How online poker startup Pocket52 is using tech to raise the stakes
Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Seven-Card Stud, Razz…different kinds of poker have one thing in common: the soaring number of players across India. Interest in the card game has surged over the past couple of years, leading to the launch of numerous online poker platforms.
Bengaluru-based online poker startup Pocket52 aims to tap this burgeoning market with a “trustworthy” offering: India's first “cryptographically secure online poker platform”.
Nitesh Salvi, the Founder of Pocket52, realised that most poker players in India were not satisfied with the available online options. This was in 2017, when he was “contemplating starting up”.
“Trust was the main factor. Indians are very cautious and vigilant when it comes to spending their hard-earned money. Most people did not trust the system; they were not sure if the game was rigged or not,” Nitesh says.
The lack of confidence stemmed from the fact that most Indian poker companies ran on rented/leased software, and did not have control over their features like new releases and user experience.
This lack of flexibility, trust, and control was the main reason that poker enthusiast Nitesh decided to enter the market with Pocket52 in 2018.
The first task on hand was to put together a stellar team as passionate about poker as he was. He brought in Saurav Suman, his junior from IIT-Bombay, on board as COO. Saurav had started his first venture TimeMyTask on campus in his undergraduate days, and was an ardent poker player himself.
Soon after, Debashish Bhattacharjee joined as the CMO. Debashish had previously worked with Nitesh in a company called Plancess and had led various education technology ventures in the last five years. He came with 15 years of experience in multiple domains. Satyam Verma joined as CTO; he was ex-Goibibo and an entrepreneur himself with a comprehensive experience of online and offline poker.
After rigorous analysis, the founder and the team identified a vast area of improvement in online poker. They began building the product in early 2018, and got in touch with a slew of angel investors, VC funds, and professional poker players.
Abhigya Sagar, one of India’s top poker players, was the first to realise the value in the vision of Pocket52 and came on board. The team spent considerable time and resources with him, to build the product.
"Our aim was very clear: build nationally to serve globally. We were also very clear about the business model of Pocket52. We built our own product, a cryptographically secure B2C platform certified by I-Tech Labs Australia, and a network model for other poker rooms to join and solve the issue of player liquidity. Having spent over a year building the product from scratch, we aimed to make a foray into both B2C and B2B domains," Nitesh says.
Growing the poker ecosystem
Nitesh feels that most Indian poker companies fail to understand “two crucial things about online poker”. “One is player liquidity and the other is growing a homegrown poker product, which is not only safe but also secure for a worldwide audience,” he says.
Pocket52 offers both. It claims to be India’s first cryptographically secure random number generator, online poker platform, and poker network.
But growing a standalone platform requires regular spending on marketing, branding, and engagement. A good amount of funding is required to create liquidity on the platform by organising continuous tournaments and providing bonuses and cashbacks.
Almost every poker startup in India, be it Adda52, Pokerbaazi, Spartan, or 9Stacks, has been trying their level best to expand the ecosystem in the Indian subcontinent with a plethora of innovations - from introducing cashback offers and leaderboard rewards to hosting massive guaranteed tournaments and more.
Pocket52 is relying on the Pocket52 Network, which ensures that tables are always packed as the player pool is shared. This increases player liquidity for every operator in the network and allows users to experience a new level of engagement, increased cashback discounts and offers, bigger tournaments and better offers. This helps grow the poker community as a whole.
Over a year, the poker startup ran 30-plus campaigns with prizes spanning Rs 10 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.
The Pocket Vault, which gives players up to 100 percent Rakeback (commission) on top of their winnings, is the startup’s loyalty programme.
Pocket52 also introduced mental coaching for Indian poker players. The response to the nine free webinars on the Mental Game of Poker with international coaches helped grow the company’s popularity.
Having built a cryptographically secure network integrated with an “uncrackable” RNG algorithm and a dedicated pool of players, the startup now rents its internationally certified software to online poker operators who join the Pocket52 Network.
Their tech powers three operators in the Pocket52 Network: Calling Station, a popular online poker platform; Mobile Premier League or MPL, India’s biggest casual gaming platform; and their own platform Pocket52.
Playing their cards right
Pocket52 has raised over $600,000 in funds led by Speciale Invest Managing Partner Vishesh Ramrajan; marquee poker player Abhigya Sagar; former FMSCI president and racing champion Vicky Chandhok; Cars 24 COO and Co-Founder Mehul Agarwal; New Quest Partners Director Vijay Jacob; and a slew of other entrepreneurs.
The founder did not want to reveal revenues as yet, but says the startup is poised for 5x growth.
In the next 18 months, Pocket52 aims at positioning itself among India’s top online poker platforms by “providing the best and safest gaming experience” alongside building a diverse community of poker players.
"We are also planning to step into the international market in the next year by providing solutions through our B2B services. The next six months are very crucial for our business,” Nitesh says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)