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Tencent-backed Hike, once India's answer to WhatsApp, has given up on messaging

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Manish Singh
·2 min read
Kavin Bharti Mittal, chief executive officer of Hike Messenger, speaks during a news conference in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. The startup, valued at $1.4 billion last year after securing $175 million from investors including Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Foxconn Technology Group, now lets its 100 million-plus users move cash between banks and to other people through the country's Unified Payments Interface gateway. Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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India’s answer to WhatsApp has completely moved on from messaging.

Hike Messenger, backed by Tencent, Tiger Global and SoftBank and valued at $1.4 billion in 2016, earlier this month announced that it was shutting down StickerChat, its messaging app. (StickerChat users saw notifications about it late last week.)

The startup, founded by Kavin Bharti Mittal, this month pivoted to two virtual social apps called Vibe and Rush, said Mittal, who is the son of telecom giant Airtel’s chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.

In a series of tweets earlier this month, Kavin said that India will never have a homegrown messenger that makes inroads in the world’s second-largest market unless it chooses to ban Western companies from operating in the nation. “Global network effects are too strong,” he said. WhatsApp has amassed over 450 million users in India, its biggest market by users.

Mittal described opportunities in building virtual worlds as a “much better approach for today’s world that is unconstrained by cheap, fast data and powerful smartphones.”

The end of Hike's messenger service comes at a time when Signal and Telegram have added tens of millions of users in recent weeks. A planned update to WhatsApp's data-sharing policy has prompted many of its loyal fans to explore alternatives this month. "Both [Telegram and Signal] are very good. As entities they have the right incentives (more aligned with consumers) unlike Facebook products," tweeted Mittal earlier this month.

In recent years, Hike made bets on stickers and emojis to cater to the younger population in India. In a meeting with TechCrunch in late 2019, Mittal said that the startup was overwhelmed with the engagement stickers on its platform and was working to automate development of personalized stickers.

In a different meeting last year, Mittal showcased emojis that replicated human expressions and a virtual hangout place called HikeLand. Vibe is the rebranded version of HikeLand and the emojis Hike developed will continue to be available to users on both the newer apps, Mittal said earlier this month.

Hike, which has raised more than $260 million to date, had enough runway last year, Mittal said, who hinted that the startup may raise more capital a year later.

Hike also attempted to build its own operating system through acquisition of a startup called Creo. In 2018, Hike launched Total OS that aimed to cater to users with low-cost Android smartphones and slow internet data.

The startup later shut down the project. Mittal told TechCrunch that the arrival of Reliance Jio, which prompted Airtel and Vodafone to lower mobile data tariff on their networks, solved the data issues in the country and Total OS was no longer needed in the market.