Hike Messenger’s new office at the Aerocity in Delhi was designed by Kavin Mittal, its 27-year-old CEO. That is in keeping with Mittal’s career choices; he chooses to build his own things. He could have joined any of the several businesses of Bharti Enterprises, which his father Sunil controls. But Kavin Mittal chose to build a new one, though he kept it under Bharti’s equal-stakes venture with Japan’s telecom and Internet giant SoftBank.
The attitude seems to work for Mittal. Hike, the instant messaging app Mittal founded three years ago, has crossed 100-million users, making it the sixth-largest messaging app globally, after Whatsapp, QQ Chat, FB Messenger, WeChat and Line.
Hike’s growth, like that of other messaging apps, coincided with the rise of the smartphone, which ushered in an era with an app for everything: shopping, chatting, networking, news, and even for adultery.
The idea of Hike came while Mittal was watching a golgappa seller in New Delhi’s Connaught Place talking on a Nokia 1100. Mittal thought of him, and of the many others who did not have Internet on their phone, but still needed messaging.
So Hike is an app that works both online and offline. It is free, but still makes money through services that ride messaging.
The art of making money
There are many services riding Hike, with more to come. Live cricket scores and news are the top micro-sites, which are like two contacts in the list. “When you tap on News, it opens like a chat. You can flip through different stories. You tap cricket and you can see live scores,” says Mittal.
The average smartphone price in India cannot accommodate more than 4-5 apps. So Hike will have micro-sites for almost every service, doing away with the need to download apps.
By the year-end, Mittal plans to let brands interact with Hike users. “We have brands like Amazon, all the way down to Shoppers Stop,” he says about Hoppr, the coupon business integrated with Hike.
Saahil Goel, co-founder and CEO of ecommerce firm KartRocket, which enables small merchants to go online using their own brand, says he will use Hike to sell. “We will sell on whatever channel allows us to connect with the buyer.”
Hike offers a potentially large number of buyers, if even a small portion of its users were to be considered. So a year from now, you might walk into a mall and receive a ping from Hike about the stores that might interest you. Once you walk into that store, you might be able to pay using Hike, which will also have a mobile wallet.
“There are multiple business models. Money will be made through brands’ conversation with the consumer, and the transaction that happens through or on Hike,” says Mittal.
Understanding the user
Before Hike starts making money, Mittal wants to understand the user. Hike usage peaks every night at 11.30. The product team at Hike was surprised to see that people recharge at similar times, and combine packages to avail discounts.
Mittal wants to know why. He also wants to know if Hike coupons are being used to buy bagel for breakfast, and how traffic on Hike changes during cricket matches. The next phase of growth, Mittal believes, will come only if Hike can solve its users’ problems.
Analysts say Mittal is aiming rather high. “Investors now want to see revenue. Hike has only two options to make money – open up the platform for marketers, or allow in-app purchases. If Hike is opened up, it should have permission-based ads, or the experience will go for a toss,” says Sanchit Vir Gogia, CEO and chief analyst of Greyhound Research.
Mittal is conscious of the perils. Though he wants brands to talk to Hike users, he won’t let his messenger turn into an advertising platform. For instance, he won’t allow banner ads. “Nobody wants to see ads while messaging. So that’s not going to happen.”