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August 19, 2015

Tencent invests $50m to build WeChat of the West

Facebook Messenger and Snapchat face Eastern-backed rival.

By Jimmy Nicholls

The Chinese conglomerate Tencent followed in the footsteps of Alibaba on Tuesday as it stumped up $50m (£32m) to create the WeChat of the West.

In a major play into the Western messaging market, the company backed Kik Interactive, Canadian creators of a messaging app that will go up against the likes of Facebook and Snapchat as it seeks to win market-share in a hotly contested field.

Total investment in Kik has now topped $120m, with the firm now claiming a value at $1bn, making it the latest tech unicorn to emerge from the windfall in global technology investment.

Ted Livingston, chief executive at Kik, wrote online: "As the maker of QQ and WeChat, it was clear [Tencent] understood chat deeply, making them a great sounding board.

"They had significant success and resources, allowing them to have the patience required for Kik to pursue a long-term vision for a chat-based ecosystem. And with so much of their focus on winning China, they would support Kik running independently to win the US."

Central to Kik’s plans various means of extending the app into the retail sectors, among them a method of buying drinks from vending machines that has been pioneered by WeChat, a subsidiary of Tencent.

Tencent’s foray into Western markets follows on from the limited success Alibaba’s American ecommerce site 11 Main, which was sold onto US etailer OpenSky in June after only a year of business.

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The size of China’s population has allowed the country’s technology firms to achieve an impressive scale, leading many to view them as a counterbalance to the hegemony of Silicon Valley in the US.

"Today, there are only five other companies in the world that see the future like we do: Tencent, Line, Facebook, Snapchat, and Telegram," Livingston said.

"One of them owns the largest internet market in the world. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with them as we run this race."

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