Kavin Mittal’s next big bet: A new online virtual world

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on June 17, 2020

Kavin Mittal, founder-CEO, Hike

Launches HikeLand which will allow users to watch movies, play games together

After making significant inroads into instant messaging services, Kavin Bharti Mittal is steering towards his next big bet- a virtual world that allows users to connect with friends and other users. Called HikeLand, the mobile-only platform takes the user experience beyond just text messaging or sharing emojis.

“The big question we have been asking ourselves is why do social experiences look like they were built a decade ago, even though there is so much advancement on technology. Through our messaging app we gained insight that people are looking for places to hang out but our physical infrastructure does not offer people too many options to hangout. Social norms are also catching up so it’s not very easy for people to express themselves in the real world. So our aim is to use technology and build a virtual world where people can connect with others to build relationships,” Mittal told BusinessLine.

In the early preview version being rolled out today, users can connect with other users to watch online videos together from their respective locations. HikeLand is partnering with online streaming platforms including YouTube, Netflix and Hotstar for the video service. For example, a Hikeland user in Delhi connected with another user in Mumbai can watch the same movie or catch live cricket, without being in the same location. Users will, however, have to take a subscription to these OTT platforms independently. “We don’t want to be a content player but we will be an aggregator. We want the user to have the choice to pick whatever content he wants to watch,” Mittal explained.


Going forward, Mittal is planning to bring gaming on the platform. “We are thinking about bringing gaming in a big way. We are working out on the user experience before launching it,” he said. To monetise the platform, Mittal is also thinking about digital currency and creating an online economy. “We do not want to get into e-commerce but we are thinking of ways we can monetise,” Mittal said.

The platform initially offers two options to users in terms of places to hangout. Users have the option to invite a friend to his virtual home on the platform or can look for new friends at a virtual movie theatre. Home gives users their own space where they can watch and talk while enjoying videos powered by YouTube. Users will also have 8 themes to choose from so they can customise their home with decor that reflects their personality. Keeping user privacy at the heart of the experience, no one can enter a Home in HikeLand without the user's invitation.

Big Screen is a place that brings people together around the content they love, paving the way for new friendships. To start with, Big Screen is currently powered by YouTube and would be running shows 24x7 around Comedy, Sports, and much more. Users can hop into a show of their choice, hang out, watch videos with other like-minded people, & find out more about who they are watching this content with through their profiles and even message them.

Industry experts, however, said that the big concern around such virtual world platforms in the past has been that it allows bad characters to take the cover of anonymity to harass others. Mittal said that he is aware of these pitfalls and is doing everything to protect users. For example, to prevent stalkers and online harassment, a user is allowed to send a text to a new friend only once until the person replies. The platform also has filters that automatically remove abusive language or expletive words. “Safety of users is our responsibility. We will do everything to make Hikeland a safe place for people to hang out,” Mittal assures.

Hikeland is part of Mittal’s strategy to roll out multiple applications by unbundling content and services to new platforms. Under the new game plan, the Hike platform will be focussed entirely as a messaging platform while other services will be rolled out into separate applications.

In 2012, when Mittal launched Hike, the mobile data market was very small. There were barely a few million mobile data users, that too on 2G and low-end smartphones. Over the last couple of years, the market has shifted from 2G and low-end smartphones, where people had trouble using a few apps on their smartphones, to a world of 4G and good smartphones. Mittal believes that with a multi-application business he can serve customers better by having one app dedicated towards one thing


Published on June 17, 2020

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