How Hike is shaping up to be more than instant messaging

Venkatesh Ganesh | | Updated on: Aug 17, 2016
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Kavin Mittal’s thrust on bringing photo filters to latest news under one platform paid off

From starting off as a chatting app, Hike, with its $175 million funding is now metamorphosing into a digital hub that can offer everything from discount coupons to news, as it seeks its next 100 million users.

At the Koramangala office, there is a question on the whiteboard. Why do we need so many apps, asks Kavin Bharti Mittal, founder of Hike and son of telecom czar Sunil Bharti Mittal.

Ironically, his company develops one such app that seems to have caught on with college goers. When you go to a mall, brands want to talk to you. You shop at Zara, our chat bot can suggest your wardrobe, pay through Hike then get discount coupons for your next purchase, says Kavin, simultaneously looking at game update on his phone.

In many ways the three years that it took the company, often referred to as India’s answer to WhatsApp, reaching the 100-million user mark was significant. “Now, we are beginning to see the fruits,” he says.

100-million mark

The story is somewhat similar to one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs — NR Narayana Murthy. While it won’t be fair to compare Kavin’s growth with Murthy, the journey is similar. In Murthy’s case, it was getting to the first billion dollars in revenue in 23 years and in Kavin’s case it was getting to the first 100 million user base. “We expect to double up quicker and a lot of it depends on how fast the market grows.

Hike, which was founded on December 2012, started out at a time when the smartphone boom in India was beginning to take off. India, currently, has about 200 million smartphone users and along the way competitors like WhatsApp, owned by Facebook; WeChat, owned by Tencent; Line and others are flexing their muscles.

So, when the largest amongst them is owned by Facebook, how can Hike be different? “There was obviously competition from WhatsApp and others but our user base (largely 15-24 year old) use it along with WhatsApp,” says Kavin.

Apart from the usual chat app stuff, users can perfect their selfies with photo filters, have an interactive timeline, play games and even a compact feed of the latest news, something which Facebook did recently but is not available on WhatsApp. But his eyes light up on one specific feature.

“We came up with ‘hidden chats’ to protect privacy, ahead of others,” he says. A few months back, WhatsApp came up with this feature after there was a global furore about the ease with which hackers could intercept messages.

More features

Interestingly, the company came up with ‘Hike Direct’, which does not need the Internet to send messages or files. It works like a Wi-Fi spot and within a 100 metre radius, uses peer-to-peer connection.

One of the things that international communication apps have failed is to bracket India along with others and pay mere lip service to ‘customisation’, opines Sanchit Vir Gogia, Analyst at Greyhound Research.

This is an area that Hike seems to be on steroids when compared to other apps. Kavin points to things such as voice calling, which is still popular, using emojis to convey emotions, data compression techniques as areas specific to India.

At the heart of it though, users are still weary of using data due to bill shock issues. “Only 15 per cent use meaningful data due to bill shock and there is affordability issues,” he says.

Then there is the effort to crack the code on regional language. Qwerty keyboards do not work when it comes to Indian languages and we are working to crack it, says Kavin.

Published on January 17, 2018

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