Kavin Mittal has a theme: apps will go the way of compact disks (CDs). They will be obsolete within the next year. He argues that the price of smartphones might be dropping, but real estate on the memory card remains small and valuable. There is one app that everyone needs and that is a messaging app, which is where Hike comes in.
“We really believe that messaging will do to mobile what browser did to the CD. Say, you want to check the score of a cricket match while you are on the laptop. You go to the browser, search and click on three links. This cannot work on the phone. So, you download apps. But, there are hundreds of heavy apps and space is at a premium,” says Mittal, CEO of Hike. “And that’s why we are adding microsites to the app. Last year, we launched a new newsapp in the messenger.”
There are more such microsites on the way. But, more microsites would mean a heavier app, which defeats the purpose. “We have been cognizant about that and our news pack is just 100 KB,” he says.
Ask him why people would click on a Hike news service and he explains that human beings crave for social interactions. “What do most of us need in a group chat? Content. And, if you can put a scorecard into that… the conversations and commentary starts there.”
Hike, Mittal adds, sees an increase in the number of messages during major sporting events, especially if India is part of that. In the past year, Hike users have surfed through a billion stories through the messenger.
He now plans to use brands to leverage these connections that he has made with the users. Hike will launch brand channels later in 2016, which will be built on geolocations. “If you go to a mall, Hike will see where you are and send you coupons on what you could buy and the deals on offer. The brands can, then, talk to you directly after your purchase.” Mittal argues that the likes of Zomato, Ola or even IMDB could be part of the microsite universe. “They will all want to be part of it as we offer about 100 million users. Something none of them can get without partnerships.”
Mittal insists that the scope of these partnerships will help Hike drive up the revenue. “Revenue is easy. Line monetises its platform through brand channels. People are obsessed with brands in their lives. Brands will do anything to reach out to consumers and talk to them.”
But, the introduction to these channels will have to be done slowly. The process will be opt-in and will trigger few notifications and won’t follow Line’s model despite using the same idea. “Line spams its users with messages from brands. It is more a marketing tool than a messaging app. We want to approach the customers tastefully,” says Mittal.
While this is more passive, Mittal reveals the company is currently working on introducing artificial intelligence (AI) to the app. Currently, the app has an AI, which responds to stickers, and Mittal admits it isn’t the smartest. The company is working on a machine learning system that will be able to interact with users and incorporate these brand associations via suggestions and behaviour of the user on the phone, a Google Now like experience.
“Google Now is very small. Only high-end phones have Google Now. We’ll get a sense of what you like and at what time… it is a two-year project,” he says. A version of the AI, however, will be launched next year, which will be called Hike 5.
Not on the plan is a browser-based chat client, just like WhatsApp. “We are testing one internally and we know there is some demand, but we don’t know if this demand will still be around in a year’s time,” adds Mittal.
Neither is video on the immediate priority list. “I don’t think 2G users can use video calling. The bandwidth won’t support it. We may try something that is between live and passive video… better than what Snapchat has to offer,” he says.
But, that doesn’t bother Mittal. “If you want to send simple text messages go to WhatsApp. If you want a world where you can chat with your friends and do much, much more, come to Hike. This is why our audience is younger.”