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Chris BestCo-Founder and Chief Technology OfficerKik Interactive
Chris Best, co-founder and chief technology officer of chat app Kik Interactive, spoke with eMarketer’s Cathy Boyle about how teens are coming online for the first time through mobile phones and how that will change their relationship with brands and their attitudes as consumers.
eMarketer: Tell me about Kik and your user base.
Chris Best: Kik has 240 million registered users, which is a global number, and accounts for people who download the app and set up an account. Seventy-two percent of our users are in the US and they’re predominantly younger, between the ages of 13 and 23.
On the active user front, we don’t disclose our number of monthly active users but there is one number that we do share, which is that 40% of US teenagers are active on Kik.
eMarketer: Kik received a substantial investment from Tencent, the owners of China’s popular WeChat messaging app, and I’ve seen you quoted in the press saying that this investment could help Kik become the “WeChat of the West.” What does that mean to you? What’s your vision?
Best: What it means is chat apps becoming a gateway for services beyond just talking to your friends. WeChat started out as the best way to text your friends, and it became dominant in the market. But they’ve built a platform on top of that and now you go to WeChat for all kinds of different products and services, including real-world commercial stuff. You can order a taxi on WeChat. You can order food on WeChat. You can refinance your mortgage on WeChat. They’ve become this gateway to the mobile internet. It’s analogous to how search became the gateway to the desktop internet.
eMarketer: Why do you think a platform like WeChat hasn’t developed yet in the US?
Best: The necessary ingredient for that type of success is to have a ton of people coming online for the first time on their smartphone. You need a large group of mobile-first internet users who do not have an established way that they already do online transactions.
It’s hard to get somebody to switch from Amazon to a messaging app to shop if they’re already a loyal Amazon customer. But when you have a ton of people coming online for the first time who don’t necessarily have that loyalty to desktop, a messaging app can [offer a variety of services] and become the de facto home experience for those mobile-first users.
There’s one US demographic group—teenagers—that have the mobile-first ingredient. They’re first connection to the internet is through a mobile device and they haven’t defined their behaviors yet. They don’t have legacy preferences from the age of the desktop internet, and they won’t necessarily develop them because the phone is their internet. Messaging is their starting point for connecting to the world, and that’s where we see our opportunity.
eMarketer: How are you monetizing the app now, and what business model is the most attractive in the long term?
Best: We see the platform and ecosystem as our long-term revenue plan. If Kik can become this default gateway for all sorts of things—apps, games, ecommerce, etc.—we can charge for those services directly.
That’s where we see the business model going long-term. We’ve already started monetizing in a couple of ways but it’s still relatively early days. I mean, we’re still figuring out how this is all going to work.
eMarketer: What about display advertising, are you considering that as a source of revenue?
Best: No, we’re not. And really, you can’t. If you have a chat experience, you can’t afford to gum it up by putting in ads that work against the user’s experience. For things that hinge around promotion and discovery, our goal is to find more natural places for such things that will be a win-win for the advertiser and the user, sort of like Google did with search ads.
Kik Points is actually an example of that. Users can opt in to see some advertising content and earn Kik points, which they can then spend on premium content in the Kik app. But they’ll never see an ad they don’t seek out, ever.
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