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India's Hike app gets fresh money and a key Chinese partner

Messenger apps
Image caption There's an abundance of options how to get in touch via your smartphone

Indian messenger app Hike has won fresh money from investors and a key partner from China.

The latest investment round now sees the company, a rival to Whatsapp, valued at $1.4bn (£767m).

China's Tencent and Taiwan's Foxconn were the biggest investors in the latest cash injection.

The tie-up with Tencent - the company behind China's messenger giant WeChat - is seen as key to expanding the range of services on Hike.

Hike is a messenger app similar to many others, offering services such as messaging, voice calls and stickers.

But the Indian app has won over many customers by including features catering to local demands such as higher privacy and the ability to send messages to be received as SMS texts.

Given that many mobile phone users in India do not yet have data on their phones, the feature is a crucial advantage over competitors such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger.

All-in-one app

The link with China's Tencent as investor is expected to go beyond mere investment and involve collaboration on technology and knowledge.

Judging by the example that the Chinese giant set with WeChat in China, it is likely to set Hike on its way to become an all-in-one app.

WeChat in China offers just about everything from messaging to calling, mobile games, food deliveries and online shopping.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Could China's WeChat provide a road map for Hike?

Hike already offers mobile games, news services, stickers and coupons.

"This shows you that messaging - even in India - can become a gateway to content services," Hike founder and chief executive Kavin Bharti Mittal told the BBC. "So expect us to double down on that path."

The company already has plans to integrate a payment platform into its services.

It is not Tencent's first foray into the Indian market. An attempt to launch their own WeChat app a few years ago was not very successful, despite significant marketing efforts.

Start-up unicorn

Hike was originally a joint project between Bharti and Softbank and has rapidly developed into a success story across India.

The latest round of investments has added some $175m in funding with the majority coming from Tencent and Foxconn.

The new money raised has lifted the company's value to what's referred to as "unicorn" status - start-ups valued at more than $1bn.

Existing investors in the app, including Softbank, Bharti Enterprise and Tiger Global, also contributed to the latest cash injection.

Market leader Whatsapp says it has some 100 million active users in India. In January, Hike said it had more than 100 million registered users, although the number of active users might differ from that figure.

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