Meet the Zen Billionaire of India - Kavin Bharti Mittal
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They are the 35 boldest entrepreneurs of India who are changing the game in various industries and together they represent the optimism, inventiveness and boldness of India's millennial entrepreneurs. They have not just questioned the conventional wisdom but answered it with their fiery and risky business undertakings. They have inspired every young Indian to not shy away from breaking the status quo, rewriting the rules and transforming the world. Entrepreneur Magazine is glad to present Kavin Bharti Mittal, Founder And CEO, Hike Messenger who made it to our 35 under 35 special.
2016 didn’t mark the best year for start-ups. Funding was down and valuations saw a nose dive. At that time four-year-old startup Hike raised funding that too with a valuation of above billion dollar. Hike made it to the unicorn list of Indian startups in shortest span of time. Entrepreneur decodes Hike!
When you are the son of one of the country’s richest men, would you go and work with him or would you find your own path and build something of your own from the start. Kavin Bharti Mittal, son of Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder Bharti Airtel, grew up in an environment where business was an everyday phenomenon.
While senior Mittal had to wait for the country regulations to open up to reforms and face lot of challenges as a yesteryear entrepreneur, for Kavin, the resources were too many. The world was witnessing technology 2.0. The internet had changed the way the world operated. This gen-next has come with entrepreneurial ventures of a different kind. It’s not into building something as done in the manufacturing era.
This world speaks of tech entrepreneurs with apps, which were a newer wave with the iphone being launched in the US in mid 2000. Kavin was fortunate to have a father who had built an empire and very naturally he started picking up things very early. “I guess a lot of stuff I have picked up naturally, which I don’t even know about,” claims Kavin.
Having an access to someone like him is wonderful. In such cases, the father-son relationship becomes more of a mentor-mentee relationship. Kavin agrees to have that focus clear owing to his father. “He always said that you should be focused. There is a large difference between knowledge and focus and I finally understood what he meant by focus and discipline. At the end of the day, it always comes down to
where you spend your minutes and hours. We all spend our minutes and hours in building a business but a lot of entrepreneurs don’t understand the value of time. I think that was the realization I had.,” remembers Kavin.
Tryst with entrepreneurship
While studying in Imperial College, London, Kavin witnessed the launch of apps like Facebook. He had witnessed a different world there, which led to his first startup called Appspark. Talking about the same, Kavin reminisces, “I had a school friend, who was doing pure science and I engineering; both of us got together and thought of building something substantial, till then we have been building small-small things only for ourselves.”
That was Kavin’s first tryst with entrepreneurship. Exciting things happened when he was travelling to New York, for his summer internship in Google and there he saw a i-phone. Talking about how it changed things, Kavin says, “A lot of people I met in Google were building apps solely for i-phones. It was 2008 and Apple had just launched its app store and so I thought, why not? let’s build a bunch of stuff for this platform.”
Very naïve in his thought, Kavin with his friend aimed to launch one idea every month and make it eight apps in eight months. And, he took the most complicated idea first and it took eight months for building that single app known as Movies Now. It was the first ever movie ticket reservation app on the i-phone.
Remembering how the app came through in 2009, Kavin says, “It was absolutely a brilliantly designed app and even today, it would work and function really well”. Few of the applications that were launched during that time were for 3G and the Movies Now app could stream trailers in both HD and SD on the phone and then actually buy tickets. At that point in time, there were only three or four apps in that zone.
And after this, Kavin realized his passion for building things. “I understood that I am really good at it and from then on my passion for building things got kindled. And, Movies Now was one of my best creation till date,” claims Kavin. Later, he went on to built a i-pad version of it, which was even better. The movie posters here were bigger and trailers could be seen on a bigger screen.
When asked why he couldn’t scale it up, Kavin says, “In the movie industry, if you are not a producer or a filmmaker, it is not worthwhile. The money you get is very small. We thought it through and came up with other plans but at the end we realized it was not a great business. Then, we started working on our next plan.”
In 2011, Kavin moved back to India. One day, he was with his friends in Connaught Place, Delhi relishing some chaat. And, there, he realized all the servers had one thing in common and that was Nokia 1100, which was the phone that actually brought technology revolution in the country. But, all you could do, was make calls and send SMS. Kavin, who had an i-phone in his pocket and has been living on mobile internet for so many years, realized India Internet on phone. And he questioned, how can these people come online?
Talking about his idea moment, Kavin shares, “I realized that messaging could be a game changer in this market. And fast forward five years, and it is pretty incredible to see the idea I had back then worked out so well.” The internet space is very-very different. If you build one product, you can’t delay it for a very long time.
“It was very clear that if you want to build something in India, in the Internet space, then you need to have that kind of a perspective. For that, I flew down to Tokyo to build a partnership so that we
could have some kind of a vehicle and I was only 23. Softbank’s understanding of internet space was the key; in the internet space you can build a product and delay revenue,” shares Kavin.
The Bharti Softbank partnership was set up to incubate ideas like Hike. The BSB set up was key for Kavin to come back to India and it was the incubation cell through which Hike came. The platform was used by Kavin to do his R&D.
Talking about the initial days, he says, “We had hyperlocal coupons, messaging and the goal for us was to collaborate all of them in one good idea. But, then we spun them into different ideas as we never knew which one would be the core.”
Four years down the line, the company went on to raise, $175 billion in the worst of time from investors like Tencent, taking learning from chat businesses in China. In this journey what stayed through with Kavin was not only his passion for the product but founders who believed in him, co-founders who stuck by and a belief in Buddhism which brings sanity in his thoughts.
Three-and-a-half-years ago, Kavin was introduced to Buddhism, which he believes is a practical way of life. As per him, “Events in your life takes you through certain journey.” The effect it had on him was either you can be crumbled by the fear of the company shutting down or you can rise above it and think about what you can do next.” Hike was close to shutting down twice but Kavin’s belief in the idea, the investors patience made him bounce back.
(This article was first published in the February issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)