Kik becomes Velocity’s first billion-dollar startup

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Velocity can now be known as an entrepreneurship program that fostered the creation of a billion-dollar company.&nbsp;</p>

Kik, which was founded in 2009 in the Velocity residence and now has over 240 million users, is now valued at $1 billion.

Ted Livingston, CEO of Kik, visited the Humanities Theatre to discuss the success of his new empire at a fireside talk Oct. 7. 

Kik is the first company emerging from Velocity to be classified as a unicorn (a billion dollar company). A $50 million investment from Chinese company Tencent  brought Kik forward as a front-runner in the mobile communications industry. 

Mike Kirkup, the director of Velocity, led the fireside talk. Kirkup asked Livingston why he chose to stay in Waterloo when the Bay area has a consistent track record for building consumer mobile companies.

“We got lots of pressure over the years from investors and from a bunch of people to move down to the Valley. But for us we have chosen to stay here … simply because of University of Waterloo. I’m a huge believer in UW.  Really, just because of their co-op program … I think over time this is going to be one of the top ecosystems for tech,” said Livingston. 

The discussion moved to the lawsuit Kik faced from BlackBerry, which Livingston said was “shitty.” This was one of the downfalls for Kik — just when they thought they were going to hit it big. “We went from the top of the world … to nobody cared.”

BlackBerry sued Kik for patent infringement. They said Kik made “false and/or misleading statements,” causing confusion in the marketplace.

Livingston attributes some of Kik’s success to the marketplace. 

“At a basic level, Kik is successful structurally in the marketplace. We became the messenger for people that don’t have a phone number.” That target demographic is U.S. teenagers. “They have a smart device but don’t have a phone number yet,” Livingston said.

When asked about his decision to drop out in his 4A term at UW, Livingston said, “I had a compelling offer.” That offer was for $1 million from angel investors. “They’re still trying to get me to come back.” 

Wardrobe choices were also a hot topic. “I give them to my wife to donate,” Livingston said, addressing the question of all the Velocity hoodies he receives but never wears. Kirkup asked him if wearing the same outfit every day was a brand recognition strategy, comparing it to Steve Jobs’s iconic wardrobe. “Everyone was like ‘oh it’s his brand’ but yeah, I’m just lazy.”

The topic of selling Kik also came up. “I think emotionally it would be a very painful thing to do,” he said. “You’re holding that briefcase of money and being like ‘it doesn’t hug me back.’ ” Livingston hopes that he does not have to sell Kik. “I hope we can go public one day.”

Imprint also asked Livingston some questions, including what advice he would give to his younger self.

“I would say make sure to start a company in your last co-op term. I did that. No matter what you do, go to Waterloo and start a company in your last co-op term. That’s what I would tell my three-year-old self.”

When asked about how it feels to be revisiting his alma mater, Livinsgton said, “I come here all the time. I feel like I never left. I love it here. I love the school. I think it’s the best school in the world. I think the world just hasn’t recognized that yet to the degree that it will.”

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