Indian messaging app Hike claimed some very impressive numbers earlier this year: 100 million users who were exchanging 40 billion messages a month and spending 120 minutes a week on the app on average. Kavin Bharti Mittal, the Founder and CEO of Hike, spoke to Business Today about the company's strategy and what differentiates it from rival WhatsApp.
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What was the goal behind creating Hike?
We believe that there is an opportunity to build something incredible in mobile broadband that has not been done before. But the goal at Hike was to build something that simplifies the Internet for most people in the country. How do we build a social messaging application that becomes the gateway to the Internet? The idea for Hike came from me spending time at Connaught Place in Delhi after I moved back from the UK and the US. I realised that there will be a billion people who would come online for the first time on a mobile device. The big question was: how would they come online? Messaging made a lot of sense.
What strategy did you initially adopt to go after this goal?
Our strategy is very simple. It is a Venn diagram with two circles intersecting - social messaging on the left and the platform on the right. The big question we asked was: can we build a much more localised, more relevant Internet messaging app? We have done a large part of that. If we do that well, can we transform the way people consume content and services in India? Phones that cost $100 can run no more than two-three apps. Google ends up bundling a lot of apps that people don't use. That leaves little space for other apps. When that happens, you are limiting what a person can interact with. Two, data costs are very expensive relative to the purchasing power parity. So the cost of downloading an app is very expensive. We believe that the app will become a contact in the address book replacing the need for native apps we have today. We have news as one more contact; we have been experimenting with this for the last few months. This is a micro-app. Then we tried a bunch of things such as cricket scores, coupons. The app model is not scalable. The mobile is a brand new computing paradigm. The fat-client model always moves to a think-client model. If I am an Android, the OS for this hardware, what becomes the OS for the cloud? We believe it is going to be messaging. Social messaging will become a new kind of operating system for mobile as the world transitions to the thin-client approach.
What is it that WhatsApp has that you don't?
Today, we have everything they have. It is not about features; it is why people associate themselves with your brand. The feature battle got old a long time back. One of the biggest thing is the Hidden Mode - in our application you can hide chats. It is one of the biggest things in Hike today. Smartphones in houses are shared. Kids don't have any privacy. I can enter a passcode and mark a chat as hidden. We are much more than simple messaging. We launched Hike Offline. When one of the users goes offline, you can still continue to chat for free. We focused heavily on the data and non-data part because in a market like India, because of cost, people turn their data off very often. Then we expanded that into Hike Direct where Hike can be used without the Internet. We also improved how people express themselves. Stickers were a monstrous hit. We have gone very local with this, with cultural nuances.
What is the demographic that is adopting Hike?
15 to 25 years. Our focus is purely on this age bracket. They are far more open to new things.
Is there a plan to monetise the platform?
Way too soon. We are at least two years away from even starting to do it. But there are three pillars. We think messaging will play a large role in e-commerce. Flipkart and Snapdeal may get access to a 100 million users overnight. We have a big app problem in india - app uninstall rates are twice the global rate. Hike can become a default platform. Flipkart and Snapdeal can build on this platform and drive commerce in this app. The second piece is brand channels. Consumers want to interact with the brands they love and brands want access to consumers. We are working on it internally and this is going to be our second big pillar. Third, is the virtual economy like stickers and games. But that would take time in a market like India.