The new Hike app comes with 30,000 pre-loaded stickers across English and more than 40 Indian languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, etc. By the end of the year, Hike plans to up this number to 200,000.Ramarko Sengupta
Homegrown messaging application platform Hike wants to change the way friends communicate with each other over chats and reduce dependency on the keyboard. To do this, the company has launched Hike Sticker Chat.
Hike’s Founder and CEO Kavin Bharti Mittal told YourStory:
“Stickers are at the centre of Hike Sticker Chat and are built with machine learning at its core. The app seamlessly tailors itself around each user’s tastes to make communication really simple and expressive by bringing you the right sticker at the right time.”
The new app comes with 30,000 pre-loaded stickers across English and more than 40 Indian languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, etc. By the end of the year, Hike plans to up this number to 200,000. Of the 30,000 stickers currently available, 10,000 are ‘neutral to English’ meaning it either doesn’t have text or it’s in English, another 10,000 are in local languages with their respective scripts, and the rest are in local languages but in English script.
"All these stickers are hand drawn by the company, but as it scales the numbers, they will be machine-made," Kavin said. Till now four in-house art directors along with help from studio partners across the world have been producing these stickers.
“People in India have a tough time with input and as tech gets better, folks want to type less and that’s why companies like Google have come up with the 'smart reply' option where AI (artificial intelligence) prompts the text of a reply and such and that’s the need we are catering to,” he remarked.
According to the Founder-CEO, Hike Sticker Chat has already been adding 50,000 users per day. The company is also working on user-generated stickers or UGS in order to give a more personalised user experience, which it hopes to roll out before the year ends.
Speaking on messaging app leader WhatsApp’s stickers, which Kavin has never considered a direct competition, the 31-year old tech entrepreneur said the Facebook-owned company only has a couple of standard sticker packs, compared to Hike’s vast repertoire.
He noted, “Of course there are third-party apps from where you can get more stickers for WhatsApp, but it’s all a bit convoluted and long-drawn to be honest."
However, Kavin continues to believe that WhatsApp and Hike Sticker Chat can happily co-exist and be on the same phone at the same time. “WhatsApp is more for formal relationships and interactions while ours is more for close friends and young people. WhatsApp is very good at solving the lowest common denominator,” he added.
As far as competition is concerned, Kavin says no one else is doing it at the scale that Hike is doing it at.
Hike’s messaging target group has so far consisted of users in the 18-24 years age bracket. But lately, the company has decided to widen its focus to include even younger users starting with 16-year-olds.
In terms of top cities based on the number of users, the student-town of Pune is unsurprisingly numero uno followed by Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and Jaipur.
With technology making new inroads every day coupled with data availability and speeds like never before, Kavin believes there is no need to stick to keyboards anymore when there are other more 'fun' alternatives to communicate.
Hike understands its Sticker Chat is a niche product catering to a select audience but its London-educated CEO believes that even if the company gets two out of 10 messaging users, it’s great for the company given the sheer size of India.
With the General Elections underway, the company has an interesting bunch of sticker packs dedicated to voting and politicians.
There's one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking a selfie and a Rahul Gandhi caricature wearing sunglasses with the text - “Rahul! Naam toh suna hi hoga” - a pun on Shah Rukh Khan’s famous dialogue from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Voice prompted stickers and video in stickers are features that are expected to be rolled out during the year as well.
Last year, Hike had announced that it would start unbundling its services and launch them as separate, individual apps. Hike Sticker Chat marks the beginning of the rollout and other services like cricket scores, gaming, and news, which were a part of the earlier ‘super-app’ would be launched over the next six to nine months.
Currently, the company has around 150 employees, and the head count is expected to go up to nearly 200 by 2019.
Launched in 2012, Hike has become a billion-dollar company in terms of valuation. Till date, the company has raised $261 million. In August 2016, Hike raised its Series D round of funding led by Tencent and Foxconn at a valuation of $1.4 billion and managed to become one of the fastest to attain 'unicorn' status amongst Indian startups.