Kik has long aspired to become the Western world's equivalent of WeChat, the hugely popular Chinese messaging app that lets users book taxis, send payments — and also talk with their friends.
Now Kik has secured an investment from WeChat's parent company.
The service announced that it had collected $50 million in new capital from Tencent, the Chinese Internet giant that created WeChat four years ago.
The investment values Kik at $1 billion.
"We said we wanted to be the WeChat of the West," Ted Livingston, Kik's founder and chief executive, said in an interview. "To have WeChat come in and say, ‘Yep, we think you can do it,' is very satisfying."
The move is the latest by a major Western messaging service in the hopes of growing to become the next big Internet force. Companies like Kik, Viber and Tango have sought to ride the wave of popularity that propelled WhatsApp to a $21.8 billion sale to Facebook and buoyed the valuation of Snapchat to $15 billion.
Among those messaging apps, Kik has been the most vocal about becoming the kind of Internet hub that WeChat has evolved into in China. Founded in January 2011, WeChat now lets users send image-laden messages, play games and buy plane tickets.
To Mr. Livingston, that has meant, in part, catching younger users. Kik now claims that 40 percent of American teenagers use its app, and that 70 percent of its 240 million registered users are between 13 and 24 years old.
Getting users early on means that they will be more comfortable using a service like Kik as a way to not only send messages, but also use add-on services. Already, the company has introduced new offerings like messages built on GIFs, the increasingly prolific animated images that now litter the Web.
It's a similar approach, Mr. Livingston said, to how WeChat served as a gateway for many first-time Chinese Internet users — and then added more and more features to keep those people coming back.
Though Kik and WeChat have known each other for some time, the investment grew out of a strategic review process that the Western app began in the spring with the help of Qatalyst Partners, the Silicon Valley boutique investment bank. Kik also weighed other options, including a sale of itself, but it favored an investment. Taking money from a like-minded Chinese counterpart simply made sense, according to Mr. Livingston.
Kik currently sits at number 30 in the top free apps on the App Store, 7th in social networking:
With the new money, Kik will focus on growing and adding new offerings for its app, Mr. Livingston said. It also will help the company build revenue, which it has started collecting through initiatives like Kik Points, where users can garner rewards by visiting sites, taking surveys or joining services from partners.
利文斯顿表示，新资金到位后，将主要用于为app开发新功能，这也将有助于公司增加营收。通过之前推出的Kik Points，该公司已经开始有营收进账。在Kik Points系统里，用户可以通过访问网站、填写调查问卷或下载安装合作app而获得奖励。
By working with Tencent, the idea is that Kik can compete with monsters in messaging, like Facebook, by being innovative and trying new things until it finds something that sticks… which Tencent has done extremely well. Livingston said: "We agreed that someone would do in the West what WeChat was doing in China. The only question was who. We both believe it could be Kik."