Hike, India’s entry in the increasingly crowded mobile chat space, today made a push to expand its international footprint as it announced language support for Spanish, French, Russian, and Portuguese.
The update comes less than two months after Hike received a $7 million round of investment from Bharti SoftBank (BSB), the joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and Japanese operator SoftBank, which also serves as Hike’s parent company.
Previously, Hike incorporated German language support to its platform and saw its numbers increase steadily in Germany. The inclusion of these four additional European languages will ramp up competition between long-standing player WhatsApp, as well as Japan’s Line, which has recently racked up a sizeable user base in Spain and Latin America.
Kavin Bharti Mittal, Head of Product and Strategy Bharti SoftBank, told us that new language support marks just the first step in a greater global push. The app is fast approaching the 10 million download mark, and Hike will add “four to five languages each month” in order to encourage continued international growth.
Hike has also introduced some other new features as part of the update. Taking cues from China’s WeChat, the app now boasts Push-to-Talk (walkie-talkie style) messaging.
In addition, it now offers free sticker packs, which have proved successful for Asian messaging apps like Line — which made $58 million in Q1 2013 alone.
Rounding out the update, Hike users can now choose which friends their share their Last Seen status with. The update — which reflects the last time they were online — is now only visible to those included in their Circle of Friends, which Bharti Mittal says adds “a veil of privacy” that many had requested.
As for monetization, the app is available for free and will likely stay that way. However, Bharti Mittal and the team are already thinking about creative, sophisticated ways to earn money from their product:
We might start charging for premium stickers, but that’s three/four months away. Once we figure out what the market wants we will look to add gaming, probably within two to three months. We have have ten or fifteen ideas for the future, we want to get a massive user base first – by the end of the year – and then look at making money.
Some followers of the chat app wars (if you can call it that) might assume that it’s game over for anyone who’s not Line or WeChat. Bharti Mittal, however, doesn’t see the compeition as winner-take-all just yet, as he tells us, “People use two, maybe three messengers. Our aim isnt to compete with WhatsApp; it’s to build a quality application that people want to use.”
Hike is currently the second most-used chat app in India. The app trails behind WhatsApp domestically, and is facing increased competition from WeChat, which is ramping up its marketing in the country.
Globally, 40 percent of Hike’s user base is now outside of India. Hike currently processes close to 1 billion messages per month and boasts an active user base of 50 percent — certainly healthy growth for an app that is less than a year old.
Image credit: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
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