The way mobile messenger Kakao Talk has changed how people in Korea communicate is undeniable.
Many have embraced the messenger service as a new and much cheaper means of dialogue, and the numbers are the proof of its popularity, with 120 million subscribers worldwide and almost 35 million domestic users.
Based on this success, Kakao Corp., the operator of the messenger service, appeared to be ready to take the next big step.
“We’re seeking higher levels of coprosperity with our partners by utilizing our messenger to become a platform for other companies to run their business on,” said Kakao co-CEO Lee Sir-goo in an interview with The Korea Herald.
|Lee Sir-goo. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
The ultimate goal over the next three years is to support up to a million companies to be able to generate profits with the help of the Kakao platform, according to the firm.
Lee said he believed cooperation, rather than fierce competition, was the way for all market players to survive.
Earlier this month, Kakao pledged to become an angel investor of sorts for mobile content providers, mostly by offering them a test bed for their products and providing application development training.
Lee’s history with Kakao is still short, but that isn’t to say he didn’t take risks to get where he is now.
In 2011, the CEO quit his job as head of the U.S. office of NHN, the operator of Korea’s largest Web portal Naver, to join Kakao, following an offer from Kakao chairman Kim Beom-su to help create a mobile ecosystem that could spur coprosperity with partner firms.
At the time, Kakao was growing but not yet as dominant as it is now, whereas the sky seemed the limit for Naver.
Regarding profit models for messengers like Kakao, Lee said Kakao would remain true to its original form ― as a messenger ― but would work toward creating applications people could closely relate to.
“Communication with users and simplicity of services are keys to success in the mobile era,” Lee explained.
“Between,” an SNS messenger for couples, and “Kim Gisa (Driver Kim),” a navigation application, are some of the impressive mobile services which Lee sees to be simple yet functional and effective.
“Online portals typically try to raise traffic by offering everything and anything they can online (such as online shopping and information search),” he said.
This model, however, is not right for services like Kakao Talk, which need to be more customer-specific and tailored for individual needs.
“Without realizing this uniqueness, online service providers often fail to adapt to the mobile platform,” the CEO said.
Talking about Kakao’s formula for success, Lee said one of its strengths is listening to user feedback.
This way, he said, problems are solved more quickly. And this is how Kakao Talk ― as well as its sister applications Kakao Story and Kakao Home ― was able to swiftly mold itself into what users want.
When asked what could be the greatest challenge ahead, he quoted Microsoft founder Bill Gates as saying the greatest fear for a company is someone who is devising something in their garage, but he said that he hopes that more new and innovative start-ups can emerge down the road.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)