A smiley face, a thumbs-up, a beating heart and myriad other emoticons are a fun way to add fuller expression to mobile chats. What if they could also add value?
Yoav Degani answered that question by founding Aniways. The Tel Aviv-based startup, which recently won $1 million in funding, just launched its first stage: patent-pending software that identifies keywords and auto-suggests a set of matching icons.
For example, if you type “coffee,” Aniways automatically highlights the word. Tap on it, and you get a variety of coffee-related images to choose from.
The next step will be to offer advertisers a platform for promoting brand content through clickable emoticons. Degani calls the technology “a win-win-win scenario” because it provides better functionality for users, a monetizing tool for app developers and an engaging way for brands to interact with customers.
Going back to the coffee example, the chosen icon could be clicked to reveal locations of area cafés along with reviews, a discount coupon and an interface for reserving a table.
Degani says he started the company after his research revealed that messaging apps transfer about 80 billion messages per day, yet opportunities to monetize are missed most of the time.
“The best way to monetize is advertising, but it ruins the user experience, and no one can afford to lose users,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “In 2014, advertising shouldn’t be intrusive like banners anymore. Everyone is talking about ‘native advertising,’ how to make it part of the experience. How can I make brand content more valuable and fun for users? I came up with using emoticons, because people love them.”
Path to monetization
Adding the free Aniways software development kit (SDK) involves a few lines of code and minimal developer time. The platform offers a path to monetization by enabling the sale of emoticons through an in-app purchase, and in the future through branded emoticons.
Degani sketched out his idea and wrote the patents, but didn’t found Aniways until February 2013, when a mutual acquaintance connected him with Ram Greenberg and Shai Ber, now CPO and CTO, respectively. Both had worked for five years at Microsoft as software developers, so they provided the tech talent he needed.
“We started working together the same day we met,” says Degani. “We really clicked.”
Degani brought the business savvy to the team. Previously, he worked in a family telecom software company, and in 2011 started a company with three partners to build a location-based app for business networking. After it was accepted in the first cohort of the IDC Elevator accelerator, the company shifted its focus to a different product and Degani left to pursue new ideas – one of which was Aniways.
“We just ran a pilot with a small partner for two months to test the platform and improve it,” Degani relates. “We are not dealing yet with advertisers — we will do that after evaluating the metrics of how users use our product and bring on enough app partners so it will be interesting enough for brands. Then we will promote brand content in cool ways that give value to end users.”
Personalized emoticon styles
As user numbers rise, the company is launching its SDK publicly and will integrate it through several more partners – “small players in messaging around the world,” says Degani.
The Aniways team now numbers nine, following a $1 million seed investment from Horizons Ventures, Kima Ventures and angel investors.
Degani says the SDK can work with chat application or with a chat component of an app. “We control the emoticons from the server, so everything is behind the scenes. We add more emoticons on a daily basis based on user behavior, to make it a more personalized experience. If a user shows a preference for a certain style of emoticon, that will be the style offered to that user in the future.”
In addition, Aniways technology constantly analyzes trending topics and updates texting apps with relevant content via the cloud. This means users will be able to access an ever-growing collection of emoticons associated with trending terms, locations or specific holidays and events.
Aniways support only English texts for now, but has the ability to add more languages as needed.
For more information, see http://www.aniways.com.