How Kik Survived The Group Messaging Wars And Built A Sweet Mobile App For Controlling TVsTechCrunch Apr 13, 2012 Back to press
If a consumer mobile fad comes and goes, and you don’t play consolidation musical chairs, what do you do next?
This is kind of what happened to Kik, a Canadian startup that took off with the explosive growth of its messaging app last year. Amid the hype around messaging, Kik raised $8 million in funding from RRE Ventures, Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures. Not too long after, Kik’s rivals Beluga and GroupMe got acquired in some respectable (but not crazy huge) deals by Facebook and Skype last year.
Meanwhile, Kik has stayed independent and is charting a completely different course.
About two months ago, they launched Clik, a mobile app that lets you control a TV right from your phone. There are a few steps to making it work, but the major plus to Clik is that it doesn’t require additional hardware. You point your desktop or smart TV browser at ClikThis.com, which generates a unique QR code (a two-dimensional barcode). Then you open the Clik iPhone or Android app, aim the camera at the screen, and the phone syncs to the TV or computer. Once they’re connected, you can use your phone like a remote control to play YouTube videos on your TV.
So now the company has two major products under its belt: the messaging app Kik and the TV app Clik. There are no plans to spin either product out of the company.
Chief executive Ted Livingston says this isn’t a pivot. Really.
Kik is very much alive and well with 10 million registered users and 1 billion messages sent per month. It’s maintained a Top 25 ranking in the social networking category in the U.S., according to App Annie, and it currently has a better rank than high-profile apps like Path and Foursquare. The issue is that messaging is a service that could be easily cannibalized by Apple’s iMessages, Facebook Messenger or any change in the way the carriers handle SMS.
But the company’s other product Clik addresses a real hole in the market because most TV controllers are horribly designed. That’s the part that has a real revenue opportunity.
Plus, Clik has attracted interest from more than 100 potential partners that want to explore using it for video or gaming. “Clik has had huge response from developers who see it as a white-label version of Apple’s AirPlay,” Livingston said.
Since Kik has the user base that most mobile developers could only dream of having, the idea is to use Kik to cross-promote and seed Clik’s usage. “We think that Kik will provide viral distribution for Clik,” Livingston said. “We look at Kik as a way to get content from person to person and Clik as a way to get content from person to screen.”
Livingston says that Clik is actually a return to the company’s original vision. You see, back when the company started in 2009, it had the vision of making music very easy to play and share between phones and desktop computers. But licensing from the music labels is a pain, so they used the technology to build a messaging app instead.
Now that messaging has had its moment in the sun, it’s time to move on.
“We always thought that group messaging was a fad,” Livingston said. “We never looked at Kik as a social network. We always looked at it as a way to get content from person-to-person.”
Livingston has shown off Clik in a couple different ways. You can use it to send a YouTube playlist on your TV directly from your smartphone. You can also use Clik to play a game on a TV using an iPhone or Android device as the controller, which has piqued the interest of game developers.
“We’re looking at the entire stack and how to enable pre-existing experiences to be transferred from the phone to the browser,” he said. Kik should remain free indefinitely, but there will probably be some kind of freemium revenue model behind Clik for partners.
And if Apple launches an iTV? Well, that’s just extra marketing for Clik, since Apple would probably pursue a closed solution that would only work on its devices.
“The rumors around the Apple TV and awareness around AirPlay has been great for us,” he said. “We let you connect any phone to any screen and we’re open.”