Kavin Bharti Mittal is on a mission to change the way messaging is consumed in India. He believes that this year, when 4G and high broadband fibre will be added, messaging will become unique, because it could connect services to consumers. He says that several apps could become part of the messaging app. In the future, he believes people would just use the messenger to buy movie tickets or grocery. However, he stresses that a lot of work needs to go into making the technology stronger, before such services could be launched. Today, the messaging services are not contextually aware. Kavin's company Hike has raised $86 million so far and has more than 100 million downloads. The company plans to double its user base and believes consumption in India is going to be local. Here are the excerpts of an interview with him:
1) The argument world over is that messaging services are going to be the app to go to for all services. Would you subscribe to this thought?
A) If you look at Hike, we notice a few changes. Let us take news, which is now pulled from 100 different sources for our users. We notice that our audience spends about one minute and 10 seconds per session. Similarly, they follow cricket scores, buy coupons and in the future I am sure they will want to use the messenger platform to buy services such as movie tickets or close transactions with e-commerce companies. Let me be honest with you, the world over chat bots have not reached that kind of sophistication to offer services to people. But by the end of 2016 we at Hike are going to launch some things that will make messaging different from whatever is happening today. It will be focussed on consumer experience and highly localised.
2) So will there be micro apps?
A) It is the right way to go. The storage on the phone is so low that one messenger with several micro apps is the right way to go. We look at how young people consume messages and we see that they are far more into messaging than the older bunch. The 20-year-olds today use images and video to communicate with their friends. Once we get to 250 million downloads we will have the power to work with multiple services that benefit our consumers. The data generated from all this can lead to stronger messaging services that can be personal to the individual. Google and Facebook are working on this. But in India, messaging has to look beyond the 50 million people. Once we have that scale of 250 million the possibilities of building a great service distribution strategy will be easier.
3) How do you view the startup ecosystem here in India?
A) There is a lot of herd mentality and less focus on being different and independent. This is why many companies are going to fail. But the correction is happening and I believe the good ones are here to stay. You have to understand that the system is just cropping up in India. Give it a few more years and you will see innovation being tailor made for the country. India has lagged in the Internet. But this will change over the next four years.
4) What advice do you have for startup entrepreneurs?
A) We do things because it makes us happy. But startups must back their research. Only research will tell you if goals can be achieved. For a startup to succeed the founders have to solve a need (of consumers or businesses) and people will love the brand. Also solve this need well and it should impact lives. This is when consumers remember a company for life. Startups are clearly the future in the country and they are changing organisation structures. When we expanded our company the expense management system that we had was cumbersome so built a system that is more people friendly. Organisations that take care of their employees win in the long term. But Indian startups have to build in good taste and make sure that they mean something. Companies cannot be built on the premise that founders can make money out of an idea. Building a company is larger than just raising money and cashing out.
5) If you achieve the scale of 250 million people using your app, do you see B2B applications coming on the messenger?
A) All these are clear possibilities from a retail to consumer connect using a messenger service. Give it two years and all the services will be there on the phone. Yes, I think businesses will see an opportunity with using services like Hike. But, today, we are a consumer company. That said, the possibilities are endless.
Kavin adds that Hike is not going to raise any more money for the next two year. The research from his tech team shows that the company's focus on local language content is going to make Hike get closer to Indians who communicate beyond English. This will give WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger a run for their money as the platforms have to figure out a local for local strategy yet. What more, Hike can leverage on the largest telecom provider to deliver services to consumers. So the next 150 million for Hike will come from a new way of messaging. What that would be, Kavin says he will reveal in a few months' time.