For Kavin Bharti Mittal it’s the start of new hike to an emoji-led HikeLand

Nandagopal Rajan
For Kavin Mittal it's the start of new hike to an emoji-led HikeLand

On HikeLand, Mittal hopes he will be able to create enough avenues for users to spend time, and money. (Image: Kavin Bharti Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike)

How do you pivot a company with a billion dollar plus valuation and a 50 million user base? Well, ask Kavin Bharti Mittal, who has for the past year been trying to turn around Hike, the Indian messaging platform he built up since 2012. Now, well over a year after he wound up Hike Messenger and moved users to the AI-powered Hike Sticker chat, Mittal has announced the launch of HikeMojis, what he calls “India’s first hyper-local and personalised avatar”.

But for Mittal HikeMojis are not just emojis based on the user’s persona, it is the first building block in something larger he’s set out to create. “We said we have to do something bigger and better, and in 2020, with all the technology that we have, what could we do?” elaborates Mittal, the founder and CEO of Hike.

For a lot of people the next level of expression in cameras. But the Hike team had a different take. “Because India is conservative and selfies still don’t look that great, we thought using the camera in one step too far. So is there something that's one step before?” Mittals explains how they arrived at the HikeMoji concept. It helped that Hike already was good at creating stickers and had a team of artists working on very Indian concepts.

For Kavin Mittal it's the start of new hike to an emoji-led HikeLand

Now, three months after HikeMojis were launched in Beta, the platform is able to create a 100 quintillion combinations of very Indian emojis.

Now, three months after HikeMojis were launched in Beta, the platform is able to create a 100 quintillion combinations of very Indian emojis based on your selfie in under three seconds using a very powerful layer of machine learning and AI. This could well be the largest avatar creation platform of its kind.

While Mittal is thrilled at the one million avatars the platform has created in before it moves into version 1 today, AI-powered emojis are not really new as a concept. Apple and Samsung create them on the device itself and let users share it everywhere else. This is where Hike wants to do something different: convert your messages into emoji stickers in real time and this is unique.

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There is more. Last month, Hike put out a teaser video of its HikeLand concept. From the video, it looks a bit like a Sims-inspired video game, which it is not. What it is, or could become is an emoji-left virtual space for people to hangout in.

“We are pretty excited about this because we believe this is the future. HikeLand is effectively a place online where relationships can be built on shared experiences. It's a place where close friends and couples can invest time and it's a safe and magical place to hang out with the HikeMoji merging at the centre,” Mittal explains.

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Mittal is convinced this is an idea whose time has come, as the offline economy in India, because of its lack of infrastructure in smaller cities, coupled with the conservative family values, does not offer an avenue for the young to hang out. “And so you end up finding other means to hangout like hike where you hang out with your friends online,” says Mittal, who adds that on the Hike Messenger the peak times were between 10 and 11.30 pm, showing how youngsters need time to unwind after work.

On HikeLand, Mittal hopes he will be able to create enough avenues for users to spend time, and money. “As people spend more and more time online, as sort of identity and self-expression moves online, because you don't have the infrastructure, people are going to want private spaces online. And, which is why he believes in the future of social is this vertical communities that will emerge in the next couple of years,” he says, adding that while this might not have a billion users, it will still be hundreds of million dollars of revenue with even a fraction of the users paying just $1 and that “can make a fantastic business”.

For Kavin Mittal it's the start of new hike to an emoji-led HikeLand

For Mittal HikeMojis are not just emojis based on the user’s persona.

Mittal says that as online payments have become seamless in India, you can see that the viability of transacting has come very seamless. “More importantly, people have a propensity of spending online as long as it is microtransactions and we believe they would want to spend more time and more money to sort of curate their online selves,” Mittal underlines what he thinks will be the emergence of a new business model that is not ad-driven in the traditional sense. He already has another piece of this puzzle ready in WinZo, an online gaming arcade in which he had invested earlier. People are already spending small amounts to play games on WinZo.

HikeLand is expected to launch in the next few months.