The Korea Herald


Kakao seeks larger offline presence

Mobile messenger acquires parking app company Parking Square to expand the O2O business

By 김영원

Published : Feb. 29, 2016 - 17:39

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Kakao, the nation’s largest mobile messenger operator, has been showing an endless appetite for new revenue sources by acquiring start-ups in recent months.

Many of the investments were focused on the online-to-offline, or O2O, sector, which proves that Kakao has its eyes set on both the online and offline world. 

A KakaoTalk messenger user initiates the mobile messenger. (Yonhap) A KakaoTalk messenger user initiates the mobile messenger. (Yonhap)

On Monday, the mobile messenger firm announced it had taken over another fledgling start-up, called Parking Square, which runs mobile parking application Park Here.

The move came less than a year after acquiring Kimgisa -- now KakaoNavi -- the nation’s second largest mobile navigation application.

Park Here, which has 150,000 subscribers, provides information on 5,000 parking lots in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. It allow users to book parking spots from over 500 parking lots in the regions.

Kakao declined to disclose the takeover price, but market sources said the deal is estimated to be worth up to 20 billion won ($16 million).

Launched in January 2014, Park Here saw sales jump by 435 percent from 2014 to 2015. Exact figures were not revealed.

Previously, the mobile messenger firm had maintained a partnership with the parking app operator since April last year, providing the latter’s services via its online and mobile map service.

A Kakao public relations representative said, “No specific plan on how to deploy the parking services has been set yet.” However, it is expected that Kakao will integrate the parking app services into its mobile map and navigation services.

Parking Square will be run independently from Kakao as in the case of Loc & All, the operator of Kimgisa.

Kakao spent 62.6 billion won in the takeover deal of Loc & All, which now boasts a subscriber base of 10 million.

More than 97 percent of smartphone users in Korea communicate via KakaoTalk messenger and Kakao has been trying to make full use of this advantage to grow its O2O businesses.

The Pangyo-headquartered firm has rolled out the taxi hailing app KakaoTaxi and its high-end variant, KakaoTaxi Black, which offers premium taxi services.

After the firm’s investment arm K Venture Group acquired 51 percent of mobile beauty app developer Hasys last year, Kakao announced earlier this year it would be introducing a hair shop booking app, Kakao Hair Shop, to tap into the beauty market, which is thought to be worth 7 trillion won, according to the messenger firm.

In addition to its bundle of navigation, transport, and taxi tailing apps, Kakao is planning to introduce a chauffeur service app – called Kakao Driver -- and delivery services in the coming months.

KT Economics and Management Research Lab, an economic think tank run by telecommunications firm KT, anticipated that the Korean O2O industry will grow at an explosive rate, with its size likely to reach up to 300 trillion won in 2017 from 15 trillion won in 2015.

By Kim Young-won (