3 Minutes Read
2018 witnessed several positive developments in the field of Indian gaming, specifically in the online poker segment which has continued to flourish and progress. The year-end brought with it some exciting news of institutional funding for Bengaluru-based online poker start-up Pocket52 which received seed-funding from a group of investors led by Speciale Invest.
The company is India’s first cryptographically secured Random Number Generator (RNG) online poker site and was founded by Nitesh Salvi (cover image), along with Saurav Suman, Debashish Bhattacharjee and Satyam Verma.
Salvi, an IIT Mumbai graduate, was first introduced to poker while pursuing his undergraduate degree. Even though his love for the mind sport grew from hostel games to online poker, he took his first steps in the world of start-ups with the online educational-solutions company, Plancess EduSolutions Pvt. Ltd., which quickly became India’s leading platform for entrance test preparation and was later acquired by Career Point Ltd.
The up-and-coming IITians decision to venture into the gaming domain happened as early as 2016 when Salvi and his colleagues registered the domain-name Pocket52.com. And there has been no looking back since then.
An experienced entrepreneur, Salvi is backed by an extremely efficient technical team and strong group of co-founders, with support from industry veterans like Abhigya Sagar and Rahul Kumar. Branding themselves as a product and technology company, Pocket52 has dabbled with Blockchain technology, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Salvi also hinted at many new innovations that Pocket52 is geared up to bring to the online poker space.
In an interview with PokerGuru, Nitesh Salvi talks about the creation of Pocket52, details of the seed-funding they received from Speciale Invest and the company’s future prospects.
Hi Nitesh, thank you for speaking with PokerGuru. How did the idea of entering the online poker industry come to you? Take us through your poker journey.
I was always into games indoor as well as outdoor. In 2008 I joined IIT Bombay as a B.Tech undergrad. We used to play a lot of Poker in our hostel. We spent umpteen nights into the game. I had never played online until then.
It was after my graduation when all my batchmates split into different geographies, is when I began to play Poker online. Around this time, I was engaged in my first start-up Plancess. Gradually I explored every Indian Poker website. I was also engaged with various online poker Facebook groups. That’s when I realised that most of the Indian poker players were not satisfied with what Indian online poker had to offer. The major drawback I noticed was that most of the Indian Poker companies run on rented software and do not have control over their features like new releases and user experience. This lack of flexibility and lack of control was my major reason to enter the online poker market.
Can you tell us a little bit about the key learnings that you acquired from your first venture, Plancess?
Plancess was my first venture and it taught me a lot in terms of entrepreneurship. I looked into funds, product, business expansion and marketing for the last 5 years, built our team to more than 200 rockstars. Preplane [which is an adaptive assessment platform] was one of the products which was very close to me. We built it from scratch and it gave me an idea of a complete product lifecycle, development stages, and expansion into the market. The overall learning experience is the reason behind where I am today.
What was the story behind the inception of the brand Pocket52? Why did you choose the name “Pocket52”?
Somewhere in the mid of 2017, after my first venture was acquired, I decided to set foot in the gaming industry. We had registered our domain name quite early, that is as early as 2016.
By then we were certain about our intentions to invade the online poker gaming space. The name ‘Pocket52’ is inspired by pockets(pairs) and the number of total cards in a deck. You will see a lot of activities happening in future connected to the name ‘Pocket52’!
Kindly tell us about your other co-founders. How did you all come together for this project?
I was adamant about partnering with a team that is passionate about Poker, so, I brought Saurav [Suman], on board. Saurav happens to be my junior from IIT-Bombay. He had started his first venture TimeMyTask from within the campus in his undergrad days. He is an ardent poker player himself. This was followed by Debashish [Bhattacharjee], who joined us as the CMO. Debashish had previously worked with me in Plancess. He has led various education technology ventures in the last 5 years. Satyam [Verma]joined us as CTO. He had been a professional poker player with a comprehensive experience of online poker. In fact, he held a neat understanding of technology and poker. This completed our founding team.
Please take us through the details of your seed-funding round. Who were the investors and what other value if any do your investors bring to the table?
We began building the product in early 2018. We were already in touch with a slew of Angel Investors, VC funds and professional poker players. Abhigya Sagar was the first to realise the value in our vision and came on board. Abhigya is a known personality in the Poker industry and his joining completed the search of our fifth missing finger of the hand. Along with Abhigya, another poker player Rahul Kumar joined the venture. Rahul Kumar has been a professional poker player for the past three years and is an NIT Trichy graduate.
Speciale Invest led our first round of funding. We firmly believe that having a VC fund on board in early stage adds substance and credibility to our existence in the market.
You seem to have positioned yourself as a technology company working in the gaming space. Can you elaborate on this – if you disagree, please tell us why?
Yes, we are a Product & Technology company. We have an in-house team of 20+ members. The team has invested their days and nights in building the whale of the product which stands tall today. Our aim is very clear – we build nationally to serve globally. The product is made in India and designed to serve the international market.
You have talked about Blockchain technology, AI and machine learning as the core technologies that you are working with on this venture. Care to elaborate more on this?
Let’s keep it for future. You may see a lot of new innovation in Online Poker coming from Pocket52!
What are the plans for the funds infused in the project by the investors – how much of the capital has been put in by the co-founders already and what has been utilized until now? What are the fund’s utilization plans going ahead?
The funds will mostly go into building the product and initial marketing. Going forward we intend to spend on Poker learning and creating a new player base.
As is the case with most funded start-ups, do you have plans for a Series-A funding round? How are you preparing for it since a lot of it will depend upon the execution of your initial business plan? Care to share some performance specific targets with regards to acquisition, deposits & revenue etc that you have set for yourselves?
We do have plans for Series A. We have decided certain milestones internally and once we achieve the same goal, we will start talking to potential investors.
Please tell us about your in-house poker client and the challenges developing it. Please tell us more about the tech team working on the client.
Our technology team is led by Satyam [Verma], who is an NIT Tirchi graduate. Most of our technology team members are IIT & NIT graduate with more than 4-5 years of experience. When we had just begun working on the product, we reckoned a short timeline. To our realization, it took us, a good time to be market ready. The product is vast, and it required a large pool of knowledge and experience to round off.
The domestic online poker space is becoming increasingly competitive with strong and established players and major international leaders entering the market. How do you think you will be able to capture market share? How much of your clientele are you expecting to poach from competitors and how much of it you are looking to create as new players?
First off, we are very excited to announce our first international association with TIPS & Kings Casino Prague We have crafted a stunning opportunity for our players to fight for the best of the best. Players need to generate 25000 pocket coins and swiftly make it to the top and grab a trip to Prague Main Event. That’s not it. There is more action following.
Considering that Poker in India is still at a very early stage. We have huge online tournaments happening with more and more people becoming aware of it. Our focus is neat. Clearly, it provides an experience similar to other industries. Our initial focus is to win the trust of our users and in future, to create new players in the industry.
Are you planning to license the technology to other operators? Is Pocket52 only going to be B2C model or you will consider B2B business as well?
We are very clear with our business model. We have spent over a year to build it to make space in both the B2C and B2B domain. For the next few months, we have set our focus on our B2C relationships. I am sure you’ll find the rest in the news in the near future.