships and localize its service in China. Outside of Snow, Snow Corp also owns camera apps Foodie and B612, which it acquired from Line, so they may also be pushed in China as standalone apps, although the tech behind them is also shared with the core Snow app.

A Snow representative told TechCrunch that the app now has over 200 million downloads on iOS and Android. The company doesn’t break out specific data for each market, but it said that China is its largest market. In January 2017, we reported that Snow had 40-50 million monthly active users but there’s no further update on the MAU front for now.

SoftBank — and this is SoftBank Group not the Vision Fund — and Sequoia have bought up 20 percent of the shares of Snow’s China business unit via this deal. Line is among Snow’s other backers, via two investments.

 


0

Chat app Line is reportedly considering its own cryptocurrency

08:32 | 10 January

Tickets please, the next crypto train is about to depart. Japan-based messaging app Line is said to be the latest public company to consider a move into the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, according to a Bloomberg report.

Unlike some of the more obscure and head-scratching moves, which include China’s forgotten social network and an iced tea company, there would be some merit to Line adopting a token.

The company already offers a mobile payment service — Line Pay — and one of its staple features is a virtual currency that is used in its social games and to buy content on its platform, including its vast array of (very communicative) stickers.

Bloomberg reported that Line is in discussions with a number of potential partners, including bitcoin exchange Upbit, over possible tie-ins around Line Pay and other products. The goal, the report claimed, is to make its products stickier with users.

Line did not respond to a request for comment.

Lack of engagement is certainly an issue Line has encountered since it went public via a dual Japan-U.S. listing that raised $1.1 billion in 2016.

Line claimed 218 million in July 2016 — just before the listing — but that had dropped in 203 million by October 2017. The company also lost users from its four core markets — Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia — for the first time last year. Those countries account for two-thirds of its users, making it a very big problem.

Line’s share price got a 10 percent bump in Japan yesterday, but ultimately it remains to be seen whether, and indeed how, it will utilize the blockchain.

There are already some examples. Kin, a Canada-based messenger that claims 15 million monthly users, held a $100 million ICO last September aimed at developing an ecosystem that rewards users, content makers and advertisers based on ‘attention.’ Telegram, which has emerged as a key platform for the crypto industry, is also planning an ICO which TechCrunch understands could surpass $1 billion.

Line wouldn’t necessarily have to conduct an ICO — the regulations are still hazy for public entities — but it could implement attention-based tokens or the blockchain to reward users for using the messenger, making payments via Line Pay or playing its games.

Disclosure: The author owns small amounts of cryptocurrency

 


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