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Instant Messaging (IM) is a hot property right now. With all major brands from Google’s Gtalk to Facebook’s Messenger to Samsung’s ChatON hell bent on owning the messaging space, it is practically very difficult for a new messaging application to come in and potentially challenge big beasts of messaging space like WhatsApp.

But if u have a look at Hike, An Indian mobile messaging application that has channelled almost a billion messages a month among its five million registered users, you would surely give it a thought.

Started in February’13, Hike’s user base is increasing rapidly riding on its innovative features like SMS Conversion Tool.  A cross platform messenger app, Hike is similar to WhatsApp but is better in the sense that it also allows users to communicate over SMS, which is certainly a big advantage for those who do not have access to mobile Internet or data on the-go and for communicating with your friends without Hike app from within the same app.

After using the application for over a week, here are the reasons that has made it one of top downloaded applications on Google Play and Apple Play Store.

Hike makes communication complete with added feature, SMS’ing
Hike offers messaging in different ways, namely:

a) Hike-to-Hike messaging with other phones is unlimited and free worldwide

b) Let’s you communicate with other smartphone users who don’t have Hike via SMS, which is only restricted to India at the moment.

c) Message any other phone user via SMS.

The Hike to Hike communication via IM has features, such as group chat and photo and video sharing, which are right up there with any top smart IM app. The app provides 100 free SMS’s with the app and provides free SMSs for users that promote the app through its use.

Simple, Seamless and Friendly UI and UX

The user interface of Hike is very clean and smooth. It follows a conversation layout for messages with pleasant hues of white and blue.
The functionalities are minimalistic. It has a list view of your previous conversations and add conversation button to your address book, which has now become the norm in messaging applications. Conventional gestures such as long press have been included into the app with corresponding options that can be expected by a smartphone user.

After using Hike, you’ll actually miss the experience that it provides with any other app.

Innovative features and usage

Hike-to-Hike communication via instant messaging has features such as group chat and photo and video sharing, which are right up there with any top smart IM app. Hike as a “SMS and IM hybrid” can actually be a good replacement for the conventional messaging app as well. With increased Internet penetration in smartphones, the stock messaging app can also include an IM service, which Hike has already paved the path for.

Hike has taken cue from market leaders to make the application more interactive. On such example comes from its functionality, ‘Nudge’ which has resemblance to Facebook’s Poke feature.

Decent Battery Performance

The power consumption of Hike is great for an app that runs in the background for a smartphone. The usage of CPU and network is very sporadic and quite light with respect to its battery consumption. On an average, the app will drain 10% of the battery (of a standard 1400mah capacity) in ~11 hours.

Hike Offline: Let’s you message your friends even when they are offline

A very common occurrence among smartphone users is that a large majority of smartphone users switch ‘Mobile Data’ off some to save battery or to save data costs. With other messengers like WhatsApp or WeChat, when somebody sends you a message, it shows as failed, not delivered, cross etc. But with Hike Offline that’s a thing of the past and the way it works is seamless. Hike automatically detects when the Mobile Data is off, so it reroutes the pending messages through the traditional SMS way making it effortlessly simple.

Privacy and Last Seen: Let’s you decide who sees when you were last seen

On other messengers like WeChat, we have always had privacy issues. After ages it gave us the option to disable ‘Last Seen’ time stamp but even that is flawed as it either switches of for all or switches on for all. That’s where Hike hits the bull’s eye as it lets you decide who sees when you were last online.

The credit for such a refreshingly innovative and seamless app goes to it’s dedicated team.

Developed by Bharti Softbank, a 50-50 partnership between India’s Bharti Telecom and Japan’s Softbank telecom provider, the app is the brainchild of Kavin Bharti Mittal.

Inc42 interviewed Hike’s Founder Kavin about the application. Here are some excerpts:

Inc42: What was the primary motivation behind starting Hike?

