Google Acquires Tenor

by Chris Moore

Congrats to David, Erick and the entire Tenor crew on the acquisition by Google! It’s rewarding to see Google recognize Tenor’s leadership in the discovery and sharing of GIFs. And we’re looking forward to watching how Tenor will evolve with Google’s support.

Tenor has transformed the way that hundreds of millions of users communicate by taking a decades-old media format — the GIF — and exploiting a largely overlooked growth opportunity in the iOS keyboard. Tenor was the first to build on top of the iOS keyboard when it opened up to third party developers and went on to reach massive scale quickly by building on top of other messaging services including Facebook messenger, G-Chat, Twitter, Kik, Line and dozens of others. Today, more than 300 million monthly active users conduct 12 billion GIF searches per month on the Tenor platform.

Tenor’s insight was that, with the rise of mobile messaging, people were looking for ways to express themselves beyond words and emojis. Sharing the right GIF was a far more powerful way to convey emotions like love, miss you, awesome, etc.

And by making that right GIF easy to discover and share across mobile messaging platforms, Tenor was able to introduce people a whole new way to express themselves that let them feel more connected and creative. Turns out in the words of one user, “it’s made nonverbal communication more like my real-life communication.”

In 2014 Redpoint made a seed investment (and ultimately became the largest shareholder) in Tenor, which went on to quietly build one of the largest social services to emerge during that time period.

Tenor’s success is all the more impressive given the fact that building strong businesses in social over the last few years has been challenging for two primary reasons:

1. It has become increasingly difficult to identify truly new, habitual social experiences that an incumbent player can’t or won’t immediately copy

2. The opportunities for startups to unlock exponential organic growth have diminished as the traditional growth platforms — the Web, FB and mobile — have become largely saturated.

As with most successful social start-ups, Tenor benefited from tremendous product vision and execution. I remember how struck we all were by Tenor co-founder David McIntosh’s instinctive feel for the GIF sharing use cases. He was convinced that if it were easy to do, users would choose GIFs over words to convey the messages that really mattered. Kudos to David on realizing this vision, and best of luck to the entire team on the next phase of growth within Google.