January 9, 2014 12:00 am JST

Kakao's Lee champions chat

KOICHI KATO, Nikkei staff writer

Lee Sirgoo, co-CEO of Kakao

SEOUL -- The co-CEO of Kakao, the South Korean provider of a free phone call and chat app KakaoTalk, is taking on bigger rivals such as Japan's Line and China's WeChat. "We have little money," co-CEO Lee Sirgoo  admitted with a smile, "so we have to do everything we can."

    Call it an ironic smile. Although more than 120 million people use KakaoTalk around the world, Line, out of Japan, has more than 300 million global users and WeChat, out of China, is over the 400 million mark.

     As the three rivals intensify their competition, Kakao's strategy is to partner with other companies, which will also help it to make up for its small corporate size.

     One of its tie-ups is with U.S. note-taking software provider Evernote. This year, Kakao aims to take its aggressive tie-up strategy to Indonesia, its second-largest overseas market, after Japan, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Lee said Kakao will survey customer demand to make the app's regional versions more culture-friendly.

     He thinks Kakao has an advantage, great mobility, that could turn out to be the key to winning the chat app wars.