Playo, awarded by Google Play in its Best Hidden Gems Apps of 2018 list, is India’s very own sports-community app that enables adults to rediscover their love for sports and engage with other players, venues and activities nearby.
When 26-year-old Deepak Jain, a football enthusiast, first moved to Bengaluru, he had one major gripe: there was no way for him to continue his weekend football games. Facebook and Google searches for football groups in his vicinity proved futile and he all but gave up his love for the great game.
That was until he discovered Playo – the app-based sports platform that allows sports buffs like Deepak to find a community of like-minded enthusiasts and players in their vicinity, network and play with them while also discovering sports venues and activities in their city.
For Deepak and many others like him, Playo is an answer to a long-standing unmet need, providing a means for people to rediscover the joy of their childhood by engaging in activities and sports they love with other players of similar skill-levels.
In fact, Deepak’s story reflects that of the one million users across India and the UAE who have signed up on the Playo app, and, in many ways, the story of how the five founders of the Bengaluru-based startup decided to launch it, in the first place.
“All five of us had played sports while growing up, and while we didn’t want to make a career out of sports, it was still an important part of our lives,” says Playo founder Gauravjeet Singh, speaking for both himself and his co-founders Karthik Igoor, Amit Roushan, Daanish Suhail, and Umashankar A.N.
Recognising that, like for them, this was an unaddressed need for many urban adults, the five founders developed an app for urban adults to rediscover their love for sports and enable them to play again.
The app includes multiple features that allow users to ‘host a match’ (organise a game and wait for others to join it), or ‘join a match’ (place a request to join a game that is being hosted by another user), or ‘create and organise a group’ or book a venue, or explore a range of physical activities from football to trekking to marathons, among others.
The app’s brightly coloured design, fun, playful name, and concepts such as ‘Karma’ (or Playo lingo for measuring and rewarding activity) are all indicative of a youthful, fun brand that targets sporty, urban adults in the age group of 21-50, otherwise known as ‘Playpals’ among Playo app users.
The launch of the Playo app in May 2015 led to the creation of an altogether new category in a market catering to amateur sports enthusiasts.
Despite the lack of established western players to steal a playbook from, Playo was able to lure over 20,000 users in its first year, purely through word of mouth. Says Gauravjeet,
“What’s fulfilling is creating something new globally, a new category and getting recognised by Google Play – that is something we’re truly proud of. But what’s most rewarding is the numerous communities and bonds we have created through sports.”
Since its launch, Playo’s user base, over both IoS and Android phones, has jumped significantly from just 20,000 users in its first year to 1 million users today, with monthly user additions at around 50,000 currently.
Still, the big question the Playo team confronted when they started was: how many people would be interested to actually play again? Or how big really is the market opportunity?
“We strongly felt that the need to play in adults is latent and that, given a proper catalyst, the need would turn into demand. With an addressable base of 125 million+ SEC A/B/C urban adults between 21 and 50 years, we believed tapping into a high spend category would present a sizable outcome in multiple ways.”
Fast-forward three and half years later and it might seem like their early belief stands vindicated. As proof of Playo’s growing popularity among Indian and global users, Google Play recently recognised the app in its Best Apps of 2018 list under the Best Hidden Gems of the Year category – a rare achievement for an Indian app to be featured in a list dominated by more established apps run by global tech giants.
“We believe being recognised by Google really underlines both the scale of the need we are addressing as also the high user engagement on our platform. We’re currently clocking 7 million monthly app sessions and a 55 percent repeat user rate, with a 4.6+ app store ranking – I would reckon these factors are what clinched us the Google award”, quips Daanish, who heads marketing and engagement at Playo.
Even today, around 40 percent of Playo’s monthly user additions continue to be organic acquisitions – just through word of mouth and people looking for a product like Playo that addresses the need to connect with other players, engage in a range of physical activities, and stay fit.
“Playo serves the need for people to be fit as well as to socialise and meet people. So essentially being fit becomes just a by-product and the focus is instead on going out and having fun. It’s an amazing kind of convergence of wellness and social fields that we are witnessing here – such is the power of Sports!”
Playo has grown from concentrating on “certain pockets of Bengaluru” in its first year to today having an operational presence in six cities in India – Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Pune, and Delhi-NCR – as well as in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the UAE, with an annualised run rate of $6 million in transaction value.
Its steadily growing community of sports enthusiasts are spread across 50+ Indian and Gulf cities. They include a dozen smaller towns and cities such as Madurai, Trichy, and Jaipur where Playo has operational tie-ups, as well as cities like Mumbai and Kolkata where, despite the lack of an operational presence currently, users in these cities use the app to discover players and organise their groups.
Still, Playo has its sights set on bigger milestones in the year ahead. While the team’s primary focus will be on enhancing the community and engagement aspects of the platform with feature additions and upgrades, it is also looking at reaching a bigger audience.
“We’re aiming to grow our user base to 10 million by 2020. We recently launched a major upgrade of the app which is feature rich on group organisation and information exchange – two needs our users had been expecting from us for a long while now.”
Playo is also eyeing expanding into other international markets, starting with Europe in the near term. To be clear, Playo’s learnings from operating in a strategic market like UAE, which serves as a confluence of the East and the West, may prove crucial in its plans to increase its global footprint.
"Over the course of the last two years, people have approached us from multiple countries, ranging from the US to Israel to Indonesia to name a few; so yes, there clearly is a global gap and opportunity, and we’re super excited about shaping it," says Gauravjeet.
In fact, for Playo, a global presence beyond the UAE and India was only a matter of time. Adds Gauravjeet,
“Building on our first mover advantage and pioneering the concept globally is what really drives us, and while this might seem audacious sitting out of India, we’ve been truly blessed to have a great set of angel investors who’ve given flight to our dreams and allowed us to explore unchartered waters."
And wading in these unchartered waters has proved rewarding. Not only for Playo founders and its angel investors, but also for Playo users. As another Playo user like Deepak from Bengaluru aptly says, “Playo has made life exciting for a lot of sports enthusiasts like us.”
And yet, as Playo gears up to replicate this magic with sports enthusiasts across the globe, the game, for Playo, has only just begun.