RudeVC: Stickers-as-a-Service is the new SaaS

Apr 22, 2014
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LIline_artistsNE’s creators market finally opened up last week allowing third parties and independent illustrators to submit their sticker collections for distribution on the Line’s messenger app.

In case you haven’t heard yet, there’s a sticker revolution going on.

A recent article in Le Figaro deems the business still-as-yet unrecognized, but entrepreneurs know better. With all due to respect to the Le Figaro, they’ve taken a narrow French interpretation of the world. In many parts of the globe, stickers are already a really big deal. My personal favorite of the messenging apps, LINE, generated over $65 million in revenue last year on stickers alone.

Stickers, which are the advanced incarnation of the original emoticon, emerged first in Asian countries for both technological and cultural reasons.

Expressing oneself appropriately in certain Asian cultures requires an intimate familiarity with communications protocol. Take Japanese, for example, in which both body language and honorific speech depend on the status of and the relationship to the person being addressed (fortunately foreigners like me are given a free pass since total ignorance is assumed and anything above is considered a bonus). So this means that in the absence of visual contact, such as in written communication, an extensive degree of context is established by the writer. While a short, blunt email in the U.S. or Holland is perfectly acceptable, properly crafting even an informal email in Japanese requires a fair amount of context and clarification in order to strike the right tone.

In a medium where space is limited, like sms or chat, emoticon stickers thus represent a boon to the writer. With one icon, I can convey that I’m suffering from a hangover. Or that I’m regrettably too busy at work to properly honor the recipient with the undivided attention a person of her status deserves.

Of course, as a VC I find the sticker phenomenon appealing for its financial potential. When LINE rakes in over $10 million per month from stickers, that’s a viable business model in and of itself. And the COGS of a sticker is pretty darn close to zero. But even beyond pure finances, I find the stickers inspiring because they facilitate communication across cultural boundaries in an interconnected world where innovation has become global.

Perhaps the phenomenon won’t stick as solidly in the U.S., where cuteness is sometimes viewed as the antithesis of manliness.

lance_emoticons

But here in France we’re not afraid to wear a pastel-colored Lacoste shirt with a sweater tied around neck, and one of the UK’s popular men’s dress shirt retailers is called Pink.

I believe LINE’s decision to open up its sticker distribution to outside designers is a brilliant maneuver. In a single move, LINE can recruit talented and passionate designers to enrich the content on its chat platform, make this a revenue generator (sticker pack sales are shared 50/50), and of course increase stickiness. It also will transform these designers into a fleet of LINE ambassadors. I happened to be in Tokyo on opening day, and within less than 24 hours LINE had already received more than 2000 sticker pack submissions (according to an illustrator friend who was close to number 2000 in the queue).

Now here’s a crazy idea: perhaps Twitter should consider enabling stickers in tweets.