How a garage-born gaming startup grew in the pandemic with fantasy cricket and casual games

Online gaming startup PlayerzPot, which originated in a Navi Mumbai garage, drew small-town users in the pandemic. Now, it wants to go beyond fantasy cricket.
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In 2015, software professionals Yogesh Doiphode and Mitesh Gangar started Playerzpot out of a small garage in Navi Mumbai. 

At the time, fantasy gaming wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. Hence, PlayerzPot didn’t quite have a blockbuster beginning. 

The startup launched the first version of its product in 2016, coinciding with the IPL, which has been a growth driver for fantasy gaming in India. Initially, PlayerzPot rolled out just a website; there was no mobile site or app. 

Unsurprisingly, it found hardly any takers. Something had to change.

“We reiterated and developed a mobile website and were ready with an app by IPL 2017,” Co-founder Mitesh tells YourStory. “We also got in touch with users and added features they wanted but weren’t getting on other platforms.”

PlayerzPot founders Yogesh Doiphode (left) and Mitesh Gangar

One of these features was instant withdrawals, which let users link their Paytm or bank accounts with PlayerzPot and pocket cash winnings within three to four hours as opposed to having to wait for days. 

This was a welcome addition. “We looked at the customer complaints and worked on fixes. We also wanted to build a fair platform that doesn’t discriminate based on the user’s ticket size,” Mitesh explains.

Between 2017 and 2018, PlayerzPot acquired over 20,000 users. But it was still far from the explosive growth some of its peers had started to witness.

Game-changing features and initial growth 

Ahead of IPL 2018, PlayerzPot launched referrals, which went on to become a “game-changer”, according to the founders. 

Every time a user signed up, they received a referral code they could pass on to others. When a new user signed up using that code, both parties received bonus cash in their accounts, and this cycle continued.

“Referrals became a game-changer for us and we started growing organically,” Mitesh reveals.

Post the rollout of referrals, PlayerzPot went from 20,000 to 3.5 lakh users in a year. And since 2019, its user base further skyrocketed to 2.5 million mirroring the staggering growth in India’s fantasy gaming sector. 

Infographic: YS Design

This was also accentuated by the emergence of India’s first gaming unicorn, Dream11, which validated the sector.

Mitesh observes,

“People started seeing fantasy gaming differently in 2019. The perception of gambling was broken and everyone considered it fair-play. We didn’t have to educate users anymore. Sporting events also started to grow big time. Number of matches went up to almost 1,000 a year. The World Cup also took place in 2019.” 

PlayerzPot claims that its revenues have doubled since 2018, without the startup burning money. “We ensured that if we spend a rupee, at least one rupee comes back. We didn’t burn money on marketing,” says the co-founder.

But 2020 brought about its own set of challenges. 

Pandemic impact and future roadmap

The first half of the year was dull for the world of sports. Most marquee tournaments got cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Significant among them was the uncertainty around IPL 2020

Like all fantasy gaming startups, PlayerzPot was betting big on the event. However, it had to quickly course correct when the IPL was moved from March to September.

To ensure that the dearth of cricket — it accounts for 85-90 percent of usage — didn’t lead to an exodus of users, PlayerzPot entered non-fantasy verticals like casual games, skill-based games, and quizzes. 

Mitesh says, “We always wanted to launch casual games on PlayerzPot. The pandemic gave us the right opportunity to do that. We added quizzes and knowledge-based cricket games that didn’t let the user engagement drop. We offered baseball and basketball leagues and the response was great. It became the main course in the absence of cricket.”

But cricket came back in late-September.

PlayerzPot claims to have 2.5 million users

Right ahead of IPL, PlayerzPot roped in Team India cricketers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Smriti Mandhana as brand ambassadors. The latter’s association led to an increase in women users. “And with Bhuvi, we onboarded a lot of small-town users who resonated with his journey from Meerut to Team India,” says the co-founder.

Despite the perils of the pandemic, PlayerzPot claims to have grown its revenues by 3X in 2020, riding on growth from Tier-II and III towns. It is confident of doubling its user base to five million in 2021.

“We’ll be closing an order book of Rs 15 crore by April even though there was sporting action for six months of the year,” Mitesh states.

The startup also plans to add more casual games like ludo, chess, snakes-and-ladders, as well as real money games like poker and rummy to its platform. In November, it raised $3 million in Series A round from undisclosed investors to fund its future growth, product enhancement, and brand building.  

At the time, Founder Yogesh said, “We aim to expand our services and have shifted our vision from being a core fantasy gaming company to becoming the destination platform for complete RMG and casual gaming enthusiasts. This is just the beginning and we hope to grow aggressively.”

With India’s online gaming sector poised to grow manifold over the next few years, PlayerzPot is sure to have a long innings ahead.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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