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How Calamity Gave Rise to an Invention: The Story of LINE

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SMS is one of the most revolutionary cell phone ideas.

However, Smartphone apps that allow their users to send messages free over their data connections have taken the game a notch higher. Globally, the biggest players are WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, and the Japanese based app LINE. Together, these two have been downloaded and used by millions of people daily. WhatsApp alone carries up to 30 billion messages every day, so much more than the global traditional short messaging service average. While many developers in the US and Europe still try to understand the concept of how these free apps generate revenue, their counterparts in Asia are already generating significant amounts of revenue.

LINE is one such app, whose users are concentrated in its native Japan and the neighboring Asian countries. It has taken its strategy, perhaps the furthest of all, adding features that allow its users to send money to each other, pay for such virtual goods as stickers and games, and order food or call taxis to come pick them up. In the last quarter, LINE reported up to 200 million dollars in revenue, making it to the top 50 of the MIT Technology Review’s list of the top 50 smartest companies in the world.

The story of Line’s launch and inspiration is perhaps as inspiring as its current success story.In 2011, Japan experienced one of the worst natural calamities in the world.It all began with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that triggered a 30-foot high tsunami, which then led to a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant. The chain of calamities left more than 18,000 people dead, and many more stranded. With the natural calamity decimating much of the country’s phone system, the survivors were left with no way to communicate with their friends and family.

NHN Japan, the subsidiary of Naver, a South Korean internet company, saw a gap and decided to fill it. They decided to come up with a solution to help people affected by the harrowing experience communicate with each other. In three months, the messaging app LINE was operational, and it never looked back. It took less than a year to reach 50 million users. By comparison, major industry competitors like Facebook took up to three years to reach 58 billion users. LINE, like many messaging apps today, has the call feature, allowing users to call and text each other using their data plans without being charged traditionally.

LINE’s connection with disaster management and response efforts continues, though. It was recently heavily involved in raising up to 500,000 dollars for hurricane victims in the Philippines, most of the funds coming from the sale of LINE’s line of popular cartoon stickers. Although competitors regionally like WeChat and worldwide like WhatsApp offer much of the same features, LINE has the advantage of being associated with relief and rescue efforts, a fact that endears them to their target market. Their aggressive expansion into the money market is another characteristic that sets them apart from the rest.