With 100 million users and a monthly messaging volume of over 40 billion messages, Hike is now “the largest Indian company in terms of local users” noticed Kavin. The company is growing very fast, with over 30 million users since October 2015. Their largest competitor is WhatsApp, owned by social media giant Facebook, but Kavin doesn’t seem threatened. “For us to win, WhatsApp doesn’t have to loose. WhatsApp is all about text and photo sharing. We are in two different markets“.
Indeed, Kavin considers Hike closer to WeChat, the Chinese social media giant, which tried to enter the Indian market “but failed because the Indian market is unique and complicated” said Kavin. “India is the first mobile first market globally. Also, India is a country made of more than 20 “countries”. If you go beyond 50 million users in India, it changes everything, because you have to deal with local languages. We changed our design 4 times in the last 3 years, as we added new segments of users” explains Kavin. Hike Messenger launched 8 local languages last December to localize the app and reach new segments of users. “Stickers have been useful to communicate in India where there are so many different languages“. Voice will be the next way to bring more Indians to the internet. “We are investing heavily in voice“.
The context of India is also very specific in terms of connectivity and data affordability. In India, even rich people turn off their data connections to save on data. Hike has launched Hike Direct in October, enabling hikers to chat and share files between two phones without using data, by using Wi-Fi Direct technology. This context also encourages the use of less apps to do more things and consume less space on the phone and less data. “We believe that messaging will eventually be the only app they will have in their phone“. He adds: “The App model doesn’t work. Many businesses face this problem: people download the app after they get a discount, but if they don’t make a daily use of it, they will delete it. We are building micro-apps inside Hike, but we have to do it tastefully. Not like Line, for example, which is a marketing tool and not a messaging tool. We will test about 50 things and we will launch 5 of them. The market will tell us“.
Kavin also talked about his decentralised company’s culture. “The world moves so fast that the only way to keep up is to remove a central control. We have vertical functional teams which work like startups. We have 12 teams that we call Squad. If you hire the right people, you don’t have to tell them what to do, they will tell you. ”
The next big thing for the indian mobile economy will be “the free internet” says Kavin. “There are 400 million people on the internet in India. The infrastructure has changed, the networks and phones are getting better. New business models have to emerge to put the 1 billion people online. That is happening, but in pieces“. Learn more about the connectivity challenges the Indian startups are facing in our wrap-up of the Surge conference.