Maaii, a Hong Kong-made mobile chat app, has made a big impact in Southeast Asia recently. The app allows users to chat and make free or low cost phone calls – similar to WeChat, Line, Viber, and Skype. But this chat app, which offers IM features like group chat, media sharing, and stickers, is being recognized by users for its free calling functionality like video messages, Facebook calls, and voice calls between Maaii users.
Maaii, led by its VP of operations, Chris Lewis - former head of Skype Asia – launched in Thailand in July. The startup recently rolled out version 2.1.6 of the app that includes Thai language localization. The app has an impressive record since it entered the country. It became the number one overall free app on iTunes Thailand and gained 500,000 downloads in 24 hours. Maaii has also ranked number one on the iOS app stores in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and others. In Malaysia, Maaii partners with MOL for online payments for its app-to-phone call service.
Since July, Maaii (it’s an odd name for Thais as the word “maaii” has several meanings in the Thai language, such as no, wood, burn, new, or silk) has seen over 1,500 percent growth in usage for both IM and voice calls in Thailand. When asked if this is a result of its Facebook ad campaign, Chris commented:
Facebook ads in other markets (besides Thailand) have been a really powerful acquisition tool for us; not just from a customer acquisition perspective but also for driving engaged users. In Malaysia and Taiwan, Facebook helped us establish our first major user bases after hitting number one and number two overall free app in those markets. For Thailand specifically, however, at the time we weren’t yet localized for Thai which meant we were really held back from reaching enough users to make an impact. Since our 2.1.6 release we haven’t yet done any other paid acquisition in Thailand, so all of this most recent growth was purely organic.
The social integration within the application is another key element to its growth. Maaii has implemented key design elements to encourage users to connect their Facebook accounts, and subsequently share information about Maaii.
Users connecting to Facebook are automatically mapped with Facebook friends already on Maaii. This is another way to use the app to connect with friends whose numbers you don’t have. Once connected with these contacts, users can call or IM without having to share their phone number.
Chris also shared an interesting stat regarding this with Tech in Asia
In a single day, Thai users made more than 300,000 status updates promoting Maaii out to their friends as they connected their Maaii accounts to Facebook. More than 70 percent of all our Thai users have connected their Maaii account to their Facebook account.
Finding a voice
For Maaii, Thailand fits all of its criteria for a new market, it’s a user-base that is highly engaged and vocal over social media, especially Facebook. It’s not that surprising since Thailand has over 18 million Facebook users. In addition, the use of smartphones in Thailand has also grown at a stunning pace. There are 14 million smartphone users in the country right now. There’s definitely room for Maaii to grow, despite the strong competition.
Maaii is not really trying to stand as a competitor against major players like Line, Viber, or WeChat, which are looking looking to build themselves into larger and broader social platforms. What the company is interested in is being the best voice app possible – as that is the DNA of the company, claims Chris.
But having said that, Maaii is also keen to share some of the success that social messaging apps like Line and WeChat have achieved.
Retaining users with new features
After some early growth, how can the startup team retain users? On this matter, Chris commented:
Iterating quickly, delivering new experiences, and tightening users’ networks are all key to our strategy for retention. We’re adding a suite of features and functions which are designed to redefine how users experience voice calls, how they share content during a call, and how they tighten their network of contacts.
Next month, new features will be added to app in the form of audio effects, video caller ID, and friend finding. Maaii aims to expand the list of supported languages to include at least two more major markets. It will also be looking to develop localized content specific to its core markets, including virtual goods and services.
(Editing by Charlie Custer, Anh-Minh Do and Steven Millward)