Kik: The Death of a Unicorn

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Common readers will know I have no love-loss for Kik/Kin.

In the beginning, I was a huge advocate for the Kin token, as it represents a solution that is sorely needed in the industry, and Kik, a $1B+ startup with hundreds of millions of registered users was willing to stake their app on the line for it.

This is part of what lead me to write the 5-part series on “What Critics Fail to Understand About Kin” as well as my series on “What Critics Have Right About Kin.”

Kin as a token, stood a fighting chance, as Kik, who was desperate for monetization, was willing to integrate the token into their own app to be a prime example of the power of the ecosystem and create a base layer of demand/use-cases for the token.

This past week, Kik announced it would be shutting down Kik Messenger, laying off nearly all of its staff in all international offices, and keeping a core team of 19 users to continue to work on their Kin project. Some of their employees/offices are being acquired by another project, and it is unclear what is happening to other intellectual property, but, the messenger app has shut down.

As Kin evolved, those of us close with the community spent two-years watching bold promises turn into poor execution – and each time it was to the same rehtoric. “We got copied and crushed” or “these people are trying to prevent us – you don’t know how hard it is!

But, that’s the thing when you run any startup – usually you have some people trying to stop you. But with Kin it was different.

No one was stopping them from integrating Kin into Kik – except their own legacy code which they approved the re-write of too late.

No one was stopping their four person dedicated team “rewards engine” team from developing a balanced rewards algo. Instead, after months, they gave us an ‘algo’ that was simply counting the number of spenders, while four hours of work from the community yielded more insightful proposals.

Kik/Kin was a bloated organization, filled with self-validation and excuses. Community feedback, even feedback that was asked for, was constantly met with arrogant responses “No, we’ve got it right. We’re experts in this.” meanwhile, Kin proceeded to launch a forked version of Stellar, with features removed, that some how became slower and constantly unstable.

When it comes to Kik/Kin, I really got to see behind the curtain in a number of ways. While I wasn’t privileged to non-public information, I had good relationships with a number of executives, the Kik staff from living in Waterloo, and had insights from the Waterloo startup community that had watched them grow.

I could sit here and discuss why Kin is worthless without Kik (or why at the very least it is not worth Kin keeping 30% of the token as commission), or timeline the chaos that ensued as the Kin Foundation announced features and partnerships that would never come to fruition, but, instead I wanted to look back at the history of Kik and understand the common denominator of this claim that “Kik’s history is about being copied and crushed

Kik Timeline of Failed Product Positions:

2013 – Launched click this to share videos

2013 – Launched first bot Kik bot

2014 – Launched Kik Browser and claimed that “chat is the new browser claims developers will be able to tap into Kik API via websites from the Kik browser (similar to web3js concept)

2014 – Bought Relay Gif Messaging, first chat app with deep gif integration. Worked on integrated the product. By 2016 they had scrapped Relay Gif messengers integration and began using Tenor Gif keyboard. The co-founders left Kik.

2014 – Kik raises $38M – Ted boasts in TechCrunch that Kik is “close to profitable” with Kik points, and didn’t need to raise more money than that as they aren’t sure how they’d ever spend it.

2014 – Ted first starts talking about being “The WeChat of the West” and wanting to include payments. He also first mentions Evan “If you talk to me, or to Evan Spiegel at Snapchat, we’ll say the same thing: We want to be the WeChat of the West. – Dropping Evan Spiegel’s name as validation for Kin later became Ted’s favorite pastime.

2014 – Kik introduces promoted posts, the first forrunner to bots.

2014 – Launches Kik points.

2014 – Kik teases the idea of using Kik as a login in apps via their API.

2015 – Kills off Kik points.

2015 – Launches KikKupid bot

April 2015 – keeps promoting Kik browser and integrated sites. Saying chat is the new web. Still not support for devs.

June 2015 – Launches create your own smileys blog post. No actual way to create your own smilies, still have to reach out to Kik and submit art.

August 2015 – Launches “Jam” the music community chat app.

December 2016 – Buys “BlinkStyle” – to integrate the first monetized chat bot. Founders left after one-year, Blynkstyle was not maintained. As of 2019 the integration exists but gives inaccurate results, provides random pictures from google image search, has no price info, has no eCommerce info, it cannot link to a store to purchase the apps and there are no affiliate offers.

Feb 2016 – Launches branded promoted gifs for brands. This is right before deciding to kill off their own gif platform.

Feb 2016 – Launches “Locker” at in the Kik browser to store customized stickers, gifs and content. As of 2019 the locker and sticker shop still exist but you cannot create custom stickers or emojies:

April 2016 – Launches Bot shop with parters from Funny or Die, Riffsy, Sephora, Vine, The Weather Channel, Microsoft Zo, and Yahoo. Begins promoting bots as the main feature.

August 2016 – Kik announces more than 100 featured bots, and 20,000 bots created: discusses how bots will be used for payments and change the way we digitally interact partners with restaurants and the university of waterloo to manage payments via bots

December 2016 – Once again claims chat is the new browser, but, no mention of their browser or developer integration instead it is focusing on chatbots. Claims payments in chat bots are coming soon, and that 2017 will be the “App Store moment” for chatbots

December 2016 – Removes old sticker shop relaunches providing free stickers. No remaining Kik point integrations, just sponsored stickers and Kiks inhouse stickers. As of 2019 no new updates have been added here. All current promoted stickers have been listed for a few years

March 2017 – Adds Storyz for daily video storyz but only via the Storyz bot. As of 2019 the bot no longer exists.

Kik was a messenger app that truly had a first mover advantage in a lot of areas, but, it was also one that frequently cut promised products, failed to have polished integrations, and despite seeming to realize that it was dependent on third-party developer integrations, failed to have any real or useful platform for them.

Each time Kik came forward with a new product, it was large sweeping visions statements of how this would change the web if done correctly – and they were right. The problem was the poor execution.

No one stopped Kik.

They stopped themselves.

To their credit, Ted and his team were some of the most forward thinking people in the space – the problem was always in the execution and thinking they knew best.

The decision to shut down Kik was a shocking one, and one that I think we’ll look back at as yet another botched choice.

Kik Messenger had a loyal fanbase that would have loved to use Kin, and a large enough user pool that it could justify other small developers integrating Kin’s reward system into their own apps.

At this point though, the Kin Foundation will bring nothing to the table except for an unbalanced reward engine, a broken fork of Stellar and an SDK that can’t handle consumer-grade through-put. Which really begs the question of why the team was willing to put Kik, their last real point of value on the chopping block.

Either way, as the blame-game continues to spiral, we see fingers pointed at Facebook’s Libra and the SEC, but, this ship was sinking long before any of this was a concern. Plenty of other cryptos who were feeling the pressure of the SEC managed to deliver products and find non-US exchanges to list them for non-US customers.

What we saw here was not a matter of copy and crush, it was the slow bleed of a unicorn suffering death by a thousand poor-operation decision cuts.

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