Hike is India’s most recent unicorn, reaching the $1 billion valuation mark faster than any of its predecessors.

Yet it is a startup that has hitherto never been covered by the media in any meaningful manner beyond the funding announcements and the hype surrounding the traction it claims to have achieved. The biggest of its claim centres around its user base—around nine months ago, at the time of its last funding round, Hike announced that it had crossed 100 million users.

Today’s story goes one level deeper into Hike’s claims and attempts to understand the actual traction that the company has achieved.

First, a few pointers on the company. It is important that we start at the very beginning. Not only to understand Hike better but also Bharti Softbank Holdings and its play in India. After all, that’s how Hike was born.

October 2011: Bharti Enterprises and Softbank Corporation came together in a 50:50 joint venture. The company, Bharti Softbank Holdings Pte Ltd (BSB) was formed with the idea of participating in the growing mobile internet ecosystem in India; in three key areas—social media, gaming and e-commerce. Kavin Bharti Mittal joined BSB as the company’s head of strategy and new product development. He is the son of Sunil Bharti Mittal, the founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises. Bharti Airtel is India’s largest mobile services provider in terms of number of subscribers.

May 2012: BSB put out its first play. By picking up a 49.74% stake in a startup called Hoppr. For about Rs 22-odd crore. At the time, Hoppr claimed to be a location-based check-in service. It was started in the year 2010 by Md. Imthiaz, a former VAS (value-added services) head of Bharti Airtel.

December 2012: BSB put out its second play in India. An application called Hike Messenger. As the name suggests, Hike is a chat application. The app was first released globally on 12 December 2012.

April 2013: In a statement, BSB claimed that Hike Messenger crossed five million users. “‘hike’ is a free mobile messaging app that crossed the 5 million users in just four months after its launch on 12/12/12. This makes ‘hike’ one of the fastest growing free mobile apps globally.”

In the same month, BSB invested $7 million in Hike.

May 2013: Hike entered into an agreement with Nokia. As part of the deal, Nokia bundled the Hike application in its phone Lumia 510, Lumia 720 and the range of Nokia Asha full-touch phones to be sold in India. When an app player signs a pre-bundled deal with a mobile phone manufacturer, the strategy is to acquire users with minimum friction.

AUTHOR

Ashish K. Mishra

Ashish edits and writes stories at The Ken. Across subjects. In his last assignment, he was a Deputy Editor at Mint, a financial daily published by HT Media. At the paper, he wrote long, deeply reported feature stories. His earlier assignments: Forbes India magazine and The Economic Times. Born in Kolkata. Studied in New Delhi – B.Com from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. Works out of anywhere, where there is a good story to be told.

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