|Jayden Kang, chief strategy officer at LINE Thailand and the head of LINE MAN, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at LINE's Korean office located in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Dec. 19. / Courtesy of LINE|
On-demand service platform aims to be recognized as 'unicorn' in near future
By Jun Ji-hye
LINE Thailand, the operator of Thailand's most popular messenger app, has created a unique service called LINE MAN that offers a variety of on-demand services, including the delivery of food, convenience goods and parcels in addition to the taxi-hailing service.
Jayden Kang, chief strategy officer at LINE Thailand and the head of LINE MAN, said LINE MAN, which was launched in 2016, has now become one of the most indispensable mobile applications in Thailand on the back of the large subscriber base of the LINE messenger app.
LINE, a subsidiary of Korea's largest internet portal Naver, launched the messenger app in Thailand in 2012, having secured 45 million monthly active users out of the 69 million total population as of the third quarter of this year.
"I would call LINE MAN the No. 1 lifestyle assistance app in Thailand," Kang said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. "LINE MAN was launched as a food delivery service by motorcycle riders and then expanded services to the delivery of convenience goods that are offered in partnership with 7-Eleven, the delivery of documents and packages and taxi-hailing."
|LINE MAN's delivery riders / Courtesy of LINE|
Kang said the company found out that Thai people want to use various services through one app as there is still some inconvenience in downloading multiple apps and linking credit cards to smartphones due to underdeveloped internet infrastructure ― the use of smartphones in Thailand became popular around 2014.
He attributed the achievements of LINE MAN to the successful assessment of customer needs and thorough localization of services by collaborating with Thai developers.
"At first, we used outsourced Thai developers in developing LINE MAN at the initial stage and launched the beta test in May 2016 after three months of development," Kang said. "After the official service began the following month, Korean developers joined forces to advance the service quickly. And since 2018, Thai employees have been in charge of most of the services in accordance with our localization strategy."
LINE MAN has secured about 100,000 restaurants as clients, nearly twice as many restaurants secured by competitors such as Grab, Gojek and Delivery Hero that also operate food delivery services in Thailand.
Kang said the number of LINE MAN's clients was the result of the company's efforts to meet owners of restaurants in person and convince them to join the service.
"At the early stage of the service, owners of restaurants seemed to have questions about whether they need the delivery service as Thailand has a thriving street food culture," he said. "But the owners have seen a dramatic increase in their sales after joining LINE MAN. They are now expressing satisfaction and introducing the service to other restaurants."
LINE MAN also has the most restaurants among 59 that were awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Bangkok Michelin Guide this year, Kang added.
Meanwhile, LINE MAN's taxi-hailing service, which was launched in February 2018, has been able to enhance its presence with support from the Thai government.
Kang said a deputy transport minister in Thailand attended the company's event before the launch of the taxi-hailing service, and shared the view that the service would contribute to making the lives of Thai people more convenient.
"The Thai government previously launched the Taxi OK project that enables customers to call taxis via a mobile application. But the service has not been well-received in the country," Kang said. "The transport ministry officials showed a friendly attitude to LINE MAN's taxi-hailing service, thus we were able to form a partnership with the biggest taxi association in Bangkok."
LINE MAN has been focused on Bangkok so far, but it was launched in Pattaya in October this year.
The service will be expanded into 17 more regions in Thailand in the coming years.
|Main page of LINE MAN app / Courtesy of LINE|
He cited the example of Woowa Brothers, the operator of food delivery service Baedal Minjok in Korea, noting that the startup became a "unicorn" company though its service was offered only in Korea.
A unicorn startup refers to a prominent firm with a valuation of over $1 billion before going public.
"LINE MAN was spun off from LINE Thailand into a separate company in September this year with an aim of becoming a unicorn in Thailand," Kang said.
New services to be added to LINE MAN include the delivery of groceries that will be offered in partnerships with local supermarkets. The service will be launched in January.
The company will not stop exploring new business opportunities, Kang said, noting that a home and air conditioner cleaning service, and a massage and spa booking service are the next to be added to LINE MAN.
The firm is also paying keen attention to shared kitchen services, which will enable chefs to share kitchens offered by the company and focus on the delivery service for revenue.
"There has been growing demand for shared kitchens as cooks are not required to pay huge amounts of money to take on lease restaurants," Kang said. "We plan to launch the pilot service within the first half of next year."
Growing together with local startups
Kang has also led LINE ScaleUp, a program launched last year with an aim of developing the local startup ecosystem by offering Thai startups unparalleled access to technology and mentoring.
LINE ScaleUp offers selected local startups the chance to team up with LINE and LINE Ventures to strengthen their global footprint and achieve international funding opportunities.
"The Thai government announced its vision for the digital economy in 2017, but the country's startup scene has remained relatively underdeveloped compared to Indonesia and Vietnam," Kang said. "LINE, which has partnered with various local startups to expand services, believes that raising competitive power of local startups will also help increase LINE's competitiveness in Thailand. This was why we launched the startup incubating program."
Based on the large subscriber base of the messenger app, LINE Thailand has expanded its businesses encompassing advertising, content, shopping, finance and games in the Southeast Asian country.
Among those, LINE TV has recently made noticeable results amid growing popularity of over-the-top (OTT) service, Kang said, adding that the company has signed contracts with multiple content providers in Thailand and enabled Thai viewers to watch a variety of videos through the LINE TV platform in almost real time.