26 May 2019
Rakuten acquired Viber for US$900 million in February. Photo: Bloomberg
Rakuten acquired Viber for US$900 million in February. Photo: Bloomberg

Rakuten sees Viber as backbone of global network, founder says

Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten aims to make its messaging app Viber the backbone of its global network of sites and services, the group’s founder said.

Hiroshi Mikitani told the Financial Times that with almost 250 million active users, Viber can tie together the group’s online malls, coupons, ebooks, digital video and even banking services in Japan and around the world.

“Whether we can successfully pull all these things together depends on whether we can really integrate our membership with Viber and whether we can use our points program effectively,” Mikitani was quoted as saying. “The acquisition of Viber enables us to go to a very different level in terms of the number of the membership.”

Rakuten acquired Viber for US$900 million in February, just days before Facebook bought WhatsApp Messenger for US$22 billion in cash and shares. The app allows voice, text and video calls as well as the ability to follow celebrities and share digital “stickers” with friends, the newspaper said.

Viber is part of a series of purchases Rakuten made in an effort to generate more revenues from outside its home market, where sales are still growing at double-digit rates despite the slow economy, the report said.

Mikitani also defended the group’s record of acquisitions amid criticism that it doesn’t seem to have a focus.

“If it’s very straightforward and everyone understands your strategy then probably you’re not making the right decisions,” he told FT.

But he said Kobo, the Canadian ereader company the group acquired for US$315 million in 2012, is close to turning a profit.

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