A candid Kavin Mittal admits his mistakes as he reinvents Hike and plans fresh fundraising this year
- Kavin Mittal talks about launch of Hike’s two new products – Vibe, an exclusive social platform and Rush, a gaming platform.
- Hike made headlines in the beginning of 2021, as Mittal took to Twitter to announce the shutting down of Hike Messenger.
- While keen to revive Hike back to its glory days, Mittal says he is being careful not to repeat the mistakes.
His messaging service Hike Messenger — was shut down, early this year. Hike Messenger, which was supposed to take on US-based competitor Whatsapp in India, was founded in 2012. The startup showed promise, quickly got the attention of investors — including Chinese messaging giant WeChat’s parent — and was valued at 1 billion dollars within four years of launch.
But Mittal is not done yet.
AdvertisementOn a sultry afternoon, at a posh Gurugram restaurant, Mittal sat down with Business Insider. He wanted to chat about the launch of his two new products – Vibe, an exclusive social platform and Rush, a gaming platform — as well as his fundraising plans. During the conversation, he opened up about the mistakes of the past. “We are not living in a hope bubble, we are good at confronting the brutal facts of reality. Hike is where it is, we deal with it,” he said.
Shutting down Hike Messenger was a tough but important decision
Hike made headlines in the beginning of 2021, as Mittal took to Twitter to announce the shutting down of Hike Messenger. A recent news report said that Hike was trying to take on Facebook. “Why would we leave the messaging space and then go after a product like Facebook?,” Mittal asked. While he did complain about the headline, he was definitely a lot less fragile than he used to be.
Hike in late 2016 boasted having 37 million monthly active users (MAU) and 18 million daily active users (DAU). But Mittal’s homegrown messaging app was no match for the likes of WhatsApp that has taken India by storm in recent years. “Running a messaging app is also not cheap, and if we aren’t going to be in the top two of a business segment, we are not going to keep it around,” Mittal said.
So, what went wrong with the Messenger?
Mittal admits today that they made a couple of bad hiring mistakes which cost them dearly. “We should have adapted to the market, we couldn’t. That was the key reason. There was a period in which we went from 150 people to 400 very fast,” he said.
“We had built a phenomenal culture at Hike until 150 people. But we were going too fast and when you make hiring mistakes at the top, it all comes tumbling down," he said.
Hike laid off hundreds of people in 2018 and today, Mittal has his own ‘code’ for hiring, which he says is the “operating Bible”.
Shutting down the messenger was only half the process
Finding alternative revenue streams was important for Hike to survive. With the gaming platform Rush, Hike is taking on one of its own investments, Winzo, a real money casual gaming platform. “It’s our version of what we believe hyper casual gaming should be. A new entertainment service, we are bringing those old-school gaming arcades online,” he said.
With the other product, Vibe, he’s building a social platform with a friendship and dating angle, where people are matched on the platform. But they are also screening people to keep the ‘sleaze bags’ away. “We are building a new kind of place, but a safe place to hang out online, for an India that is still very culturally shy and conservative. Vibe is an approval only community,” he said.
At the centre of Vibe, is the famous HikeMoji for people to create their own avatars and not necessarily, have to share their own photos until they know someone they can talk to.
Learning from the mistakes of the past
While keen to revive Hike back to its glory days, Mittal says he is being careful not to repeat the mistakes.
His perception of scale has changed. “In India, if you have 10 million customers paying you a dollar a month, that’s an exciting business. Even a 5% of the market is over 25 million customers,” he said. And so has his idea of speed. “We have 30,000 people being matched every month, and that’s just through word of mouth,” he added while speaking about Vibe.
Hike was one of the fastest unicorns in 2020, with the backing of Tencent, Tiger Global and Bharti SoftBank (a joint venture then between Bharti Airtel and Japanese investment firm SoftBank).
Source: Tracxn, a data intelligence platform
|Funding Date||Round Name||Funding Amount (USD)||Institutional Investors|
|Aug 16, 2016||Series D||175,000,000||Tencent,Foxconn Electronics.|
|Jan 10, 2016||Angel||Undisclosed|
|Aug 26, 2014||Series C||65,000,000||Tiger Global Management,Bharti SoftBank.|
|Apr 02, 2014||Series B||14,000,000||Bharti SoftBank|
|Apr 25, 2013||Series A||7,000,000||Bharti SoftBank|
Since then, Hike’s valuation remains unknown, while Mittal said they will announce new funding details this year. “We built a billion dollar company when the market was small. The market is now 600 million people, imagine what we can do,” he said.
“Emotionally we have moved on, it’s a part of building a new company. We have seen a lot of success, we have seen some big downfalls,” he added after quoting a popular Silicon Valley adage, ‘building a business is like waking up in the morning and eating broken glass every day’.
Over the past few years, Mittal has been subject to a lot of commentary around Hike’s failures along the way. He has been, more often than not, compared to his father Sunil Mittal, the billionaire owner of India’s largest telecom company by users, Bharti Airtel.
“I’m very proud to be my dad’s son. Yes, there are some connotations that come with being a billionaire’s son, but there are people who would kill to be my dad’s son,” he said.
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