Video chat app Holla acquired competitor Monkey today. Holla acquired Monkey’s brand assets and now runs operations for both apps out of Holla offices in Beijing and Los Angeles. Monkey employees, including founders Ben Pasternak and Isaiah Turner, will not join Holla. Additional terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Monkey connects random people for video chat using Snapchat accounts in a style similar to Chatroulette. At times in 2017, Monkey ranked near the top of the Social Networking category of the iOS App Store, and App Annie data shows it persistently ranked among the top 30 apps in the category since its launch in late 2017.
Holla launched in 2016 and connects people for random one-on-one or group video chat for dating or for discussing specific subject matter. It is also persistently ranked among the top 30 apps in iOS and Android app stores.
Combined, the apps will have been downloaded more than 20 million times worldwide, according to a Holla spokesperson.
Monkey brings Holla a portion of the young users it had trouble reaching as well as deeper penetration in the United States, Holla head of global expansion Allen Loh told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
“I think for us the biggest advantage was that we saw Monkey was able to tap into a really niche market that we weren’t able to penetrate very well,” Loh said, referring to teenagers and people in their early 20s.
In addition to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, Holla sees itself in competition with Bumble and other apps geared toward finding new friends or a date.
“The vision of Holla and Monkey is more about using video chat as a way of communication to connect to users whether it’s for dating or friendship, and we firmly believe that eventually this whole friend discovery sphere is going to go toward video, because the way people meet and greet in real life is through face-to-face, eye-to-eye, you can see each other’s face, and that’s how you gain trust and have that higher level of engagement, and we really want to deliver that through video chat,” he said.
Both Holla and Monkey launched as apps promising random, live video chat. Random video chat is still part of Holla’s name in the Android Play Store, but the company is heading in a different direction.
“We no longer call ourselves random video chat, actually, and try our best to stay away from it,” Loh said.
Key to the growth of both apps, Loh said, will be improvement of the AI used to personalize user experiences. A matching algorithm takes into account things like gender, age, location, device, or past behavior, while image recognition is deployed in real time to detect nudity, violence, or weapons.
Group video chat apps have attempted to monetize their ability to capture the attention of young audiences in a number of different ways.
Tribe follows keywords used in video chat conversations to match people with potential shopping opportunities, while Fam for group video chat within iMessage added the ability to watch videos with friends.
User growth is Holla’s focus, not monetization, but gestures and facial recognition may play a role in the company’s future plans to make money.
“We have this feature called smile detection. So, when you smile, our software picks it up and knows that you’re smiling, so that’s a good indicator to us that you’re having a great time, you’re having a good conversation. And then we will reward users with what we call smile points, and then those smile points can be redeemed for free gems,” Loh said. “We want to continue down this path to include other gestures or facial recognition to indicate you’re having a good time.”
Other potential roads to monetization include subscriptions with premium features, location-specific video chat, or filters that require in-app purchases. The company’s only current in-app purchase option, gems, has already helped Holla reach profitability, Loh said.