LINE 101

TC just reported that LINE’s revenues have doubled YoY to $192m USD in Q3 2014. And just like that, LINE is back in the news again.

Since I seem to repeat the same answers to the same questions about LINE over and over, here is what I wrote in 2013 for TNW. The piece is about messaging apps but I  go over all the basics of LINE. From history to adoption, features, business model, etc., this should cover any and all questions so it’s really, really, really long.

Enjoy — and feel free to ask any questions in the comments.


 

Line’s rise in Japan

Take the Line story, for example. Line, wasn’t an overnight success and there is good reason for that. Line’s biggest marketshare is in Japan. Japan’s smartphone market really began growing in 2011 — some four years after the US — and analysts have found a near-150 percent rise in smartphone adoption between 2011 and 2013.

Of the 127 million people in Japan, smartphone ownership finally passed 50 million users in August, but things are developing rapidly. Japan overtook the US as the biggest spenders on apps only this week, and the market is potentially hugely lucrative for makers of popular apps.

idc japan 520x279 Silicon Valley, you are tardy to the messaging app party

This market shift also affected Japan’s text-based communication.

Text-based communication in Japan is very different from the US and other parts of the world. Japanese telecoms have advanced emailing systems, where carrier-issued email addresses are attached to every mobile number. The email system functionally operates like SMS: simple, free and unlimited. SMS in Japan is charged per text, so before mass market smartphone adoption, text communication was done by keitai meru (cell phone mail).

With the rise of smartphones, apps quickly became popular. As users got used to beautiful, gesture-based UIs, text-based cell phone email no longer fulfilled their needs. That’s when Line started gaining serious traction. People go where their friends are and Line happened to be in the right place, at the right time.

Line changed Japanese mobile communication.

And it’s easy to see why people quickly adopted Line. An Internet connection gives users free unlimited voice calls, unlimited free messaging, unlimited instant photo sharing, group chats and video communication. The interface is cute and Line is very easy to use, but, most importantly, it offered a solution to the ‘pay for all and everything’ Japanese telecom model — and Line disrupted the Japanese mobile industry.

line 300m 730x588 Silicon Valley, you are tardy to the messaging app party

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Internet Power Balance Shift to Asia

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The WSJ had a nice piece breaking down the mega internet companies of the world — of course US leads the pack but Asian companies aren’t doing so shabby either. China is of course leading the ‘Asia’ pack due to sheer population volume. Seriously, file that under no shit Sherlock.

But there were some fun factoids:

  • 45% of the world’s nearly 3 billion internet users are in Asia
  • WeChat (owned by Tencent) has about 440m users
  • Tencent’s profit margin in the second quarter was 32%, compared with 27% at Facebook and 21% at Google.
  • Tencent’s stock-market value is $148 billion, compared with Facebook’s $194 billion.
  • LINE (Japanese messaging app) had revenue of $323 million, 16 times the estimated revenue of WhatsApp.

…separately, it’s really funny how ‘tech journalists’ don’t seem to understand the products they are writing about. This particular author, said WeChat is WhatsApp’s rival. No. No. No. I can not say this enough times: they are two very different products. WhatsApp is a communication utility – a tool. WeChat is a full fledged platform, an ecosystem.

The author also calls LINE stickers ‘cutesy emoticons’ — which further highlights the lack of understanding of mobile behavior in Asia even after NYT wrote about it!! (Pretty embarrassing).

Oh well. I guess that’s why there is a need for someone like me or Jon Russell of TNW and a dedicated publication like TIA to pipe on about this region.

Only a few reasons I love emerging markets

During conversations with one of my favorite VCs and separately, with one of my favorite tech bloggers, services I never heard of were brought up. I also learned a few things I’m just going to leave here — more like a note to self — before I forget.

Old age, the struggle is real.


 

Opera still has 300M MUAs.
Opera Mini (the mobile browser
– Indian users of the Opera Mini mobile browsers used 75% less mobile data in the first half of the year
– is compatible with over 3,000 mobile devices, dumb phones and smartphones
-works on basic Java to the latest Android and iOS platforms

Wow – who knew. It’s such a perfect browser for emerging nations where cost and access are barriers source


 

Random thought: I wish I was passionate about logistics. So much money and room for disruption there. Imagine “between x and y is z” (where x, y = time and z = service ex: delivery, internet, cable, food, etc) is non existent. Time is precise. Or in plain English, parcels will be dropped off and service rendered at exact times.

