In order to expand its digital empire, Japanese Internet company Rakuten Inc bought what is thought to have become a true Skype competitor for $900 million.
The proprietary cross-platform instant messaging voice-over-IP smartphone app created by Israeli entrepreneur Talmon Marco in 2010 became quite a phenomenon in recent times. As a smartphone app, Viber did a lot of things right. For example, it enabled users to create a Viber account using only their phone number, without complicated usernames and passwords. Secondly, it was able to find people using Viber in the contacts list, without requiring to add each person. Later on, a Viber app for desktop was launched, making rivalry with Skype even more obvious. Now, e-commerce giant Rakuten will benefit not only of Viber’s features, but also of its user base, and everything for just $900m.
Hiroshi Mikitani, the Japanese billionaire who co-founded and currently controls Rakuten, told reporters in Tokyo that “This acquisition will take Rakuten to a different level. Developing this messaging system on our own would have been impossible.” In my opinion, he’s perfectly right. When there is a demand and the money for supplying it is not a problem, why spend time to develop a messaging system, if you can simply buy it?
One of the top 5 most downloaded smartphone phone call and messaging apps (the others being Skype, WeChat, Whatsapp and Line), Viber is primarily used by people from the United States, Russia and Australia. The app reached 300 million users recently, and Viber’s acquisition by Rakuten will see all of them added to the Japanese e-commerce giant’s existing 200 million users.
Mikitani couldn’t help to express his excitement regarding this important acquisition: “I am tremendously excited to welcome Viber to the Rakuten family. Viber delivers the most consistently high quality and convenient messaging and VoIP experience available. Additionally, Viber has introduced a great sticker market and has tremendous potential as a gaming platform.”
Viber and Rakuten claim that the acquisition will be completed by the end of March. There has been no word on whether Viber’s employees will continue working for Rakuten, but the way I see it, that would be very difficult. The employees would have to either work online for Rakuten or relocate have world away, from Cyprus, where Talmon Marco ran the company, to Japan.