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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

A smart, passionate and young software engineer, a thoughtful leader, an aspirational techie, a known workaholic, an enthusiastic internet entrepreneur with clear vision and entrepreneurial spirit, the CEO of world's sixth largest mobile messaging application, Kavin Bharti Mittal followed his passion to make it big on his own terms. Passion never fails, they say!

As the CEO of Hike Messenger, he is riding a communication wave in the country from 12/12/12 onwards. Inspite of carrying the surname of the billionaire owner of Airtel, Kavin chose to stay away from the Bharti mothership and was eager to make a mark of his own in the ever-growing digital space. It was a conscious decision to step out of his father’s shadow. Today, he has established himself as one of India's most talked about social media entrepreneurs and founder of 10th Indian start-up to hit a valuation of at least $1 billion.

Discovering the passion for building things...

Having born to a business family, entrepreneurship was in his blood. Kavin was passionate about building amazing products. The urge to build something for the mobile internet space kept him awake way back from his college days itself. Realising that his interests doesn't lie in deep engineering, he started thinking of ways to build things. His first startup, AppSpark was founded at 20, during his final year of college.

iPhone had just hit the market then when he visited New York as a Google summer intern. Apple had just launched the AppStore and he immediately sniffed a huge opportunity there. He roped in his friend and planned to launch apps for this new platform. After working their fingers to the bone for eight months, they came up with the first ever movie ticket reservation app for iOS called Movies Now. He developed another app called Foodster to suggest popular items on the restaurant menu. The success of these apps fired his entrepreneurial appetite further.

The hike to build Hike...

It was while enjoying the street food in an alley at Connaught Place in 2011, Mittal Jr had the spark to build a messaging app for the Indian market. He realised that while he had an iPhone, all the vendors around him had Nokia 1100 and had no idea what the internet was. He thought of ways to get them online. Kavin partnered with Bharti Softbank, Tiger Global and did his R&D towards building something “cheap and easy to use and communicate” - something inexpensive and easily understandable to bring people online. He was on a mission to bring India online. This is the birth story of the second most used application in the voice calling and instant messaging space in India, Hike.

The hike to the top...

The interest towards telecom sector is natural for the son of Sunil Mittal, one of the leaders of the Indian telecom industry. Just that he chose to play a whole new ball game in the same field which his dad had conquered. The initial funding was $21 million from Bharti Softbank and $65 million from Tiger Global. Hike went from zero to five million users by March 2013. By July 2014, Hike was the most downloaded application on India's Apple App Store and the Google Play store. In 3 years time, Hike shot to become the largest Indian internet company by users.

According to the recent stats, Hike has crossed 100 million user mark, has 40 billion messages exchanged per month on the platform, is valued at $1.4 billion and has raised $175 million. Bharti, SoftBank, Tiger Global, Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, manufacturing firm Foxconn Technology Group, Silicon Valley’s Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, WordPress Co-founder Matt Mullenweg along with Aditya Agarwal and Ruchi Sanghvi of Dropbox have invested in Hike. Hike was the first messenger to roll out payments in India. Building engagement with young India through localisation of features and services for the Indian market is what makes Hike unique from its competitors. It strategically took the local route to success. It localized the app so deeply to the smallest part of the country touching the diverse nature of the country. Hike is not just another messaging app but it has much more like stickers, privacy, news, scores, games, etc. The success of Hike also marks the rise of products made in India for the Indian market.

The design of uber cool office of Hike with rocking chairs, pouffes, beanbags, mattresses to sprawl on, handprints covered reception wall etc is also by Kavin and a few others. This new generation tycoon wanted the office to look something like a university campus more than a workspace. The office is casual and formal at the same time.

On failures...

Kavin had his own share of downs and failures. Hike was all set to shut down not once, but twice – in 2013 and 2014 due to low traction and usage. But he never stepped back. He came forth and faced it. Being the son of an industry leader did not restrict him from experimenting new stuffs. With the patience of the investors and his strong belief in the idea made him bounce back with a bang. “Fearing failure is a good thing as long as it drives and motivates you. It should not be the dominant thing. The pressure of success is so high that itself can detriment a lot of people to talk about ideas. Hope we can provide inspiration to the next generation of companies”, he says.

Interning with the giants...

Kavin had made use of every opportunity of internship that came his way and built an outstanding resume along with his graduation. He has interned with McLaren Racing, Google and Goldman Sachs during his college days. When this huge Formula One fan interned at the British Formula One team, McLaren in 2006 his contribution towards embedding a technology that would show the track flags on steering wheels was praiseworthy. He showed up at Google as intern for next summer and instantly got attracted to the informal work culture there.

Personal life...

Kavin did his under graduation and post-graduation in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from University of York, England and Imperial College, London respectively.

Coding fascinated him quite early. He started writing codes when he was all of fifteen. He was always a speed lover too. He had racing simulators fitted at home during his childhood days. Later, he was a part of the college go-kart and cricket team. He was also the drummer for a rock band in college. A follower of Zen Buddhism, Kavin starts his day with 15 to 30 minutes of meditation. And sometimes in the afternoon too; in the meditation room of his office. Having built a start up successfully, he actively involves in the start-up community.

A son's first hero is his dad. Apart from his father, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and former Austrian Formula One driver Niki Lauda are his inspirations. The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and Zen Mind Beginner's Mind are the two books that have had the biggest impacts on Kevin. He considers the former as his Bible.

Awards and recognitions...

His app, Movies Now was recognised by Apple as “One of the 10 Essential Movie Goer Apps
Named as one of The 50 Most Influential Young Indians by men’s magazine GQ India in 2015
Named under 30 Under 30 - Asia - Consumer Technology by Forbes in 2017
Named as one among the 35 Under 35 Special - The Game Changers of 2017 by Entrepreneur

Memberships and associations...

Member of Board of Directors of various companies like Appspark Mobile India, Motiveprime Consumer Electronics, Mobinteco, Deber Technologies, Y2CF Digital Media, BSB Gaming Private Limited, KB1 Capital India Private Limited
Head of Strategy, Bharti Softbank Holdings

Quotes

Startups are clearly the future in the country and they are changing organisation structures.
Organisations that take care of their employees win in the long term.
The key to building a successful start-up understands the value of time.
Don't build a company to be successful and famous. If you do that you'll face a quick death. Start a company if you're inspired by an idea.
You really should see failure in a company as a comma, not a full-stop. You have to allow people to iterate and fail, and that's the only way to grow.
A start-up has to be insatiably curious, should care about the product, and be passionate in the industry. Founders should hire people who have high levels of curiosity, and pay attention to social aspects of team dynamics.

Hope readers caught up the spark …

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