Will the customised emoji sector take off in India and can Sunny Leone achieve Kim Kardashian's level of success in the 'emoji economy'?
It was almost dinner time and I picked up my phone and shot across a ‘biryani sticker’ to a friend. The response was almost instantaneous, but instead of agreeing to meet at a nearby place for biryani, the question that arose was, “Where did you get that sticker?” Not one to reveal my sources so quickly, I bragged that I didn’t have to change my default keyboard app to do this ‘tech wizardry’. Within a minute, he responded with a Saif Ali Khan-themed GIF from Emojifi. While I had deleted the default download link, what I had failed to notice was the watermark on the bottom right corner of the image. Epic fail on my part.
Emojifi is a mobile engagement platform that sits on top of your existing keyboard app and lets you discover and share emojis quickly. The platform also enables brands and celebrities to become part of conversations through customised emojis and GIFs. The venture was founded in October 2016 by Varun MS, Manan Maheshwari, and Mahesh Gogineni who are alums of BITS-Pilani, Duke University, and Stanford GSB, respectively. Manan and Mahesh had earlier co-founded on-demand beauty service provider Zapluk, which was later acquired by Quikr. Varun was also a part of Zapluk as the CTO.
Emojifi currently consists of a 10-member team (including the co-founders), with four handling technology and three design. Manan noted that it took them a couple of months to conceptualise and build the product, and Emojifi was officially launched in January 2017.
Emojifi's core functionality and USP is to remove the hassle for the user to search for relevant emojis and GIFs and provide live suggestions based on the typed words across chat platforms. The venture had recently raised an undisclosed angel round with two lead angel investors from Hyderabad and also onboarded two key clients — Sunny Leone and Swiggy. In a recent press release, Emojifi had noted that the funding would be used for marketing and building the product further.
Emojifi will soon be launching stickers for a few brands and is also in final rounds of discussions to get on board one of India’s biggest celebrities as an investor. Let us explore Emojifi and the upcoming emoji sector in this week’s App Friday.
How Emojifi works
On accessing Emojifi for the first time, users are notified that the app doesn’t collect or transmit users’ keystrokes and all sensitive data is stored locally on the phone. To give Emojifi access across multiple instant messaging apps, users need to enable turn on and grant it accessibility.
The last stage of the sign-up process requires users to share their gender and age group to help the app provide customised suggestions. Emojifi’s home screen is quite straightforward and currently consists of three main sections:
Store: Where users can download emojis and GIFs across categories they are interested in for quick access during chats.
Emoji tags: Users can tag the keywords they use often to emojis of their choice or rely on the default emojis and tags already listed.
Settings: Users can customise the experience based on their personal preferences and also disable Emojifi for certain apps as needed. For example, I disabled Emojifi for LinkedIn and Google Hangouts to prevent emojis from accidentally popping into professional conversations.
The end-user experience
Emojifi has a slight learning curve and takes a few moments to set up and customise. For example, when I first installed it, the Emojifi popup appeared right above my text box and I had a hard time keeping track of what I was typing. Based on intuition, I tried to see if I could move the Emojifi popup around and found that one could drag it by long pressing the main ‘private eye’ symbol on the left.
Emojify currently has about 31 Swiggy-themed stickers which include the slapstick ones from ‘Swiggy and Chill’ to ‘Food is Bae’. All emojis include Swiggy branding on the bottom right corners to assist with brand recall.
Sunny Leone stickers and GIFs were interesting too with emojis ranging from a happy birthday theme to ‘call me’ and ‘namaste’. On scrolling down, users can also access GIFs which include a wide variety of themes from ‘face-palming’ to ‘double thumbs up’.
Emojifi has also positioned its ‘store’ as a marketplace where designers can work with them, upload their sticker collections, and earn revenue. Emojifi also populates its app with some open-source emojis from platforms like Emojione and GIPHY. So end users will soon get access to a wide variety of stickers and GIFs across different categories and themes. At this stage, Emojifi has emojis across 19 categories ranging from football to Bollywood.
Emojify currently has about 20,000 installs on Android and to appeal to the mass market, it may need to focus on regional content and also keep onboarding brands and celebrities. The integration behind adding tags to emojis makes the process of including emojis across different messaging platforms more seamless. On the whole, Emojifi is a well-executed app that does bring colour to conversations.
India is estimated to be the second-largest market for messaging apps and also the fastest growing, according to a recent report by eMarketer. A huge percentage of India’s mobile internet users in India are millennials (under the age of 35) and they are the right target market for the brand integrations and celebrity tie-ups Emojify has had so far.
Apple recently tweaked its iOS 10 operating system and iMessage app to let third-party apps access them. As a result, Kim Kardashian seems to be at the forefront of the ‘sticker economy’ on iOS and a report from Quartz and Data Sensor notes that she is ahead of the pack, beating other celebrities like basketball star Stephen Curry and singer Justin Bieber.
Other messaging apps too have benefited from the ‘sticker economy’. Line is estimated to have sold $268 million worth of stickers in 2016, while players like Hike and Twitter too have a big focus on stickers and GIFs to keep their audience engaged. SAIF Partners-backed Bobble keyboard and Qugo are two other noteworthy players in this space in India.
It will be interesting to see how the sticker or GIF economy plays out in India and who the top grossers will be. At this stage, Sunny Leone seems to have the first-mover advantage among celebrities, having recently launched her own app in partnership with EscapeX Ltd and also releasing her own stickers with Emojify.