Initially started as a platform that merged the internet and cellular messaging services into one, Hike, was the first startup to achieve the unicorn status with over $1.4 billion valuation in least time, precisely 3.7 years. It had raised $261 million within these three years.
An interface that went on an integration spree in 2017 with introduction of multiple services like News, Cricket updates, Jokes, Voice and Video calls, Timeline stories, Payments, etc, the company now has more than 100 million users sending over 400 billion texts monthly over the platform.
Kavin Bharti Mittal founded Hike Messenger’s popularity graph is highly skewed towards its initial years. During Chinidia TMT Dialog 2018, in a Fireside Chat with Jai Vardhan–Entrackr’s Founder and CEO, Kavin talked about the market, diversity and the lessons he has learnt from the journey of Hike.
According to him, the problem in the Indian market resided in input. The general population of the country faces problems in dealing with this keyboards. Moreover in comparison to China, India is much more diverse in terms of languages, scripts and other aspects. To solve these problems hike came up with heavily localized stickers, whereby people belonging to different cultures, languages and having different level of education could use the stickers instead of generalized keyboard input method.
However in 2017, it integrated numerous services into the platform but it did not work out for the company. The lesson Mittal took from the same is that the Indian audience is new to the Internet segment, and unlike China is not accustomed to complex applications that aggregate all kinds of services in a single platform. “Indian user base requires their apps to be simple and focused on the core services”, he said.
Moreover, the introduction of the payments service over the platform turned out to be am unsuccessful endeavor for the company. The reason behind this is attributed to the price sensitivity in the Indian population and the lack of a decent lock in period. The said service, is now more of an enabler to the company rather than a focus.
As far as content is concerned, for the company, it is not a current plan, as the market is huge, unpredictable and the monetisation in this segment is not an easy task. Mittal’s motto is to avoid making the mistake of overestimating short term and underestimating long term that most startups make.
Meanwhile, to cater to the diverse population Mittal believes that a few people sitting within an office will be inefficient in cracking the targeted issues. The company is hence investing in machinery, creating artificial intelligence that is capable of making decisions and solving problems on a much more diverse and larger scale.
Talking about the future of the company, Mittal said that the plan for 2018 and 2019 is to focus on the core activities and bring back the simplicity of the interface. He believes in “doing less but doing it much much better”. Learning from its Chinese investor Tencent, the company is working on rapid product iteration to sustain its user base while cracking the unique problem of input.
While enabling graphical representation of text through stickers has been a hit among Hike users core focus on the segment is a doubtful model. The company is still learning from its mistakes, but it would be interesting to see if they are able to regain their mojo and retain their consumer base.