Understanding Line, the Chat App Behind 2016’s Largest Tech IPO


Line, the mobile messaging app from Japan, is going public today in a dual Japan-U.S. IPO that could raise as much as $1.14 billion. The listing, which will happen in New York on Thursday and Tokyo on Friday, is set to be the largest from a tech company this year to date.

Yet, despite that, precious little is known about the company outside of Asia, where the vast majority of its users are located, and the challenges that it is up against.

Here’s what you need to know.

First off, on a basic level:

  • Line is a free messaging app that goes beyond basic services like WhatsApp to offer stickers, social games, video calling, and a range of other accompanying apps that connect to the service.
  • It is wholly owned by Naver, a Korean internet company that started the service following the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Naver picked Japan because it realized it couldn’t compete with Kakao, Korea’s dominant chat app. Line has close to 2,500 staff, around 1,000 of whom are located in Japan.
  • Line reported that it has 218 million monthly active users worldwide, around two-thirds of whom are based in its top four countries: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.
  • Despite an effort to grow its userbase in Europe and the U.S. through sizable advertising in 2013 and 2014, Line last year refocused its efforts on Asia and new growth opportunities in the region.
  • Line currently has more than 35 apps available to download, including its core messaging app, to a light version for emerging markets, social games, a music streaming service in Japan and Thailand, an Uber rival in Japan and Webtoons, its cartoon app. It also offers a payments service that sits inside the Line messaging app in its largest markets.

Line doesn’t have the vast userbase of WhatsApp (more than one billion active users), Facebook Messenger (over 900 million active users) or China’s WeChat (close to 700 million active users), but it is notable for pioneering a number of trends in messaging, particularly around monetization.

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