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Can a GIF Keyboard Like Riffsy Squeeze Money Out of Looping Minion Videos?

Riffsy has a plan to make money. It's just not using it yet.


Only in Silicon Valley would there be a “GIF keyboard of choice,” but that appears to be the case with two-year-old startup Riffsy, a business that may, one day, find a way to squeeze some money out of a product that surfaces looping cat-fail videos.

Riffsy, which offers a GIF keyboard for both iPhones and Android phones, seems to be making about as much noise as a GIF keyboard can make, having garnered exclusive partnerships and new funding. GIF keyboards temporarily replace the text keyboard on your phone so it’s easy to find and send short looping video clips when words just won’t cut it.

Instead of saying you’re sad, send a GIF of a teary-eyed Spongebob Squarepants. Instead of asking your friend to explain something, just send a GIF of a befuddled Barack Obama. GIFs are a fun way for people to express themselves, akin to stickers and emojis and memes (which all have their own keyboards, too).

There are more than half a dozen GIF keyboards that do something like this in the App Store, but for some reason, Riffsy seems to have separated itself from the pack.

Last week, Riffsy announced an exclusive partnership deal with messaging startup Kik. It is also the exclusive GIF provider for LinkedIn. Back in March, it was one of the first partner apps to join Facebook’s Messenger platform, and earlier this fall it raised $10 million in funding from venture capital firms like Menlo Ventures and Redpoint Ventures.

A few years ago, the idea of building a business on a niche keyboard or animated GIFs would have been hard to wrap your head around. It still is, for some, and while Riffsy CEO David McIntosh is standing by the oft-mentioned Silicon Valley mantra that he’s focused on growth, not monetization, it is interesting to look at how a company like Riffsy might turn GIFs into a viable tech business.


That game plan (which McIntosh isn’t thinking about!) relies on content, like the kind of high-end stuff created by NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox. Riffs has already partnered with those studios around movie launches like “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Taken 3.” The studios create bite-sized GIFs of moments from the film that Riffsy users then share to one another — promoting the movie without ever feeling like they’re promoting the movie.

So far, Riffsy has been surfacing the content to users for free in exchange for some promotion and, well, the content. Like Facebook and Twitter, McIntosh says Riffsy is DMCA compliant, meaning it will take down content it doesn’t own if the content owner complains. The partnerships with movie studios help to avoid that issue, but they also surface familiar, relevant stuff to Riffsy’s users.

“I think the studios are embracing this because they see this as the new trailer: This is the new way of promoting a piece of content,” McIntosh told Re/code. “Even a year ago, GIFs were not part of their core strategy when they put a movie out. Now I think every studio thinks that GIFs are a pillar of their social media strategy.”

Perhaps that’s the case, and perhaps one day they’ll be willing to pay to get those GIFs out to smartphone-wielding consumers. And perhaps they’ll continue to share those GIFs with Riffsy instead of competitors like PopKey or Giphy. If GIFs are for real — which people are certainly betting on — the money will come. Enjoy the Minions while you can.

Lenny Letter

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