Our mission is to bring India online: Hike CEO Kavin Bharti Mittal

By Vibhuti Jaitly | Updated: Mar 22, 2015, 08:33 AM IST

Hike Messenger, the homegrown free messaging application that was launched in 2012, is growing at a rapid pace with more than 35 million active users at present. Hike also introduced free internet calls in January this year.

In an exclusive interview with Vibhuti Jaitly of Zee Media Corporation, Kavin Bharti Mittal, CEO and developer of Hike Messenger, talks about the idea behind developing the app, future plans, vision, the Indian market scenario and much more.

Kavin Bharti Mittal, son of Sunil Bharti Mittal -- chairman and Group CEO of Bharti Enterprises -- didn't join his father's legacy but chose to tread his own path instead.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q. Why didn't you join your family business given the fact that you are the heir to one of the largest family businesses in India?

This whole journey started towards the end of my third year in college. I remember when the first iPhone came out. I was enamored by it. A couple of my friends and I had built an app – 'Movies Now', an iPhone app - and we saw almost 5,00,000 people download it. It was quite a life-defining moment, that something so small that a few of us had created could have a sizable impact on the world and people around us.

It became quite clear that with the power of internet and mobile, we could build something that could tremendously improve and simplify people’s lives on a large scale one day. Since then I’ve never looked back.

So on the foundation of that, in 2012, we launched Hike which crossed 35 million users last year in under two years of launch. Today, Hike Messenger represents the rise of product start-ups in India.

Q. Hike is your brainchild. Was it aimed at giving direct competition to other key players (WhatsApp, Line, Viber, Nimbuzz and others) in the market?

Our take on messaging is quite different from the rest of the players. India is a very unique market. There are a billion people in this country who will come onto the internet for the first time in their lives and that too on a low-end smartphone. We haven’t seen this large chunk of mobile-first population anywhere globally. As a result, there is a fundamental lack of understanding as to what the internet is for most people in the country. We believe that through messaging, we can solve this problem.

Q. Hike has a young user base (90% of users being under the age of 25). Are youngsters primarily your target audience or do you wish to expand it across all age brackets?

India is a young country with over 60 percent of the population under the age of 35. Every one of these young Indians is our target audience and we’ve built Hike with them in mind. In fact, over 90 percent of our user base is under the age of 25. We've gone from zero to over 35 million users in under two years and it’s quite clear that the Indian youth want much more than what’s trickling down from the West.

Q. Hike recently added free online voice calling. How can such services boost the profitability for telecom firms?

We believe such services will enable the uptake of data and provide a big new revenue stream to operators. In the long term, we believe this will be a win-win situation.

Q. You have introduced free voice calling at a time when mobile operators are asking TRAI to put Over-the-Top (OTT) players under regulation. What is your vision behind this?

The timing was a mere co-incidence but it’s a tricky subject and requires much deeper discussion nonetheless. In countries across the world, the issue has been handled differently. We, along with all other OTT players, are waiting to see how it plays out in our country. India is gradually emerging as a destination for technology innovation and the momentum should not slow down.

Q. Hike has more than 35 mn users and aims to reach 100 mn users by this year. What are the steps that will be taken to achieve that target?

Our goal is to move fast and innovate. We’re releasing at least one update to the app every month making Hike faster and cheaper to use, and also at the same time building features to solve the numerous problems the youth face when communicating with their friends and loved ones. Our mission is to bring India online and getting to 100 million is one big step towards that goal.

Q. The 'start-up ecosystem' is gaining pace with many impressive ventures. How do you see India as a market for such start-ups?

The landscape has changed tremendously over the last few years in India and it’s been a great sight to watch, I must say. There’s plenty of room for start-ups to innovate. We’re excited that today India is home to many innovative start-ups. There’s tremendous potential and one day I hope to see many start-ups from India transform into some of the world's largest internet companies.

Q. Which are the other products that you are working on?

We’re 100 percent focused on Hike. There’s a lot to be done, we’re just getting started!

Q. Any specific new features that we can expect from Hike?

We launched free Hike calls in January this year, followed by live World Cup scores the next month, followed by Natasha, your very own virtual assistant on Hike. In addition to that, today we have over 1,000 extremely local stickers in the app catering to many parts of the country. This is just the beginning of what is to come. We’re extremely excited about what lies ahead.