“You know, it honestly feels a lot like 2015,” says Kavin Bharti Mittal, on a video call with The Ken. Mittal is the founder and CEO of Hike, a Delhi-based startup most famous for its eponymous messenger service. The comparison is high praise—2015 was the year that Hike seemingly had the world at its feet. 

The restless young messaging app—born as an Indian challenge to WhatsApp’s dominance—had gone from just starting out in December 2012 to crossing 65 million users. Enough for Hike to dream of unseating global Goliaths. And by 2015, that dream was beginning to materialise. Hike had traction. It was in an exciting market. That’s where Mittal believes it stands once again.

But it’s no longer a messenger service. In its current avatar, Hike’s business is real money casual gaming through its app, Rush, which launched in January 2021. 

Despite regulatory hurdles hurdles Outlook India Online Gaming At Crossroads, 2022 May Be Decisive Year For An Anxious Industry – 2021 In Review Read more challenging its legality, India’s real-money gaming industry is a gold mine. According to a joint report joint report RedSeer Leveling Up India’s Gaming Market 2021 Read more  by Indian gaming fund Lumikai and research firm RedSeer, real-money gaming revenue is poised to grow to $3.7 billion by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate of 35-40%, from $1.2 billion currently. It is, by some margin, the most lucrative segment in India’s gaming market, which is expected to touch $7 billion by 2026.   

One year on from its launch, Mittal says Rush’s user base has grown significantly. “We launched it, like, twelve months ago. Even we’re really surprised; it’s growing really fast.” 

Mittal is clean-cut and alert, his eyes rarely breaking contact with the camera. His responses are quick, almost practised, but delivered with a sincerity that should disarm most apprehensions. Still only 34, Mittal is already a seasoned veteran of India’s startup ecosystem.

He smoothly skirts around divulging the actual size of the user base or the usual industry metrics such as daily or monthly active users. Instead, Mittal offers us two stats. The platform has seen over 50 million gameplays each quarter, growing at ~30%, month-on-month. “I think we’re now doing 100 million transactions every six months,” he adds, “growing 30-40%, month-on-month.”

Mittal’s focus on traction could be forgiven. Its rivals in the space—the likes of MPL likes of MPL The Ken MPL’s esports ambitions: Fantasy or necessity?