The solution would involve an algo that calculates most cost efficient delivery radius in a way that’s never been done before. Combine that with a notification app like Yo, that’s a billion dollar business right there. And I believe the solution will come out of Asia.


 

Binu Screenshot_9_15_14_9_26_PM

Which reminded me of Frontline SMS Screenshot_9_15_14_9_28_PM

 

Google APAC has WiFi enabled rickshaws to help people go online

*Pardon the lazy post

Why Aren’t More Tech Journalists Talking About This? #Apple

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…this was my stance after the Apple announcements of iPhone 6, 6+, and the watch but all jokes aside, there is good reason Apple is the most valuable brand on the planet and simply “mind-blowing“.

Personally, the Watch does nothing for me. I would never own one. The app screen (points below)

apple-watch_custom-6f232f81d85587d089f8eeee63219236ca239b23-s40-c85

triggers my trypophobia (yes, trypophobia is real) and the design is just outdated — totally 80s.

However, what Apple did with the watch, as well as all the iPhones after the 4, is create a problem then solved the problem for us. First world problem-ing in the highest order. Or in scientific terms: they tap into the last triangle of Maslo’s Hierarchy of Needs, by making us need things we didn’t know we needed.

This deep understanding of human behavior and finding ways to hook people with design and hardware is something very few companies can achieve. Apple consistently creates problems then seamlessly and elegantly solves them for us — truly, one of the most innovative companies of our time.

People say now, things like “why do we need payments on our wrists, when we can do them on our phones?” Or, “why would we need payments on our phones and wrists?” I say, just wait – people will start getting lazier because they’ll adopt to the convenience of phone functionalities on body parts (wearables) and soon, it’ll be the norm.

Think about it: everything about technology is creating and solving more convenient ways of living. Telephones, email, computers, laptops, mobile phones, smartphones, tablets… and the next: wearables.

With the Apple Watch, Apple is now giving us 1) predicted text so we don’t have to type. 2) a way to transact without the extra effort of pulling out our phones. 3) a new type of push-pull notification system in a way that no other product or software does.

Which to me, is the most exciting part of the Apple announcement – all personal thoughts about style aside. It’s a bit peculiar to me how a lot more people aren’t excited about that vs the new and shiny hardware.

Why You Should Care About Unconscious Bias

Nikesh Arora ex-Google exec, now Softbank Internet and Media CEO / vice chairman of the overall company tweeted he is looking for “ivy leaguers with US / Japan experience”. Why did he specify ivy leaguers? Does he realize he is biased?

Or, what about when we see someone in the US, who is using a smartphone other than an iPhone. What are your initial thoughts? It’s okay, be honest. You’re not alone. I’ve heard many girlfriends say things like “I’d never date someone with an Android phone.”

We automatically assume things about people born and raised in certain cities, countries, regions, etc. And judge people by how they look or present themselves to the world. We don’t do it on purpose but we are all guilty of some sort of bias and judgment.

But imagine if you unknowingly carry those thoughts into the workplace. Do you choose to do better work with colleagues you already have an unconscious bias towards? Or what if you are a hiring manager; are you confident your choices aren’t driven by bias?

Ponder that for a second.

I’ve expressed on Twitter how I am thrilled to the toes Megan Smith is America’s new CTO. And it seems most of the tech community is too. General consensus is because she is a female. Or part of the LGBT community. Or both.

I am excited because I have followed her and what she has been doing for Google as an individual (if you’re interested, YouTube her talks from Google I/O or interviews on Google.org and Google [X] to see the many reasons why she is such an excellent leader and technologist — if you love tech from the core like me, it’s really, worth your time.)

One of my favorite clips I’ve seen of her, is about bias — conscious and unconscious bias — which I believe, is important for everyone to be cognizant of. Especially, if you are management level or higher.

This is the video, I’ve been tweeting a lot (with little to zero interest) but now that you’re here, watch:

I wish there were transcripts but some of my favorite soundbites – few are paraphrased:

“You hear venture capitalists talk about pattern matching when they are looking for the next young entrepreneur. But they are also pattern matching for things they have bias in, and not realizing they are doing that. So they might be more likely to fund a White or Asian man vs another (and she gets interrupted).”

“(Unconscious bias) is no one’s fault. It’s not like we are actively doing this. We all have it. It’s inherited. It’s systemic. What we have to do as an industry, is educate ourselves.”

