In a press event titled "LINE 2014 Showcase," LINE executive team announced they will redefine three of their core services.
"LINE is in good shape" said Takeshi Idezawa, COO of LINE. During a recent outage of WhatsApp, downloads of LINE has surpassed that of WhatsApp.
"As of today, 360 million users are using LINE. We are confident that we can reach 500M by the end of the year."
As chief strategy and marketing officer, Jun Masuda took over the stage, he said "LINE has succeeded beyond people's expectation. It has expanded beyond the expected user base, beyond the national boundary (of Japan) , etc... Just like that , we kept shifting our shape. We believed that we kept evolving. However, users and media began to form a fixed image about what we do. Today, we are changing that. And we are doing it with three new services. The keyword that bond them all is 'beyond LINE'."
1st of the three announcements was their signature "Stamp" service.
While most of the other messaging services are designed for text-based communication (with a little bit of emoticons), LINE, from the ground up, is designed to help intimate communication full of emotion, atmosphere, sense of timing with friends.
In doing so, they used what's Japanese are good at: MANGA (cartoon)-like character stamps.
Using these stamps, younger generation (and those people with younger hearts) can exchange their feeling without a single word and pass a really good time while they are distant away.
There is LINE Stamp store that distributes both free and paid stamps.
LINE fans are willing to buy (or gift) stamps that his/her friends might not know; and this was creating a healthy business model for LINE.
Partner companies of LINE were selling stamps to promote new goods, new movie, soccer team (such as FC BARCELONA and REAL MADRID). Even Paul McCartney was using line to promote his live performance in Japan.
But today, LINE is going 'beyond LINE' and changing that.
Up until now, only selected few companies were able to provide original stamps; but today LINE is opening up an International "Creators Market" for their stamps.
It is just like the AppStore or GooglePlay but they will only sell stamps (i.e. graphics. minimum set of 40). LINE will charge 50% of the sales.
LINE executive believes this will create a whole new market for illustrators and cartoonists.
Jun Masuda, also believe this will help LINE's growth in countries other than Japan.
He said every country has its own culture and own way of expressing thing. LINE had worked hard to do the best in Japan and that served many international customers alike. But as of today, creators around the world can help make LINE a better communication tool for their countries via LINE CREATORS MARKET.
Registering for the creators is free and open at: creator.line.me
2nd of the three announcements was about "Official LINE account."
Actors, models, TV stars and many companies including top notch fashion brand to restaurants, fast food, sports team and even Japanese government today has official LINE account where they push their latest news to millions of smartphone users all over Japan.
"Today, people don't even open commercial e-mail. In Japan, there is a statistic that says less than 10% of commercial e-mails were opened.
But because the users can so easily subscribe/unsubscribe to LINE official account; more than 50% of messages pushed by LINE official account are opened." says Shintaro Tabata of LINE.
LINE Official account was also a very good business for LINE. But what change could they make there?
Well, they have started a new service called LINE Business Connect and decided to open up the API for LINE Official Account.
Until now, the same message went across all subscribers; but if you use the API, you can tailor the message for each user.
Using this you can send custom message and let them know their copy paper is running out or take order for Pizza delivery by stamps, etc. etc.
"You can integrate your own customer database and/or your employee database. You can use LINE Business Connect as the base of very smart and intimate CRM as well as intranet communication system" said Tabata.
TV stations can use LINE to do a poll or get real-time feedback for their program.
"As a matter of fact, four of the TV stations in Japan are working with LINE already."
To stretch people's mind and to show how wild LINE Business Connect can go, Tabata showed a video they made with LG Electronics for CES 2014; where it shows how you can communicate with your refrigerators and robot house cleaners.
"LINE is blessed with big customer base. But to go 'beyond LINE,' we have to start reaching people who don't use LINE and people who don't have access to smartphones" said Masuda.
Third of the three announcements was about "LINE Call," LINE's IP phone service.
To differentiate with other IP phone services, they focus on three aspects of the services: 1) ease of use, 2) hi-quality audio and 3) most affordable calling plan
For ease-of-use, they have integrated not only LINE and smartphones native address book but also yellow page into the app, so the user can search for shops and restaurants around them by name and make the phone call.
Above all, they focused on talk quality and set up Labs in various countries.
"We wouldn't start the service until we can get satisfactory result with our audio test." said Kenichi Sugimoto of LINE.
The service will start in March in six countries: Japan, the US., Mexico, Spain, Thailand and Philippines.
While the rate is very low for both domestic and international calls, in Japan, they have pay as you go and monthly subscription plan. And if you use monthly subscription, you can be paint up to 85% less than standard calls from smartphones ( here in Japan).
In a matter of an hour, LINE has renewed three of their core services.
What change could it bring to LINE's business?
Later in the Q&A Sessions, one of the press member asked how the breakdown of revenue will change in the future.
Masuda answered " We don't rely on single business model. It is natural that each services has ups and downs. It is also natural that each country has its own trend. Setting out a rule about how much of our revenue must come from which services makes no sense. We provide many free services but we don't think they are money loser, either. Actually, those can be the areas where we can show our business real skills."
Also asked about how they would compete with WhatsApp and other messaging apps, Masuda said "We don't build our services for differentiation. We are only here to provide the best service we can make."
Japanese tech companies tend to fixate with single model of success. They also tend to think business-model first, but LINE is a different beast.
I will the next generation tech startups here in Japan will look up at LINE as their role model.
P.S. I am so much behind my schedule and haven't done enough proof reading. If you find irritating errors, etc. please kindly leave a note on my Facebook:
- a few statistics from the conference:
- There are now 9 countries with 10 million + LINE users: Japan (50M), Thailand (22M), Indonesia (20M), Taiwan (17M), Spain(16M), India (16M), Korea (10M), the US (10M) and Mexico (10M)
- US and Mexico have just surpassed the 10M mark.
- Korea is famous for strong penetration of KakaoTalk.