Big messaging apps WhatsApp and Viber are getting scooped up by even bigger internet companies, but fellow texting heavyweight Line may have different exit plans. It has filed for an IPO, according to numerous reports, and plans to take on the quickly growing communications app market as an independent company.
Line’s owner, South Korean search portal Naver, has submitted an application for a public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which may be followed by listing on a U.S. exchange, Bloomberg reported citing unnamed sources.
An IPO seems almost counterintuitive despite Line’s success. It’s one of the handful of over-the-top (OTT) apps — apps that bypass traditional carrier voice and SMS services — that have passed the 100 million registered users mark; it boasts more than 400 million individual accounts and exchanges 10 billion messages per day. But the strategy for most companies in this space seems to be to grow as quickly as possible and then sell out to a big internet company.
In WhatsApp’s case that sale was to Facebook, for an astonishing of $16 billion purchase price. Viber went to Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten for $900 million. Video chat-centric app maker Tango is still on the market, though it is attracting interest form global internet giants as well. China’s Alibaba recently pumped $215 million into Tango, leading its most recent $280 million funding round.
Line would have been a good candidate for an acquisition by Google or Yahoo or even a global mobile carrier, if Naver had been willing to sell. Line’s home market is Japan, where it is by far the most popular OTT messaging app, but it has successfully broken beyond its borders into the rest of Asia and many other countries around the world.
Line, however, has proven more successful than its peers in monetizing its huge network. It was on forefront of the Stickers trend, selling the next generation of emoji to its users. It’s used its communications network to create a gaming network that brokers in-game purchases (a model Tango has also been following), and it hosts offers premium accounts in its networks for celebrities and companies who want to communicate with their customers and fans.