“Diverse teams just make better products. Patents written with men and women on them, for example, are cited more. And the number of times a patent is cited, is a measure to know if a patent is better.”

“If you are applying for a role, a woman would only apply if they have 7 of the 10 characteristics required. Men would apply if they only have 3 of the 10. So as a manager, you just need to be conscious of that, look at all the candidates, and do a little more active work to make sure you’ve got the best pool.”

Google’s Diversity website also has a nice summary of what unconscious bias is:

The science of inclusion

Research shows that when we are more aware of our unconscious bias, we can make more objective decisions. In 2013, more than 20,000 Googlers (nearly half of our Googlers) engaged in workshops that focus on the science of how the brain works. This created a company-wide dialogue around how unconscious bias can affect perceptions of others, interactions with coworkers and clients, and the business overall. We hope our focus on making the unconscious conscious will not only foster a more inclusive workplace, but also make us a better company. Watch this video to find out more.

You can learn more about unconscious bias here, here, or here — or Google yourself.

We can do better. Let us be better.

The Magic of Silicon Valley

“The magic of Silicon Valley is the shared belief system that some will succeed. Carry the flame.” – Dave McClure

I wrote a guest post for The Next Web the other day and thought I’d share here, too. I love that quote by Dave McClure, who is such an inspiration to those outside of the Valley. He is one of, if not the only VC who actually takes the time to jump on a plane and show-up to tech ecosystems around the planet. His efforts are tireless and what he is doing for the global entrepreneurial community is something nobody can put a price on.

For those living in the US, it may be hard to picture, but a majority of the world is a bit behind when it comes to technology and startup cultures. Just imagine the way Silicon Valley was around 2005-06ish — the ripples of the second dot com boom were just forming. Facebook and Twitter were just starting out. Entrepreneurs were building products and webapps — software — because the smartphone penetration would come a year or two after that. There was activity, but the space wasn’t as crowded as it is today. VCs and founders, influential tech bloggers and reporters were more accessible… that’s how I see a lot of regions right now, in 2014.

APAC, especially Southeast Asia, is really exciting right now. And Dave McClure is ON IT. If you’ve never heard him talk abroad, you should YouTube it. He repeats over and over how Silicon Valley is a spirit. A confidence. A mindset.  A belief… and continues to motivate entrepreneurs around the globe. I really wish other high profile VCs took the time to do what he does, to. Not just for themselves (investing) but for technological advancement around the world.

Anyway. My TNW post is here: “Startup founders in Southeast Asia: it’s time to step up
The Red Herring also picked it up too: “Southeast Asia tech sees boost from emerging nations

Global Mobile Payment Market

To further reinforce the previous post on the mobile payment market, I came across a BI deck on the The Future of Mobile Payments.

1. Might be difficult for people in developed nations to digest, but in emerging nations, billions of people don’t have access to banks.  Southeast Asia is leading the pack:

enjoy-our-deck-sign-up-for-bi-intelligence-below

 

2. Global share of payment opportunities in these emerging markets are beyond ridiculous. YoY of MENA is the steadiest, while Southeast Asia and Latin America are predicted to steadily grow as well (granted, these numbers seem to be pulled from Cap Gemini — would be interesting to see Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and GS’ predictions)
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3. And of course, global numbers of mobiles — billions of handsets, most still feature (flip phones or the ancient Nokias). What this means, is, citizens of emerging markets are reliant on capabilities away from smartphone apps we in developed markets are used to. Ex: M-Pesa is the first that comes to mind. Their major market share is Kenya, Tanzania and they are increasing efforts into Middle East (Afghanistan, South Africa, India and Eastern Europe, respectively).

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Neat tid-bits I’m digesting with a grain of salt. The market can rapidly change, especially with the amount of funding going into Bitcoin ventures, the payment sector in developed nations is unpredictable. The question lies, would the trend trickle over to emerging markets? Distribution of wealth amongst emerging markets is also a factor (ex: even if Indonesia has highest GDP, population of <1% of the population are the only ones with purchasing power, would it make more sense for a startup to look at Thailand first, where spend per population is more evenly distributed?) And so on and so forth, there are still many, many questions.

Biggest takeaway though is how Southeast Asia is still up for grabs for payments. I really want to see young entrepreneurs beat Rocket Internet and SMART’s initiative in Southeast Asia. Exciting time to be in APAC and especially, SEA as technology is still very much in its infancy.

See the entire slide deck on BI’s site here.