Startup Sunday Season 1 Episode 6 (Hike)

hike-logo-webIndia has a rich and upcoming startup ecosystem with over 4200+ startups and 9 unicorn startups, adding another jewel to the crown is Hike Messenger coming in as 10th unicorn startup. Hike has become the fastest Indian tech startup to achieve the billion dollar ‘Unicorn’ valuation. The New Delhi-based startup took 3 years and 8 months to cross the $1 billion valuation milestone, with a valuation of $1.4 billion.

Hike Messenger is a cross-platform instant messaging service for smartphones that uses the internet for communication. It offers a unique “nudge” feature apart from the basic social media messaging services offered by all other messengers such as photos, videos and audio file sharing. The nudge feature is used to ping the receiver. There are also several other features unique to Hike messenger which enable user to change theme in chat, play with graphical stickers and share document files of up to 100 MB. It also provides a secure platform for personal and group chatting ensuring privacy.

Apart from providing a means to connect with friends and family through text messaging, Hike also enables to connect through free, seamless voice-calling service through internet over 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi across the globe in over 200 countries without the telephone bills taking a hit. Hike also has a very unique functionality known as “Natasha” , a talking bot that acts as a personal social assistant, making it all the more fun to use Hike. The talking bot uses AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup language) to chat with users. To make it more engaging and effective for its users, it offers an additional feature “Hike Coupons”. These coupons allows users to get discount coupons from over 100 brands.

One day, Kavin Bharti Mittal was hanging out with friends in Connaught Place in Delhi. He noticed many digital ‘have nots’ that day. “I had an iPhone 4 and I noticed between serving chaat and gol gappas the street food vendors were using the Nokia 1100 feature phone and they didn’t know what the internet was. I thought they needed something cheap and easy to use to communicate. And thus I started Hike,” says Mittal who launched Hike on 12 December 2012. The first round of funding of nearly $7 million was done by Bharti SoftBank in April 2013 which was a joint venture between Japan’s Softbank telecom provider and India’s Bharti Telecom with each having equal stake.

Looking at the speed at which Hike is growing, there is no doubt for it to be the leader in the near future and give a tough competition to all its competitors. The marketing strategy adopted by Hike is unique from others which contributes to its commendable success. Apart from the tie-ups with brands such as Dominos, Café Coffee Day, Pizza Hut for discount coupons, lately Hike also launched a new marketing technique to attract more customers wherein unlimited messaging between Hike users is free across the globe; Second, you can communicate with other users who don’t have Hike app through the SMS feature (India Only) and you can also message any other phone user via SMS.

The data charges which are paid to telecom companies for that data which is used for hike messenger are its earnings. Apart from partnership with companies, Hike earns by means of coupons too. The more one uses Hike, the more coupons one would get as rewards. Hike also has a featured Apps section inside their app which suggests to install new games and apps. These apps and games are sponsored by their promoters and developers. Hike makes profit in between. But the money earned from coupons is not that much. Hike spends money on Advertisements (TV, Newspapers, AdWords, Facebook), Dedicated Servers, Message Centers for sending free SMS, App Development, Giving free talk time or giving free SMS if one invites someone. Hike has everything in house be it Message Centers, Free Talk Time, Free SMS and all are powered by Airtel.

As of now, Hike is not in the stage of making any profit. The cost of resources they use to power their application is more than the profit they make. Apart from the dizzy valuation, Hike has a 100 million user base and they send more than a billion messages a day and exchange 300 million stickers, or emoji’s that are almost 3 times the size of the regular ones. “We need a critical mass before we monetize,” says Mittal.

But with increasing internet penetration and mobile users in India, the day is not far when Hike, the newest entry to unicorn club becomes one of the leading technology based company not only in India but around the globe.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving it. ” – Michelangelo Buonarroti

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