India is a multi-linguistic country and probably has no parallels in the world as far as its linguistic diversity goes. Somewhere this thought may have dawned on tech entrepreneurs Paavan Nanda and Saumya Singh Rathore, who were quite baffled to know that in a rich linguistic country like India there were absolutely no good vernacular gaming platforms.
This discovery laid the genesis of WinZo Games, which is today India’s largest vernacular Esports gaming platform. Available in 10 different languages, this young startup has successfully broken the vernacular barrier and has taken the passion of gaming to the very hinterlands of India. Not surprisingly, today this young company’s majority of customers hail from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
WinZo Games’ aim to disrupt India’s vernacular gaming market has also resonated with the investors. This is clearly indicated by the fact that the company has so far successfully raised two funding rounds in a very short span of time. It recently raised $5 million in Series A round that was led by Kalaari Capital and messaging platform Hike. This was preceded by a seed funding round that took place last year.
To know more about this young ambitious company, Techpluto caught up with WinZo Games’ co-founder and CEO Paavan Nanda in an exclusive interview. In this special interview, Paavan Nanda sheds light on WinZo Games’ special features, future plans and overall future of India’s gaming industry.
Q) How did the disruptive idea of starting a vernacular gaming platform came to you?
It was in late 2017 and early 2018 that we identified a lot was happening in the digital space in the country, especially in the online gaming segment and that there is massive potential in the Tier 2/ Tier 3 audience coming on the mobile phones for the first time. That is where we decided to bring a unique and stable monetization model to tap into massive gaming engagement in India.
We founded WinZO Games with an aim to be India’s biggest online social gaming platform. We started our journey in early 2018 and developed a Tier2/Tier3 audience focused product to introduce them to the digital grid where they make their first entertainment transaction. Today, WinZO Games is a pioneer in the industry, with 9 million+ install base in just one year; and over 30% of the users are making their first ever entertainment transaction on the platform.
WinZO is one of the fastest growing players in the industry! And we aim to become the world’s largest online social gaming platform.
We got our Seed capital in April 2018 from K-Start and Series A from Kalaari Capital and HIKE early this year, to further scale the product and reach to the wider audience.
Q) WinZO Games recently raised $5 Mn in Series A round. How does the company plan to use the latest capital infusion?
We plan to strategically use the funds to enhance our user experience, bringing more engaging games, and adding more languages on the platform. We are also looking forward to expanding our user base in India and other countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Middle Eastern Countries, and African Countries and create a much-localized experience for the audience that is coming on the digital grid for the first time.
We clocked 9 million + user base in less than a year, this speaks a lot about our aggressive plans, and to capture the next 400 million users who are going to join the smartphone bandwagon by 2020.
At WinZO we are focusing on a very unorthodox way to capture the interest of the users. Being a vernacular gaming platform focusing on Tier 2/ 3 market, our strategies include focusing on building community of local influencers to derive our installs and engagement.
With data rates in India cheapest across the globe and affordable Smartphone market growing, India is poised to witness a large chunk of its population shift towards smart phones. All these people are expected to consume the content. Video and Gaming are the two biggest entertainment channels for the Smartphone users and is poised to grow at a YoY Growth rate of 32% as per the latest KPMG report.
Q) Can you please walk us through your gaming platform. Currently, what games are available and some of the important features available on your platform?
WinZO is a vernacular social gaming platform, and when we say vernacular it means the app is present in vernacular languages. WinZO is currently offered in 10 languages- English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Bhojpuri.
Some Important Features:
- 30+ Games with some of the popular titles like Carrom, Cricket, 8 Ball Pool, Sniper 3D, Bubble Shooter, Fruit Samurai, Knife Up, Fantasy League, and Trivia based questions.
- All the regional language translation on the app is done by Housewives, School teachers and university students sitting in Tier- 2/3/4 cities in India.
- The players can play games in multiple formats like 24*7 Tournaments, Real time multiplayer format – WinZO Baazi, and the Versus mode.
- The ticket for games varies from Rs. 2 to Rs. 25
We understand the behavior of the users in this segment very well. We have spent a lot of time working closely with this target group building a product for them. For example, average time spent by active players on the platform is 60 mins and overall time spent on the platform on an average is 40 mins. This itself is the testament of our continuous effort to build a great product.
Q) Going forward, is WinZO planning to add more new games and features to its platform?
Consolidating and creating the distinguished user experience is an ongoing process. We recently announced to set aside a $1.5 million fund for game developers in India, this fund aims to improve the supply side of gaming industry, supporting young game developers and giving them a platform to showcase their games and at the same time monetize it. We will be adding more than 100 games by 2020 on the platform, to make WinZO an entertainment powerhouse.
Q) How really big is the online gaming opportunity in India’s non-metro cities?
India’s rapid digital consumption has overwhelmingly changed the way we adopt content. And with Jio’s entry the reach has just increased many folds. According to the latest report by KPMG, The Gaming segment was the outperformers in the M&E Industry in FY19, growing at a rate of 41.6% to reach at a size of INR 62 billion with robust growth in both ARPU’s and the numbers of gamers in India (Estimated at 300 million in FY19), driven by rapid digital adoption. Non- Metros and Upcoming as a huge potential in terms of growth owing to increasing smart phone penetration, cheap data rates, and rise in disposable income.
Q) With smartphone penetration growing rapidly across India’s rural areas, do you think that competition in the vernacular gaming space will only intensify in the coming years?
Competition in the vernacular gaming space will definitely intensify in coming years, and it will not just intensify in gaming but also in other modes of entertainment like OTT. With more and more users consuming content in non-English languages, this has triggered the M&E platforms to revisit their content strategies. However, WinZO has a first mover advantage of providing games in 10 vernacular languages, which has helped built strong user base across the country. We aim to further add more regional languages and games to consolidate our position in the in the online social gaming space.
Interestingly, India is steadily moving towards value driven consumption, with increased focus on local development. Earlier the challenges were restricted to limited local content and game development and stable monetization model; however, with WinZO we are solving the issues and providing an all in one entertainment app, localized for Indian users.
Q) Where do you see WinZO Games in next 2-3 years in terms of growth and expansion?
We are creating a multi-billion-dollar market. In the coming months and years, we would be responsible to create a lot of awareness, educate users, and help them adopt our platform as the #1 option for entertainment. And here we are talking about doing it at a very massive scale to the tune of 500 million people just in India.
The goal of the company is to reach every household, which is definitely going to be very challenging. It would need a reasonable amount of capital as well as best talent of the country that would go into building the most amazing entertainment platform for Bharat.
Q) You are also the co-founder of popular hospitality startups like Zostel and Zo Rooms. Looking back at your rich experience, what important advice you’d like to give to all the budding entrepreneurs out there?
As a co-founder of Zostel and ZO rooms and now WinZO, I think the common thread knitting all my learning as an entrepreneur is about the passion to create a marketplace which can disrupt and create opportunities. My Advice to all the budding entrepreneurs is that believe in your idea and passion to make it big. The most successful startups are founded by people who are passionate about what they do. Also, I believe that it is important to build strong teams, having a strong team will make your business more resilient and stronger.
Q) Your sincere thoughts about the cruel fact that 90% of startups end up as failure?
I think failure is not a yardstick to measure success, but a ground which makes you stronger, more focused and resilient. I believe entrepreneurship is a journey and not a destination and with all the failures, which hits you it is the learning and experience which helps us make a stronger and powerful comeback. If we look around the world, many successful leaders were labeled as failures at some point in their lives, however, they took the failures as a learning and proved the world wrong.