The chat app’s new Thailand MD tells e27 about his mother, his love for mobile and the future
The last month has not been totally easy for Ariya Banomyong, the newly-appointed Managing Director of LINE Thailand.
He left his job as Country Manager (Thailand) at Google to join the Japanese chat app company and wasn’t sure how people would react to this change.
“[B]ecause if you look at the brand, maybe people would think the guy is crazy — moving from [Google to LINE] — but not at all. The response, the feedback, has been amazing,” he tells e27.
He has received a tonne of friend requests on Facebook — and probably the same number of those on LINE — and pleas from friends to get them Cony and Brown dolls. People, from startups wishing to partner with LINE to his team locally and beyond — welcomed him with open arms.
But now that he has properly settled into his role, we speak to Banomyong to better understand his strategy and mission for the Thai market.
From chat app to platform business
“That’s something we’re working on right now,” he says.
“I’ve only been here for a month. Give me a little bit of time. If you ask me right now, as I said, how do you become the platform that provides services used on a daily basis beyond chat?”
After all, this is one of the biggest challenges Banomyong and the whole team at LINE will have to solve: How to become a platform business. That’s why the company has been building a suite of services from TV to VOIP calls to music to e-commerce. Now, it just needs to integrate all of these services into one brand.
“If you look at the number of users that we have — at 33 million users — it makes us the largest platform in Thailand… If you look at today, that’s a very short-term view. We want to make sure that we’re not just [a] chat [app], we become a platform. I think that’s the future. That future hasn’t really happened yet,” he says.
For that to happen, LINE is also looking to work with different partners to provide users with a better experience.
“A lot of people have commented before that we were kind of a closed platform, but you will see that LINE is opening up. That will open doors to some interesting partnerships,” he says.
Obviously, given LINE’s reach — 33 million users in Thailand alone is not a small sum — startups are really excited about Banomyong’s idea of collaborating and partnerships.
“I think partnership is important,” he adds. “We’re not going to be successful just by ourselves.”
He also says that LINE, which only started four years ago, is still developing a lot of the products under its umbrella. “Being a startup… we have flexibility. These are not completely 100 per cent off the shelf,” he continues.
“We are talking to the market, to the industry, to consumers, to partners, to startups,” he says.
A lot of Banomyong’s work at LINE Thailand will also be related to localisation. He’s tasked to come up with new services designed for Thai consumers.
Later on, if these services become successful, they might be exported into other countries. One example would be LINE TV, which started in Thailand and has now been shipped to Taiwan, LINE’s second-largest market.
Mobile-first is the future
When Banomyong was approached to join LINE and run its operations in Thailand, he didn’t really need much convincing. After all, he was totally familiar with what the company is about, and had been looking at how fast it was growing for some time.
“In the span of two, three years, [LINE] came out of nowhere and, suddenly, everyone is using it… For me, it was like, ‘Wow. That’s amazing’,” he says.
LINE’s enormous growth isn’t just the thing that attracted him to the firm. After working in the tech space for the last 18 years, he is in love with how LINE is a mobile-first company.
“When you look at the future, that trend is only going to increase. We’re only going to spend more time doing more things on our smartphones,” he adds.
However, it isn’t perfect. At least, not yet. Banomyong also sees a lot of ‘fragmentation’ within the mobile user experience. “When you look at the consumer experience… right now it’s not seamless.
“You go to social networks, you look at things you want to buy, you talk to the sellers on LINE, and then you go to your e-banking application to transfer money,” he says.
That might not be the case for many e-commerce customers in developed countries, but, in Thailand, it’s still very much the norm. Most people open up shops on Instagram or Facebook, talk to their customers on LINE and receive payment via bank transfer.
‘LINE reflects your actual social network’
Like many other Thai users of LINE, Banomyong has his mother on the chat app.
“She’s probably the user on my friends’ list that sends me the most messages, and the funny thing is that I’m not the only one,” he says. She forwards him messages, photos and stickers, and uses the app instead of calling.
“What it shows you is that LINE as a platform is not just for teenagers or university students, but it’s [for] everyone. It’s covering all the demographics,” he tells me.
Is that really a good thing? I ask. Isn’t Facebook a good example to learn from? After all, youths have been leaving Facebook for other platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, where their parents aren’t savvy enough to see what they are up to.
“I knew you were going to say that,” he says, “I have the answer to that.”
He continues, “LINE reflects your actual social network. … If you’re a teenager, your friends want to talk. You create a group. And you only talk to them. A lot of people have groups. You don’t have just one group. You have your friends from high school, from university, from work, your work group at the office. At the office, you have two work groups: One with your boss, and one without your boss.”
“These are people you know, it’s not people you don’t know. I think that’s the big difference,” he said.
Want to hear more from Ariya Banomyong? He will be speaking at Echelon Thailand this November 26 – 27. Join us as we connect the Mekong region through Bangkok, Thailand in two action-packed days. Learn more about Echelon Thailand here.
The post Ariya Banomyong’s new job: Make LINE an online platform appeared first on e27.
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