“We went from ‘the hottest thing in the world’ to ‘nobody wanted to touch us.’” Ted Livingston shared his experiences building Kik at a well attended fireside chat event at the University of Waterloo on Wednesday evening.
Ted Livingston is the founder and CEO of Kik, a communications platform that boasts over 240 million users in over 230 countries worldwide. Founded in the Velocity Residence in 2009, Kik is Canada’s most recent “unicorn”, a startup valued at over $1 Billion, based on a recent $50 Million investment from Chinese Internet giant, Tencent.
During the hour-long event, hosted by Velocity, topics ranged from the rollercoaster of capturing 40% of American teenagers to BlackBerry’s lawsuit against Kik in the fall of 2010, with a strong flavour of personal and honest stories. Livingston answered 30 minutes of questions from host Mike Kirkup, Director of Velocity, and 30 minutes of questions from the audience of over 200 people.
The conversation started off on an issue close to home: why did Kik stay in Waterloo Region? The answer is simple: “the talent is insane.” The talent he talks about is fuelled by the co-op program at the University of Waterloo. Today, Kik has 75 employees in Waterloo Region, concentrated around King and Weber streets in Waterloo. “I’m a huge believer in the University of Waterloo, really, because of their co-op program… we ask co-op students to do meaningful work and they do a great job.”
Livingston described his early days at Research in Motion, and how Kik originally started as a music app for BlackBerry. When Kik was sued by BlackBerry in 2010, Kik went “from [adding] 400,000 users per day to 4,000 users per week.” Livingston attributes Kik’s current success to two factors: ubiquity among teenagers, for whom their Kik username is their “first phone number,” and a thirst for perfection.
This evening, Ted Livingston was eager to share personal stories. When asked how he landed Fred Wilson as an investor, Livingston joked, “he landed me.” Livingston talked of his first negotiation with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and how his initial deal fell through late on a Friday evening, and how further funding opportunities developed later on.
He described his motivation for dropping out of school, with only one year remaining in his degree. He weighed a million dollar investment offer that was conditional upon him dropping out against the worst case scenario. If Kik failed, the option to go back to UWaterloo and complete the degree was compelling. “They’re still trying to get me to come back.”
The audience enjoyed asking questions through the Kik app. The first question from the audience: ‘seriously, how does Kik make money?’ “Good (expletive) question,” Livingston remarked to much laughter. On a serious note, he talked about not monetizing the chat directly, but about using the messaging platform as a gateway to other services such as payments, and learning from WeChat’s experiences in China. His dream is that Kik will become as central to one’s Internet experience as the browser.
Check out some photos from Ted’s talk on Velocity’s Facebook page!
This fireside chat was part of Velocity’s Alpha event workshops, held throughout each term, which promote an interest in entrepreneurship. Please join us for our upcoming Velocity Science brainstorming event (Tues, Oct 13), and “Setup your business like a boss” (Wed, Oct 14). For a full list of our events this fall, check out the Velocity events calendar.