This is a story of a geek who turned out to be the man behind some of the most entertaining and engaging games in the mobile app world.
Saurabh Aggarwal comes from a family of Master’s and Ph.D degree holders. His father did his post graduation in electronics from the US in 1969 whereas his grandfather was a Ph.D. and a professor at Ramjas College, New Delhi. Saurabh’s mother with an MBA from FMS is not far behind in the list.
Following the legacy and keeping the tradition alive, Saurabh went to Stanford and got into a job in networking equipment. This proceeded like a scripted tale till this point. Fast forward 13 years, Saurabh is the man behind India’s most popular home grown mobile app game, Teen Patti.
How did Saurabh’s 13 years of entrepreneurial experience led one event to another and took him to the top of Indian gaming app market? Nothing happens by chance and concerted efforts feature as the most prevalent part of Saurabh’s journey as well. Based out of Noida, Octro was founded in 2006 and is today pegged to be the number one mobile gaming company in India with two of its games, Teen Patti and Rummy, among the top 5 games in multiple categories on Google Play Store. Octro raised $15M in series A funding last year from Sequoia Capital.
Here’s how Saurabh conquered it all with his mobile gaming company Octro.
The geek and the messenger
About a year into his first job, Saurabh got his hands on a smartphone which was new in the market. It was built on Palm OS (operating system) and he really liked the future with that product. He says,
We found shortcomings in it and started building hacks. One of the hacks that we built -- me and my co-founder for my previous company -- it was very well received within the social users at that time. And surprisingly, we woke up with bunch of cash.
It was then, Saurabh started making more hacks to eventually graduate to a full product. During the course of time, he had built a full product which had instant messaging -- BB, AOL, Yahoo messenger -- all on a single app. This was first available on Palm OS and later on Symbian. Saurabh recalls these turn of events and thinks that he became an entrepreneur by chance. Since then, he has been an entrepreneur and it is 13 years now.
Story behind Octro and the pivot
If you’ve played ‘teen patti’ on your Android device, you’re one of the 10 million users who downloaded the game. The maker of the game, Octro, is now eight years old. Saurabh is the sole founder of the company and started it right after he sold his first company. When he was planning to name his new company, Octro was the only five letter domain available and hence he went on to name his gaming company Octro.
Initially, Octro started doing VOIP (voice over IP) for the first six years, which got them some OEMs and some direct consumer customers. The team had built a communication product for almost every platform -- for Windows phone, Symbian. Saurabh says,
We were in an industry where it was very hard to monetize initially and we got tired trying to make mark in that industry so we pivoted into gaming. There were very few companies which were doing well in that space on the cash flow basis. So we were looking at businesses that could have positive cash flows in the near future and we focused on gaming because more than 90% of all top grossed apps on all app stores are games.
Saurabh and his team brought all communication expertise in order to leverage it. The intention was to leverage all the softwares and platforms that they had built over the last six years which supported VoIP (and can support video calling in real time) in the next game so the company started with multiplayer games. Saurabh found the Indian games to be niche, so he zeroed down to building the Indian real time multiplayer games. He says,
You would have seen in our games in the past which have topped the charts and we have had 10 million downloads of Teen Patti on Google play store alone. We are the only Indian gaming company to have achieved that feat.
What worked for Octro?
Saurabh was not a gamer and always thought what he would (as a non-gamer) want in his first game. He made sure that the UI is kept very uncluttered and simple. The first version of Teen Patti had just a ‘play now’ button. Once the user logged in and clicked on that button, he/she was directed straight to the game. Saurabh says,
Indians are very fresh gamers while the western audience has been gaming for a bit. You can't give a one-year-old a five-year-old's toy to play with. Only when you give them a toy meant for a one-year-old, they will enjoy. I think that's one of the key things that we did right. I hadn't thought about it but now in hindsight, we realize that the product, the UI and the interface, everything was in place.
Octro team has a very strong technology background. Their products always worked and they claim to have not even a single minute of downtime in the whole 2014. Saurabh believes that Octro is a very sturdy platform which gaming didn't have before. That’s another thing that they got right.
What’s cooking at Octro?
Recently, during the Cricket World Cup 2015, Octro introduced cricket betting inside Teen Patti game. Teen Patti has been in the market for about a whole year and the team wanted to make something fresh for their English audience. Saurabh says,
Indians love cricket and this is one of the most engaging activities. We wanted to monetize on that frenzy and we added cricket betting feature, especially during the World Cup. The odds are being calculated using an algorithm and we let people bet Teen Patti chits on the outcome of these matches. We saw over 700,000 bets in a single game with booking of over Rs 10000 crore. Even in virtual chits, it is a very large number.
Octro is a 50-member strong team with a lot of people with gaming experience. They are adding on design and engineering team at the moment.
The bootsrapper and the dreamer
For six years, Saurabh had bootstrapped Octro. He pitched to only four to five VCs at that time. Since he made some money out of his first exit, he invested it in Octro. The idea was to get the product right first and only when Teen Patti clicked after the pivot, Saurabh focused on getting funds.
Seeing our product being used and loved by the common man gives me a kick. We are making social devices here in India where a rich guy uses the same thing as the guy who's selling prasad in front of a temple. I get a thrill out of building technology that is touching everybody.
(This was first part of Octro's journey. We'll soon be back with the second part focusing on the evolution of the Indian gaming industry and Octro in last decade. Watch this space for more updates.)