When Waterloo mobile chat upstart Kik Messenger first took the tech world by storm back in the fall of 2010, it was happy to have two million users compared to the 28 million that were loyal to BlackBerry Messenger.
On Thursday, the company celebrated crossing the 50 million users mark, an accomplishment made more impressive considering that BlackBerry's BBM is now within striking distance, in the neighbourhood of 60 million.
'We're big enough to play in the next phase of this game'—Ted Livingston, Kik founder
But the Waterloo, Ont.-based Kik still finds itself the underdog, now looking up to industry juggernaut WhatsApp, which doesn't disclose user numbers but is estimated to have many more.
But that doesn't phase 26-year-old founder Ted Livingston, who is happy to still be a major player in the mobile chat space.
"The whole world is waking up to the fact that in mobile, mobile's all about communication and the primary way we communicate these days is texting. So it's a super exciting time in our space right now where everybody wants in," said Livingston.
"Kik is huge at 50 million users.... What's exciting to us is we're big enough to play in the next phase of this game."
He pointed to a recent study of the messaging market by the mobile data company Onavo, based on usage by iPhone users around the world. In the U.S., Onavo estimated Kik was used by three per cent of iPhone users, trailing Facebook Messenger with 11 per cent, WhatsApp at seven per cent and Voxer at five per cent.
The next phase of growth Livingston wants for Kik involves transitioning the app from a basic chat program into a more diverse platform. A new feature, Kik "Cards," expands the functionality of the app by allowing users to access content from YouTube and Reddit, search for images, draw, or play a game without switching to another app.
That strategy has already paid off for the apps Line and KakaoTalk, which are dominant in Japan and South Korea respectively. "They've had a lot of success building their native platforms to the point that 17 of the top 20 grossing games in South Korea are on KakaoTalk's platform or KakaoTalk powered, which is incredible," Livingston said.
"So we want to do the same thing in the West." Some tech observers weren't sure Livingston and his company would still be kicking around this long.
Kik was hit with a patent infringement suit by Research In Motion just months after it launched, alleging that Livingston -- a former employee with the company, now named BlackBerry -- used his experience with the firm to create his BBM competitor.
In a statement of claim filed in Federal Court, RIM sought damages and an injunction keeping Kik from "producing, reproducing, distributing, advertising, promoting, offering for sale, selling or providing" its free mobile app. RIM alleged Livingston signed multiple confidentiality agreements to not disclose, use or reproduce any "trade secrets, secret information, know-how, research, customer information and marketing information, strategies and tactics."
At the time, Livingston called the court action "unjustified and disappointing." He said the case still hasn't gone to court and there's not much he can say about it. "I can tell you, you know, not much has happened and we hope it goes away soon."
Not surprisingly, there are no plans for a Kik app on the new BlackBerry 10 platform.
Despite the popularity of Skype, Apple's FaceTime and other video chat apps, Livingston said Kik is sticking to text.
"Our generation, they don't like to talk, they don't like to be seen, they just want to text," Livingston said with a laugh.