Kik Messenger, commonly called Kik, is a freeware instant messaging mobile app from the Canadian company Kik Interactive, founded in 2009 by a group of University of Waterloo students. As of May 2016, Kik Messenger had approximately 300 million registered users, and was used by approximately 40% of United States teenagers. In September 2016, however, the app appeared to no longer be growing. Still, Kik currently claims to have over 15M monthly active users, with 57% of active users in the age range of 13-24, and with 64% of them living in the US.
Kik is known for its features which preserve users’ anonymity, such as allowing users to register without providing a telephone number. Kik Messenger has drawn controversy due to its reported involvement in a number of incidents of child exploitation: the app has been criticized as unsafe for minors due to its anonymity features and allegedly weak parental control mechanisms. However, the Kik Trust and Safety team is dedicated to assisting law enforcement with their inquiries, and provides resources to help.
Kik has raised over $120M in traditional venture capital, including a $50M Series D (closed August 2015) from Tencent (makers of WeChat) at a nearly $1B pre-money valuation. Other investors include Foundation Capital, RRE Ventures, Spark Capital, SV Angel, Union Square Ventures, and Valiant Capital Partners. Now, however, Kik is looking towards an ICO, rather than an IPO, as a potential exit, and to its cryptocurrency Kin as an alternative to ad-based revenue. This approach provides Kik with a sustainable monetization model that does not compromise user experience or privacy, and does not require mass display advertising or the selling of consumer data. And if Kik’s cryptocurrency becomes a self-sustaining economy, the value of Kik’s stake in Kin could end up being more valuable than the company’s potential exit valuation as an ad-based business in an IPO or through an acquisition.
Kin is envisioned as a general purpose cryptocurrency for use in everyday digital services. Kin will be used on the Kik social network for things like emojis, stickers, hosting and participating in group chats, building apps like bots, etc., and more generally be the unit of account for all economic transactions within the Kin Ecosystem. It will also serve as the basis of interoperability with other digital services. Kik views its users and community as uniquely suited to the adoption of a cryptocurrency. According to the company, Kik users are highly engaged, with over a quarter of a billion messages sent on Kik every day and over 187,000 bots created by third-party developers so far. The network’s prior experience with ‘Kik Points’ has also suggested that Kik users are amenable to digital currency. Although the stated goal is for Kin to also be used as currency outside of the Kik app, even internal use by a community with millions of active monthly users has the potential to make the Kin a highly popular and valuable cryptocurrency.
Kin will be implemented on the public Ethereum blockchain as an ERC20 token. However, based on Kik’s experience with Kik Points, the expected daily transaction rate could potentially surpass Ethereum’s throughput capability. Also, Ethereum transaction confirmation times result in delayed responsiveness compared to what users typically expect. These considerations, along with wanting to make the Ethereum blockchain transaction fees implicit, have led Kik to a semi-centralized hybrid on-chain and off-chain Transaction Service model. At the core, the transactions in Kin will be settled on the Ethereum blockchain, but there will be be a centralized off-chain ledger with an API available to all digital service partners. This hybrid solution will create a semi-centralized system in which end-users enjoy a standard user experience insulated from some of the complexity of blockchain systems. However, this approach also has the drawbacks typical of a centralized system, such as having to rely on trust between participants. The long term plan is to migrate the transactional infrastructure to a fully decentralized system while retaining a low friction user experience.
In order to finance the Kin roadmap, Kik will conduct a token distribution event that will offer for sale 10% of its Kin currency. Kik will keep 30% of Kin and 60% of Kin will be overseen by a nonprofit Kin Foundation aimed at making Kin a popular cryptocurrency. That foundation will give away 20% of its stock of Kin every year to developers and contributors to the Kin economy.