WeChat maker Tencent became Asia's highest-valued company today; not bad going for an app that launched long after well-established instant-messenger brands moved to mobile.
Tencent reached a valuation of $256bn on the Hong Kong stock exchange, surpassing the market valuation of China Mobile. Samsung Electronics is valued at $163bn, and troubled Sony a mere $34bn.
Tencent launched its first product, OCIQ – an ICQ clone – in 1999. Tencent renamed the client QQ after losing a lawsuit filed by ICQ's owner AOL.
The mobile client only launched in 2011, more than five years after Blackberry's BBM, which popularized mobile chat, made its debut. IM clients were knocking about on Nokia communicators well over a decade ago.
The high valuation is based on the IM expanding into an infrastructure for third-party services, ranging from CRM, to media distribution, to mobile payments. From WeChat you can book a train or a doctor's appointment, and report incidents to the police. An enterprise WeChat was launched this year.
The flourishing platform is down to several factors, including the high price of Apple devices, and Google's absence from the Chinese market.
Wonks and regulators agonize over whether Europe "can ever create a Google or Facebook." The answer seems to be simple: don't let Google or Facebook dominate. ®