I was Passionate about Games and Found an Opportunity and Decided to Roll the Dice: Ankush Gera, Founder & CEO, Junglee Games
In an Interview with BW Businessworld, Ankush Gera, Founder & CEO, Junglee Games talks about the company culture and more
How did the company start and what kind of challenges did the company face in the beginning?
I lived in San Francisco. I had an agency, a software company before, that was acquired by Capital One - the bank and while running the business, I was always driven to say that we're doing some amazing work and building apps and doing all this high-quality software for other clients. I wanted to do something on my own that was kind of the story behind how Junglee was born and my love for playing games that has strategy and skills, I used to play chess with my dad and started playing games like Rummy with the family and always had that in the back of my mind. The first 15 years of my life, I grew up in India. After that I moved to the U.S.
I was passionate about games and found an opportunity and decided to roll the dice and go into the second startup journey despite promising the wife, that I was done. The company started in early 2012 and the challenges we faced were same like any startup company would face in the beginning.
I think the biggest challenge I faced was being in San Francisco, building a company that would be India-based and trying to raise money from institutional investors in the Valley.
What is the company's viewpoint in the game of Rummy being banned in some states in India?
It's unfortunate. We're legal in 25 or 26 out of 29 States. The viewpoint is quite straightforward. The courts make decisions that are irrational, companies like Uber, Airbnb and Ola have been banned before and they've been banned in countries and states. Every time when there's something new, people are afraid, when Uber and Ola came into play, the taxi guys were afraid and the public was afraid. So, once you start educating the government, the policymakers and the end-user first of all, then you realize that there's nothing to be afraid of, we're actually bringing a lot of responsibility to this ecosystem.
I used to stress about them. Now, I understand that this is part of running a company, a part of doing business. Let's deal with it, get a great law firm, work with them, and educate everyone.
What are your expansion plans in India and in the international market?
In India, for many years, we were only focused on one or two games. What we've started to do throughout 2019 takes so much blood, sweat and tear. Literally tears to get a company this size and when you get it to that size and you get all your systems, your people delivering in such a magical way. Why not leverage that? To grow our business more and figure out new products and new markets. As of this year, we started that plan. We finally felt comfortable financially and from a scale and headcount standpoint. And so, expansion wise we went from just one game rummy to multiple new products.
We have Daily fantasy sports. We have other casual games; we have games for the global market that are quite successful. We have an Angry Birds style game called the Eatme.io that's quite successful in Brazil and Russia, it’s been in the top 10 games many times and I think we might be one of the few stories out of India, where we built a social game for the global audience that became a success, versus building game just for the homegrown audience.
These games are not easy. The quality we expect, we put a team of 10, 20 and 30 people. So, the pace that we're operating, our portfolio has three or four games right now, and we're probably launching a new one, every three to five months and then as we're launching them, we are identifying like this game that I described. I don't think it's a fish game or eat me type of game, it's a strategy game. It looks like a fish cartoon-kids game, but it's actually hard-core strategy like a Clash of Clans. So, the audience is very different audience.
Which online game offered by Junglee games has the highest engagement and why?
I think there is a pretty close toss-up between Daily Fantasy and Rummy. They're inherently very sticky. There's a lot of thrill involved, Rummy is probably the stickiest game because every game is different, the people in the room that you're playing with are different, and there's one or two people in the office that play Rummy with their grandfather. You can't beat them. They are so skilled! They can memorize every card you've put, discarded and you have to memorize. That's why the Supreme Court called it a game of skill. So, I think that makes these game so inherently sticky.
How does Junglee games keep up with competitors like Rummy circle, Pub G Etc. ?
So, I wouldn't call Pub G a competitor. Because it's a completely different genre of game. Of course, they're also grabbing eyeballs. Rummy circle is a direct competitor. What we've done is put a lot of thought from the early days into optimizing every area of the business. Even in the early days when our product was still maturing, our customer service team delivered like an Amazon Prime style experience. We have 60-70 customer service agents.
Optimizing every area of business not just one, not just saying the product needs to be great or marketing but really optimizing every area. We're a team of math geeks and real nerds on data science. PhD data scientist, building machine learning algorithms and studying and personalizing behavior for our customers and our players. This is what has allowed us to grow faster than any of these guys.
We've had five people leave out of 250 in 7 years. This number is unheard of, we're doing something right with culture and our culture is not about, how we make everyone do more for the company and that's kind of the traditional mentality and we're in the digital age. We invest so much in our employees, the full mind, body and soul. Making sure they're healthy, physically coaching them and advising them. We build this culture of let's all work really hard and play, our number one value is we lead with love and it's not just a fluff thing that we put on one wall. It's how we operate, we're just a beautiful flat culture.
I would summarize it in one line, which is building a business and building a culture where every person who comes in our door whether they stay with us for a day or 10 years. When they leave us, they're becoming better upgraded versions of themselves. They're becoming happier and more peaceful. They're learning how to resolve conflicts in their personal life, they are elevating their skills, beyond I can code better or design better, they are elevating their conversational skills, they're elevating the most rigid people who would always come down in a hierarchical fashion are leading sessions on transparency and leading with love.
What is the marketing strategy used by Junglee games to attract new users?
It's a multi-level marketing. Of course, the classic digital marketing every startup uses whether it is e-commerce or travel or anything else using massive amounts of budget on digital advertising on Facebook, Google and affiliate marketing. We were the first gaming company to bring in brand ambassadors into play just to build credibility and the way we went about it is multifold. If one game has a bigger audience in South India, then we'd find the top South Indian celebrities to come in. Like daily fantasy, where the audience isnt 35 years old they are 25 years old. So, we brought in those brand ambassadors and did TV campaigns and we have a ton of tie-ups with movies.
It just builds credibility when additional people endorse your product and we've just everyone from Sidharth Malhotra to Prakash Raj. So not just one but multiple tie-ups. And I think strong network effects, our user base. Our players are one of the largest sources of new players and new users because they love the experience and we're not the only company doing Rummy and Daily Fantasy but we're in the top 1 or 2. And I think the reason for that is because customers get an Amazon Prime level experience in Customer Care. They get a withdrawal within the hour. They give their complaints resolved within one or two hours. They go tell their friends. Why are you playing on that platform? Come to Junglee! So, I think that's not marketing we pay for, that's just processing culture drives.
What are your future plans on investment and expansion? Where do you see your company in two years?
Hopefully to the Moon! On the investment side, we are the only bootstrapped company. We raised a small family and friends round in 2012. We're the only company that is the size that it is, that’s bootstrapped. We’re profitable like a unique Indian company and not the bleeding venture money to and ballooning losses to inflate valuations. We don't need outside capital right now, because we're profitable, we've been profitable for quite some time. But it is always an interesting conversation that happen with strategic partners and we entertain those.
I'm having tons of calls with Indie developers. These are young aspiring guys in their 20s, who want to build a game. And being able to support them with both capital and provide them a blueprint of how to scale a business works really well for them and it works well for us because we don't want to be just limited to a couple of skill games.
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