The Big Interview

Kik and the Coming Bot ‘Gold Rush’

Ted Livingston, Kik’s co-founder and CEO. Art by Matt Vascellaro.
Ted Livingston, Kik’s co-founder and CEO. Art by Matt Vascellaro.

Eighteen months ago, teen-centric messaging app Kik partnered with companies like Vans and Comedy Central so that they could pay to blast out promotions about products or videos. It was Kik’s early foray into bots, as brands could ask questions or send canned responses depending on what keywords people used in messages.

The idea flopped, Ted Livingston, Kik’s co-founder and CEO admitted, calling them “stupid” features that “didn’t deliver value for future.” He said the messages yielded high open rates and engagement rates, but brands used Kik like they would Instagram or Snapchat by broadcasting content to millions of users rather than focusing on the intimacy of messaging.

Fresh off last fall’s $50 million from Tencent—which owns China’s popular messaging app WeChat—Kik is taking another crack at turning messaging into a business and is serving as an important case study in the process.

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Whether users would want to expose their identities to businesses they interact with through bots is an open question. Mr. Livingston sees anonymity as a strength. Messaging platforms that require users to use their real names, like Facebook, reveal a “blind spot for Silicon Valley where everyone has a perfect life,” Mr. Livingston said. “I think our advantages is we’re the only chat that lets you be whoever you want to be.”


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