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Kavin: India has the highest number of SMS users at 400 Million. With the growth of smart phones and data plans in India, messaging apps that run on data have been a huge success. However, messaging has become very fragmented over the last few years. Most of the messaging users have many friends across 5+ apps that they chat to. Its become extremely tedious to manage friends across all these different services. Hike is our attempt at making messaging easy and simple again. Upon joining Hike, a user is gifted 100 free SMS credits which can be used to send SMS to receivers in India, even if they are not on Hike.

Inc42: How is Hike going to tackle the competition from sites like WeChat, WhatsApp?

Kavin: India is an evolving market and we’re an application built in India, with local market centric features. Hike offline is a great example. This hike exclusive feature let’s you message friends who don’t have their data turned on their phones. Apart from that, we also have Bollywood sticker packs, which are again, are a big hit!

Inc42: How has the product been perceived in the market?

Kavin: We are thrilled to gain great traction for our application in the Indian market. We crossed our first 5 million users in just 4 months of the launch of our application with 60% coming from India. We recently launched our latest update – hike 2.2 with Stickers, Walkie-talkie and very India centric feature – hike offline.

At hike, we’re constantly thinking on how to re-invent messaging, make it simpler and easier to use in a mobile-first world. The latest update is a great example of how we’ve put that thinking into action. We’ve handcrafted some really fun and expressive stickers that we believe will add a lot more character and fun to messaging especially amongst our youth.

We witnessed over 1 Million Stickers Shared within 24 hours of the update being rolled out.

Inc42: What are your current set of challenges?

Kavin: Finding good talent in India for the mobile space is a big challenge. We’re very selective about the people we hire and are looking at expanding our team with the crème de la crème.

Inc42: How is the team at Hike going to justify the money raised ($7 Million)?

Kavin: The lion’s share of the US$7 million would be used to acquire staff and accelerate the frequency of releases. We also are aiming to triple or quadruple the user base with the funding aid.

Inc42: Its unusual for entrepreneurs to invest a lot in marketing initially. What made you initiate the bold decision of talktime offer?

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Kavin: At BSB, we’ve believe in rewarding our own users versus spending it on plain vanilla marketing. It was with that thought in mind that we went ahead and rewarded our early adopters. Contrary to popular belief, our strategy proved to be extremely cost effective.

Inc42: How do you aim to monetize Hike?

Kavin: Our immediate priority is to get the consumer experience right before starting the monetizing process. We’re still at an early stage and our sole focus at the moment is building hike into phenomenal app used by tens of millions of people.

Inc42: We heard your servers crashed after the initial launch due to hike going viral. What’s the story behind it?

Kavin: Simply put, we never in our wildest imagination expected our user base to grow this exponentially this soon. Coupled with our rewards program our download & activation numbers hit the roof and messages the sky. This was one of the first inflection points for our growth. We realized that there are many users willing to shift from their old ways of connecting with friends to a fresher UI and bolder features.

We were quick to get our servers back up and are thrilled to still have on board, our set of early adopters. We have rolled out 2 major updates since hike rewards and have scaled up our back-end to support the viral impact and more for the coming times.

Inc42: Where do u see Hike in a few years?

Kavin: We at hike believe that messaging today is highly fragmented and we’re here to solve that problem of the market. We aim to not only problem-solve, but also give to the users, a richer and better way to communicate with each other.

Inc42: Message for Inc42 readers?

Kavin: Download hike, let us know what you think of our product! We’re here to listen to your feedback and help you make messaging simple again

Last Word

The application offers a fresh alternative to other messaging clients and is a welcome addition to the market. The application’s Asia-centric vibe will keep it in good stead to consolidate a big chunk of Asia’s Smartphone User base.
Even though the application is still in its nascent stages, it does deliver on quality performance at what its best – messaging, instant or otherwise. Most smartphones have internet connectivity and Hike has shown that SMS and IM services from the same app provides a compelling use case. Hike is available across all major platforms – Apple, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and on various Nokia Asha Full Touch devices namely Asha 305, 306, 308, 309 and 311 that will help it gain the much needed attention amongst its current competitors.

Some minor issues aside, this app is a must have for every smartphone user. I personally feel that Hike could be the future of the stock messaging app.

Start Hiking!

Hike: WebiOS | Android | Windows Phone | S60 | BlackBerry

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