The desire to remain close to and protect one’s family is as universal as anything, transcending language and culture. Which is why it’s little surprise that adoption of Life360, the family social network, has grown organically around the world despite limited localization efforts by the company to date. Today, the company is taking a more proactive approach to international expansion via a partnership with Yahoo! Japan and a dedicated product for that market.
Usage of Life360 spiked in Japan following the devistating 2011 tsunamis in that country, and further increased following a rash of abductions and kidnappings in the years since. The app’s private location sharing, family communication, and other safety features map directly to these concerns.
Softbank-owned Yahoo Japan currently reaches 85 percent of all internet users in Japan and is the country’s largest payments, retail and mobile provider in the country. One area where the company has a hole in its portfolio is in family communication, losing major market share to the Line messaging platform and even Facebook within the country. Via today’s partnership announcement, Yahoo! Japan will be the exclusive provider of Life360 in Japan, exposing the platform to tens of millions of families.
Life360 and Yahoo! Japan will co-release a dedicated app for the Japanese market. The app will be co-branded and adapted to the unique cultural needs of Japanes users, according to Life360 co-founder and president, Alex Haro. Life360 already utilizes a freemium model around the world, but this localization will include the introduction of market-specific premium features tailored to the Japanese family. This will include, among other things, severe weather and crime alerts. Access to these features will cost ¥500 (US$4.20) per user per month.
According to Haro, Yahoo! Japan will be responsible for market intelligence, distribution, and marketing, while Life360 will retail all development control and user support responsibilities. A co-branded and localized version of the standard Android version Life360 app launches today in Japan, while iOS and an updated version featuring the above Japan-specific premium features is expected to launch in April. Later this summer, the new partners plan to roll out family-focused wearable and kid-focused smartphone offerings that will complement this family social network. Life360 has no plans to establish a physical presence in Japan, with the exception of possibly opening a call center in the country, according to Haro.
With versions of its product available in 13 languages, Life360 now has more than 53 million families using its app globally, approximately 35 percent of which are international. That gap is closing, however, with 50 percent of all new user activations happening outside of the US today, according to Haro.
One characteristic of the Japanese market that makes it particularly attractive to Life360 is the fact that Japanese mobile users spend more money in-app on a per-download basis than those in any other country around the world. At more than $5 per-download per year, the country nearly doubles the next nearest nation, Australia. Life360 is targeting a minimum of 5 million active users in Japan within the next year and ultimately aims to have tens of millions of users in the country. Japan is the world’s tenth largest population and its third largest economy.
It’s notable that Yahoo! Japan, which is already the 11th largest Internet company in the world, decided to partner in order to achieve its family ambitions, rather than enter this market on its own. According to Haro, a core factor in this decision was Life360’s proven location technology, which allows the company to process more than 1 billion locations daily in a scalable, low-impact fashion. Life360 has also accumulated seven years of learnings around family social behavior and has an existing user-base in Japan, established organically. Discussions between the two companies began in October in the US.
It’s a risky decision to give up control of your brand and your connection to one of the world’s largest markets to another company. But Haro and the rest of his Life360 team are betting that Yahoo! Japan’s market intelligence and massive reach within the country will more than make up for the loss of autonomy.
The announcement of this partnership comes a year after Life360 announced a massive $50 million funding round led by US strategic partner ADT Security. The timing of these events is purely coincidence, according to Haro. The company has raised a total of $76.1 million to date with additional backers including, Expansion Venture Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Fontinalis Partners, DCM, Duchossois Capital Partners, BMW Ventures, Seraph Group, 500 Startups, Comerica Bank, Lighthouse Capital Partners, Social Leverage, Launch Capital, Venture 51, Bullpen Capital, Kapor Capital, and other individual angels. Other recent partnerships include those with Ford and BMW, with the goal of seeing Life360 and its family location features incorporated into vehicle-based navigation systems.
The global growth of Life360 follows a larger trend of mobile users seeking more intimate and purpose-built social networks, rather than the monolithic offerings that have dominate the category in years past. This can be seen in the recent emergence of Line (or WeChat, Whatsapp, or Kik) Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak, Line, and Meerkat. Particularly in family-focused culture like Japan, peace of mind is as strong a driver of spending and consumer behavior as any. Both Yahoo! Japan and Life360 appear to understand and hope to address this innate need.
With its dominance as the family social network of choice on mobile devices seemingly secured, Life360 is looking to establish itself as the context layer that connects families across all platforms in the digital age, including wearable devices, the connected home, and the Internet of Things (including automobiles). Unlike other competitors such as Google’s Nest, Life360 has no secondary agenda – such as mass consumer data – connected to this market. In that sense, and given the company’s major head start in connecting families around the globe, it’s hard to see anyone better positioned to win this market. In Japan in particular, the company just strengthened that standing by aligning itself with the largest and most powerful Internet company around.