[SINGAPORE] Line Corp plans to use part of the US$1.3 billion it garnered from last month's initial public offering to bankroll acquisitions of content and technology, transforming its messaging service into a one-stop shop for Asian social media users.
Japan's most popular messaging service is gunning for companies in areas ranging from artificial intelligence chatbots and advertising to video streaming and games, including those with augmented reality features, Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Idezawa said in an interview.
The Tokyo-based company has assembled a dedicated team to scope out and review possible targets across the globe. The idea is to build Line into a "smart portal," supplementing its mainstay features of chatting, stickers and games with commercial services such as food delivery, job searches and travel reservations in main markets.
"We are very open-minded about the size and geography" of potential acquisitions, Mr Idezawa said. "What's important is that they are the right fit." Both the business and the talent that comes with it are important criteria, he said.
Messaging services globally have become prime mobile destinations as they incorporate functions beyond simple chatting, such as media streaming and online shopping. Apps like Line and Facebook's Messenger will evolve into "virtual agents" that provide services well beyond communication in three to seven years, said Julie Ask, an analyst with Forrester Research.
One example is Amazon.com Inc's Echo, which deciphers and acts on spoken commands. The popular portable speaker can hail or buy more shampoo, by analyzing a user's shopping preferences and history.
Tencent Holdings Ltd's WeChat is increasingly woven into the fabric of its Chinese users' daily lives, letting them book hotels and buy products from a single app.
Line has the potential to offer the same and possibly more. Its users in Japan spend at least five times as much time on the app as they do on Amazon, and their activities range from chatting to reading news and ordering food.
Line in April announced the launch of an AI research lab, and funds from the IPO could allow it to buy startups that speed up development.
While Line is the most popular chatting app in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, it's runner-up to BlackBerry Ltd's messaging service in Indonesia, a country with a population larger than the other three combined.
Mr Idezawa said he will continue to focus on those four countries, where the number of Line's monthly active users has risen in recent months.
As part of ongoing efforts to be more than just a messaging app, Line has teamed up with local partners in South-east Asia such as motorbike taxi on-demand service Go-Jek in Indonesia.