6 Minutes Read
NostraGamus joined the fantasy gaming industry about three years ago. The brainchild of IIT Madras and IIM Calcutta graduated Yashashvi Takallapalli (cover image) and his three other friends, Deepak Venkatramani, Gaurav Konar, and Rana Sankieneni, the startup started out by offering a new and untested version of fantasy sports, that was different from draft-based fantasy. At present, NostraGamus is one of the biggest prediction gaming apps in the country, with over 7 Million registered users and a loyal user base.
Takallapalli, who is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company, is a sports enthusiast and a 2-time entrepreneur. His first project was the sports-media startup, Sportscafe that he sold before launching NosgraGamus.in. The 30-year-old has also worked at the management consulting company, McKinsey & Company, for two-and-half years.
NostraGamus has recently ventured into the world of online poker. Ever since the nation was plunged into lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, live poker has come to a standstill. However, the online scene has done well to fill in the void and seems to be thriving at present.
NostraPoker was launched amidst the nationwide lockdown in April and seems to be fairing rather well. While the company’s poker launch appears to have coincided with the quarantine, Takallapalli clarified that the plans for launching the online poker site had been in the works for six months.
In this interview, Takallapalli talks about NostraGamus ’ journey so far, the launch of NostraPoker while also sharing his views on what the future might look like for fantasy gaming and online poker sectors after the COVID-19 threat has been resolved.
Tell us about how the idea of entering the online poker industry originated?
We started off as a fantasy sports company, and fantasy sports is about making choices for an upcoming match based on what we think is about to happen. That happened to be the specialty of Nostradamus, a 16th-century French astrologer. So, you can say we wanted players to be the ‘Nostradamus for Games!’
Over time, we realized that all online legal games in India, be it rummy, poker, or fantasy sports, attract players for similar reasons. It is the psychological effect of getting something right in terms of the events that are to unfold in the future or the cards that are about to be dealt from the pack. So, it made sense for us to add these games to our portfolio.
We also hear that the company has already completed a significant funding round. Can you fill us in on the details, and the road map ahead?
We have actually raised about $2.5 Million over the past 3 years, and that has helped us get to a level where we have more than 7 Million users and are profitable as a company. Hopefully, that will allow us to add some more firepower in the near future. With that ammo, we want to first create a superlative experience for our players – we know they love social gaming & large prizes – and then to grow 10-15 times over the next 12 months.
We have to address the matter at hand. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellations of sporting events across the globe – which has resulted in a massive decline in revenue for fantasy sports operators. How has this impacted you?
Fantasy sports getting shut down is a reality that has been very hard to come to terms with. It has made us rethink a lot of our approach and ruthlessly eliminate things that are not needed immediately. We plan our product pipeline months in advance, and a lot of that had to be restructured. Our marketing activities required a total rethink as well. It has made us far more efficient as a business, and we are confident that when fantasy sports do make a return, we will be placed even better.
Given that the outlook, at least for the foreseeable future, looks bleak for Fantasy Sports operators, what’s your take on the road ahead for the industry?
First, sports itself is big business, and economics dictate that sports will return sooner rather than later. Second, sports have always been seen as a way to engage and inspire entire populations, especially when things are bleak. Think of cricket in ‘Lagaan’ at the height of the British rule. So, these factors tell me that sports will be broadcast. The only thing that needs to be worked out are operational details – venues, closed doors or not, who will play and when will they play, and so on.
What this episode has really done is to give the entire gaming industry a boost – people are more ready to give mobile games a trial and, specifically, for us, making monetary transactions online. That trend was happening anyway, but this has sped things up. This change is here to stay.
Unlike fantasy sports, online poker has, in fact, witnessed a massive surge in traffic ever since the lockdown began. Do you think this will sustain and whether this increased interest can be retained once the lockdown restrictions are eased?
There will always be two kinds of people in such a surge – people who are just giving poker a trial now, and people who are actually making the effort to learn the game. The ones who are just giving it a go will probably migrate back to fantasy sports when they return. The ones who are actually making the effort will have very high longevity. Poker, like any other game, requires skill, and once the skill is picked up, it never really goes away and can eternally be monetized.
Moving over to your new sub-brand NostraPoker that you launched during the lockdown. Was this to capitalize on the increased interest, or was this in the works otherwise as well?
This has been in the works for the last 5-6 months. We were planning to implement these plans immediately after IPL 2020, but the COVID-19 episode sped up those plans.
How has been the response so far? Have you seen crossover traffic from Fantasy Sports to poker?
Yes, the crossover has been similar to what you would expect between, say, PokerBaazi and BalleBaazi. It has performed up to expectations.
The domestic online poker space is fiercely competitive with several established players and a slew of upcoming sites vying for market share. Similar to you, other Fantasy Operators are also eyeing a piece of the poker business. How do you think you will be able to capture market share?
For us, the player is always the king, and we try to keep the kings’ interests at the center of all our operations. And that does not just mean dumping more money into GTD tournaments, but also providing a superlative experience from every point of view – VIPs, tutorials, deposits & withdrawals, cross-functionality. We have to recognize that poker players are a very diverse bunch of people, and we have to provide for all their motivations.
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?
The difference will lie in the overall gaming experience. We are not looking to poach competitors’ businesses, but are very keen to open up new markets for poker.
There has been much debate about the high rake being charged by domestic poker sites as compared to the international counterparts. We know that NostraPoker claims to offer one of the lowest commissions in the industry and advertises it as its USP. Effectively how much will a player save with your structure? Do you think it will be feasible to continue offering such a lucrative rake structure in the future?
We have tried to keep the rake lower than the top poker apps. Rake for the heads up is low for Nostra. For higher tables, the rake is lower as well.
Rake Structure on Nostra Poker
|Blinds||Nostra Rake % for Heads Up||Rake % >2||Max Cap|
Rake Structure on Other Poker Apps
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What can players expect from NostraPoker in the future?
We are planning to launch private tables very soon in which users will be able to create their own cash games and will be able to play with family and friends. There will be exciting tournament formats along with the Nostra Loyalty Program with easy redemption, more offers, and more wins.
What are your views on the present poker ecosystem of the country?
I think while poker has taken great strides in the last few years, it is still suffering from the problem of not having enough serious players. A lot more needs to be done from an educational perspective to make a great business a multi-billion-dollar business opportunity.