Kavin Bharti Mittal is the CEO & Founder of Hike Messenger, a venture of BSB, a JV between Bharti Enterprises and SoftBank Corp. Mittal is an extreme tech-enthusiast and has been actively involved in the start-up community having founded a start-up of his own. In December 2012, Kavin launched BSB's first mobile app - Hike, a free internet messaging app.
Kavin's entrepreneurial journey began at an early age of 20 when he founded AppSpark to explore the possibilities in the mobile apps space. In 2009, AppSpark launched ‘Movies Now’ in partnership with movietickets.com, a mobile app that would go on to change the way consumers bought movie tickets on the go.
Mittal completed his Masters in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and Management from Imperial College, London. While at Imperial College, Mittal interned at a few of the world’s top companies such as McLaren Racing, Google & Goldman Sachs.
Speaking to exchange4media, he talks about the mobile app ecosystem, challenges of mobile apps in the Indian market and Hike’s strategy and more…
What are the latest trends taking place in the mobile app ecosystem?
India has around a 100 million active mobile internet users in the country and that number is growing rapidly every year. That’s the market, which we’re building for. The rate at which hike messenger has grown in the last 18 months is phenomenal and is a strong testament of the right direction in which the product is steering. We will continue to focus heavily on introducing new and innovative features to bridge the existing gaps in the IM market in India.
What marketing strategy works for mobile apps in the market? How have you been promoting Hike in the market?
India is a young inquisitive country. The youth is opinionated and aware. Therefore for companies operating in a cluttered and competitive space like mobile apps – the focus has to be getting to the pulse of user requirement and focusing product innovation around that.
For us at Hike, our focus was to build a messaging app that bridges the existing gaps in the Indian market. We spent a lot of time refining the product and it was only post hitting the coveted 20 million users mark, we thought the time was ripe to amplify our reach to more users through our full-fledged brand and marketing campaign. Our campaign with the tagline ‘Hike Up Your Life’, is a call to the youth of India, to experience a messaging app that is made with their needs in mind. We’ve showcased a set of seven ads on TV. The ads have resonated very well with our audience and we’ve witnessed a spike in our daily download numbers and have crossed over 300 thousand activations per day.
What are the challenges for mobile apps entering the Indian market and what are the challenges faced by Hike in the Indian market?
India is a country of many countries. One-size doesn't fit all. We understand that. We've been making a lot of headway in terms of reducing friction in messaging-input by the way of launching localised stickers and walkie-talkie.
Talking of cultural differences, in India, it is rather common for people to share phones or browse through one another’s phones, messages and pictures. We understand that messaging is a very personal affair, be it with your best friend or boyfriend. Based on this insight, we built Hidden Mode in Hike that lets you hide your private chats and access them only with the right passcode. This ensures our users feel safe.
We’ve also noticed that in India we love to talk to a lot of people at once. We recently announced the launch of group chats with up to 100 members in one group wherein you can send messages, share rich media and much more. These groups become super powerful clubbed with ‘All File Transfer’ feature which allows users to share files in any format – ZIP, MP3, MP4, docs, ppts and much more up to a 100 MB each file. This surpasses the limit of most popular mail clients.
What is the number of active users for Hike?
We crossed the 20 million user mark back in June 2014. We hit that milestone within just a year and a half of our launch, making Hike one of the fastest growing mobile applications from India. Today we’re adding over 300 thousand users per day. Close to 90 percent of our users are from India and over 80 percent are under the age of 25.
What are some of Hike’s value added features that has worked well with the users?
Hike’s features have been created via an active co-creation model where we seek feedback from users and incorporate it into the product. While smartphones are making it big in the country – however, there is a large part that still uses feature phones. Today, Hike let’s its users message even those friends who don’t have a smartphone or an active internet connection. This feature is very powerful in a market like India, where people turn off their data to save costs or battery or are just in a bad network area.
Another popular feature of Hike is its localized stickers. India is a diverse country and for many people using the mobile internet for the first time, have a huge language-input barrier. Our localized stickers not only help people make conversations more expressive, but also cut across language and cultural barriers.
There are a lot of other design superiorities that give the user a much better chat experience. Read Report lets the users know when a message has been sent, delivered and read through a simple double-tick-R notification. To also give a richer and more contextual chat experience, we’ve introduced two-way chat themes. These themes once changed, reflect on the participants’ phone, adding a lot more context to messaging.
What is the revenue model for Hike?
At this stage we’re focused on improving the product getting hike into the hands of many more millions.
WhatsApp having the first-mover advantage, took the market by storm, how do you think that Hike will be able to bring a change in the market?
One size doesn’t fit all given the diverse nature of the market. We’ve built unique features, keeping this in mind. The growth of Hike proves that the market wants more than what has trickled down from the west. The biggest difference between us and the others is that everybody else is solving a global problem here, while our focus is to solve problems that are faced in India, be it cultural or infrastructural. Hike is a proud home-grown product, made in India, for India.
We’ve hit #1 on the Google Play Store across categories and have displaced legacy players.
The success can be attributed to the right product-market fit and the right app distribution channels.
Being one of the young entrepreneur and reaching to great heights is rare and tough. How did you achieve it? How do you plan to grow further?
As it is rightly said, ‘Perfection is not a destination, it's a never ending process.’ In other words, you need to strive for excellence everyday but go to sleep every night knowing that there's always room to improve the next day, that there's always room to be better. Having a big vision and ambition is one thing but it takes commitment and discipline to abide by this way of life.
I founded Hike when I had just turned 24. At that age, one has a ton of distractions making it even harder. I was young and needed to learn a lot and fast and the only way to keep up my learning curve extremely high was to surround myself with people much smarter and more experienced that I was. That continues till date. I think it really comes down to how badly you want it. If you want it bad enough, you'll do whatever it takes. We at Hike are honestly just getting started, we're probably no more than 5 percent of where we want to be. There's a long road ahead.