By Seema Mody | @SeemaCNBC
Snap is clearly a company with global ambitions, and as it prepares to go public, it is inevitable that it will face questions about how it can compete in overseas markets — where users are young and mobile is growing quickly.
The question is particularly acute in Asia — home to more than 50 percent of all chat app users worldwide, according to eMarketer — where there are already both established and start-up rivals in Snap’s space. China will be tough, since Snapchat is blocked there, and WeChat is already the dominant social media app.
Snap might find India more promising, where there’s a strong mobile adoption rate and a young audience. India is the second-largest market for messaging apps and is currently the fastest growing one, according to eMarketer.
“People look at the China internet story … over the last 15 years and draw parallels to the similar income and demographic shifts happening in India,” said Mitchell Green, a partner at Lead Edge Capital.
But Snap has no shortage of rivals in India, or the rest of Asia. Besides WeChat in China, Japan has Line; in South Korea, KakaoTalk. And Indonesia is still using Blackberry’s BBM.
WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has 200 million users in India, and is the company’s largest market. Local players are also upcoming. Start-up Hike — which reportedly has a valuation of more than $1 billion, and boasts investors like SoftBank, Tencent and Foxconn — offers photo-erasing functionality and stories which disappear after 48 hours, much like Snap.
In an exclusive interview with CNBC, Hike founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said he’s focused on making the messaging mobile app gain more traction across the country and driving engagement. Hike currently averages 40 billion messages per month.
“India has 1 billion people coming online for the first time … we plan to become the No. 1 messaging player in India.”
Mittal was quick to recognize the competitive playing field with companies like Snapchat already present in India.
“We admire what Snapchat has done,” said Mittal. But the 29-year-old entrepreneur pointed out that Hike’s deep understanding of India’s local market broken down by region and state sets the company apart from its competition.
“India is extremely diverse … what works in the north is different than the south,” said Mittal.
Differentiation may be key for Hike.
“It [Hike] can’t really go head-to-head against WhatsApp … a more niche strategy might help it survive,” said Anirudh Suri, founding partner of the India Internet Fund. “WhatsApp is the clear leader in India — as far as both C2C messaging is concerned as well as the use of messaging by businesses for B2C communication,” he said.
Despite the challenges, SoftBank — an investor in Hike — remains confident in the start-up’s ability to stand out.
“Kavin has built a unique business model with a focus on localization of content and user engagement, combining many elements of the Snap and WeChat product offerings,” Alok Sama, president of SoftBank Group, said to CNBC.