KakaoTalk’s Challenges

While the US is still trying to figure out how to jump on the messaging app money train, the downfall of messaging apps has begun in Asia.

KakaoTalk is Korea’s most dominant messaging app and an interesting analysis was just released [source].
A few takeaways:

  • KakaoTalk has 130 million subscribers. 35 million of them are from Korea.
  • Korea has approximately 37 million smartphone users
  • Kakao Japan was set up in July 2011. They have a joint venture with Yahoo Japan
  • Kakao is also in Vietnam and Indonesia
  • 9 of their games have at least 100 million cumulative downloads
  • since July of 2013, they have not hit 100 million
  • new subscriber acquisition rate is slowing down
  • they are also losing ground in overseas markets

KakaoTalk’s monetization strategy is lacking and heavy reliance on mobile gaming is a bad idea. Just look at Gree, the Japanese mobile gaming company. Their net profit Q1 fell 74% from the previous year and it keeps declining [source]. Even if KakaoTalk boasts game revenues of $300 million in the first half of the year [source], KakaoTalk’s user acquisition rate is declining. Their games are no longer as popular. They will see a shortage in projected revenue unless they come up with a new plan.

Their localization strategy is a failure. A joint venture with Yahoo! Japan should have catapulted them to mass penetration quickly, for in Japan, Yahoo!  is still the most visited website source. But they are still very much behind LINE, that entered the Japanese market 15 months after KakaoTalk. I also wonder how KakaoTalk is approaching growth in Vietnam and Indonesia.

KakaoTalk will stay dominant in S. Korea, since they have the most users in their home base, but LINE is also owned by Naver. Naver is a S. Korean company and they also have home base advantage. Unless KakaoTalk figures out a way to scale the servers (they are experiencing server errors and outages. Five that I could find, to date. 1,2 ), users can quickly move to another service as fast as they onboarded. Especially, since messaging apps are the way we communicate in Asia. An outage on KakaoTalk or LINE  in the US, is like Gmail or iMessage going down.

The messaging app space is peaking and it’s so competitive right now. It’ll be interesting to keep a close watch on KakaoTalk to see how they will evolve their product and strategies to stay a major player.

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