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Hike buys smartphone, dongle maker Creo

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-08-2017 Amrit Raj

New Delhi: Weeks after Mukesh Ambani-promoted Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd announced plans to launch a feature phone, Kavin Bharti Mittal-helmed Hike Messenger has acquired Creo—a Bengaluru-based technology start-up that makes the dual-SIM (micro and nano sim) smartphone Mark 1.

“The Creo team will begin work on a developer platform to enable third-party developers to build services on the Hike platform,” Hike said in a statement.

The Creo team comprises over 50 members. In the past, they have launched hardware products such as streaming media dongles and smartphones, Hike said.

Creo was founded by Sai Srinivas, Kiran G. and Shubham Malhotra in 2013. After launching its first product, Teewe, a high-definition TV streaming plug-in, Creo launched a mid-range smartphone in April 2016. Mark 1, the phone running on an indigenously developed operating system, was not hugely successful.

In January 2016, Creo raised $3 million from Sequoia Capital India, Beenext Ventures and India Quotient. Founder Srinivas had said at the time that Creo would use the funds to work on its OS.

In July, Reliance Jio announced the August launch of the JioPhone, a 4G feature phone that the firm plans to make available to users, effectively for free.

Since then, analysts have said rivals such as Airtel have no option but to partner with phone makers and do something similar.

While there are no synergies between Kavin Mittal’s Hike and his father Sunil Mittal-promoted Bharti Airtel Ltd, it will be interesting to see if Airtel and Hike explore cooperation in the area. Airtel has said it does not want to react to JioPhone as it does not want to subsidize and manage inventory.

Interestingly, in 2016, Creo came close to being acquired by Hike, but the talks fell through. Kavin Mittal, who is an early investor in Creo, had denied buy-out talks to Mint in an interview in October 2016. Some employees from Hike, however, went over to take up senior leadership roles at Creo, a Hike spokeswoman said.

“I’m an investor (in Creo). I’m the one who seeded the company in the first place... At Hike, we talk to 10-15 companies every month because we’re looking to expand our teams and I’ve been mentoring and guiding Creo for the last three years,” Mittal said in October. Hike declined to comment on the relationship between the two firms or its strategy for the hardware company.

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