Licensing Innovators–TextPride

Wray O'Brien

As smartphones increasingly become a daily necessity for millions of people worldwide, licensors have begun to look for ways to capitalize on the new marketplace. Enter TextPride, a startup founded by Evan Wray and Sean O’Brien that offers brands a new way to connect with fans on mobile devices.

The company creates branded emoji (the smiley faces and other images that people put in texts and e-mails J) and digital “stickers” (larger brand-related images) that can be used in text messages sent through third-party texting platforms like WhatsApp, Viber and GroupMe.

If the numbers are any indicator, Wray and O’Brien are on to something. Their product won’t go live until December, and yet they’ve already signed up 200-plus licensors and received $1 million in seed funding.

Beginning next month, fans will be able to buy packs of emoji or digital stickers featuring characters, scenes, quotes and imagery from brands they love and then use that content in their texts.

What TextPride really offers though, is easy entry into this coveted space. The company not only creates the branded products, but also coordinates with various texting services to offer those items to users. When TextPride launches with the first of its worldwide app partners next month, Wray and O’Brien estimate that their licensors’ branded offerings will be available to more than 400 million users around the globe.

To give an idea of how lucrative this kind of brand extension can be–the free Japanese messaging service Line, which has around 200 million users, makes about 1 billion yen ($10 million) per month selling digital stickers, according to The Next Web. When TextPride launches with the first of its worldwide app partners next month, Wray and O’Brien estimate that their licensors’ branded offerings will be available to more than 400 million users around the globe.

Among the more than 200 licensees on board at launch include 80-plus NCAA colleges, a raft of Greek organizations, the U.S. Army and Marines, Miramax Studios and Warner Music Studios, with a host of additional entertainment and lifestyle brands soon to be announced.

“Text messaging is the No. 1 thing that people do on their phone and our users are seven times more engaged than a normal texter,” says Wray. “At the end of the day, people are already talking about their favorite brands and affinity groups, and we’re just bringing a really cool branded element to that to increase engagement.”

Wray says that high levels of engagement will be a key selling point for licensors, especially those looking to build a presence in the mobile market and target younger audiences.

“Every message sent with a branded TextPride emoji is essentially an advertisement for that brand,” he says. “It can almost be looked at as user-generated advertising content.”

PortioResearch expects worldwide mobile messaging (text messages sent through an app on a smartphone as opposed to regular SMS texting) traffic to grow exponentially over the next few years, with about 10.4 trillion messages sent through app services by the end of this year.

“Mobile messaging apps are rapidly overtaking the traditional SMS experience on smartphones, collectively representing some 800 million worldwide users today,” says Wray. “People love mobile messaging because it’s a content-driven, free and a highly personal experience shared with family, friends and loved ones. Brands have struggled over this channel to date because the approach hasn’t matched this dynamic–direct messages from companies feel forced, and no one wants to feel pitched over a text message. TextPride content unlocks a powerful way for brands and messaging apps to increase engagement with their fans without alienating them over this highly personal channel.”

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