PokerDangal is an online gaming platform that intends to redefine the gaming experience in India. Players possessing sharp gaming skills can leverage this online gaming platform to earn, evolve their game and play at a place and time of their choosing. It was launched on 26th September, 2017. There are two founders and two co-founders in the company:

  • Founder – Varun Mahna (CEO)
  • Founder – Varun Puri (COO)
  • Co-Founder – Shashwat Jain (CTO)
  • Co-Founder – Karan Gandhi

We are publishing an interview with Mr. Varun Mahna, CEO & Founder, PokerDangal:

Q.: What is the problem you are trying to solve? Please share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Providing a safe, fun and secure platform to play poker with real money to Indian consumers from the luxury and convenience of a place and time of their choosing.

The idea came from being consumers ourselves. I am a keen poker enthusiast and started playing online in 2014. It was during this time that he realized that the services available are not up to the desired standards and on the other side the demand was surging. I met my engineering friend Varun Puri and discussed the potential of this business idea. Varun was quickly on board and saw the potential of this becoming a business which is both scalable and sustainable apart from being a business of the future. Access to data, smartphone penetration and the ease of digital payments made this business idea even more alluring. In Feb 2017, Karan Gandhi and Shashwat Jain joined the team adding skill sets essential for the business. Shashwat has extensive experience in scaling start ups and has unmatched data expertise. Karan understood the poker business as he himself is a long-term player and his knowledge of user behavior was unparallel. Together, we started the venture in May 2017 and we went live in Sep 2017.

It was a very tough ride from 2014 to 2017 to find the right team to execute the idea. Many of our peers whom we spoke to were not sure about the sector or were not willing to take the plunge. The idea was appreciated by most but not many were ready to take the decisive steps.

In the months leading to the product going live, we came up with our GTM strategy and the proof of concept was delivered within 3 months of going live. With minimal marketing spend, we were able to achieve a concurrency on the platform and managed to scale our operations organically.

Q.: List all the names of the core Team Members, along with their Designated Roles.
Sure. They are:

  • Founder – Varun Mahna (CEO), MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, B.E Comp Sc– BITS Pilani, HR Lead – Star Sports, Ex EY
  • Founder – Varun Puri (COO), B.E Mech – BITS Pilani, Entrepreneur – First venture: Neevatech India – Leading exporter of agricultural machinery to Europe
  • Co-Founder – Shashwat Jain (CTO), B.E – IIT Dhanbad, Ex VP Analytics – Box 8, Ex Amazon, Mu Sigma
  • Co-Founder – Karan Gandhi, B.Com Delhi University, Ex Zomato, Ex NDTV
Varun Mahna, CEO & Founder, PokerDangal
Varun Mahna, CEO & Founder, PokerDangal

Currently we are a team of 25 people with the key members being Manan Sobti, Sahil Parakh, Anurag Upadhyay and Akshat Bharadwaj. The team is a close knit unit with us having zero attrition in the last 2.5 years.

Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. How did you get your first customer? Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
PokerDangal offers a plethora of exciting tournaments and cash games to the players who want to test their skill in online Poker. The prime objective of this venture is to build a safer, more reliable and pleasurable online gaming ecosystem for all the potential players.

We started preparing for our launch 6 months prior to actually going live. The business required a lot of innovation while planning the Go To Market strategy as we were a bootstrapped organization. The initial traction was the key for our survival and we had made an extensive plan to get these users to our platform. From our friends and family to our social circle, we leveraged our contacts for us to garner our first 100 users. Customized promotions were offered to these players which increased their potential for engaging on the platform.

Q.: What is your USP?
PokerDangal is known for its professional values of delivering the utmost customer experience, hence, it provides excellent customer support round the clock. Consumers can relish an ultimate poker experience complemented with high safety standards. The platform has been certified by i-Tech labs, Australia ensuring the highest standards for its users.

Currently a population of 8 Mn players play poker (physical + Online) in India off which roughly 3Mn users are online. This no is growing rapidly. PokerDangal enjoys a market share of ~8% currently.

Globally the online poker industry rakes in more than $4Bn of rake. India has begun seeing the growth of the sport in the last 3 years and the next 10 years will see this user base increasing exponentially.

It is estimated that roughly a population of 310Mn Indian users would be playing online games by 2021. 41% of these Indian users would be playing skill-based card games. A typical profile of an online gamer is 18-35 year old, Male, Metros and Tier 1 towns.

Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have? Who in your mind is your ideal customer? Do you have at least one of them signed up?
The biggest belief we had as founders was that the Indian online gaming market is poised for an exponential growth curve. If as a service provider, we could cater to the latent needs of the users, we were very confident that we could create a space for our product. Our ideal customer is a user willing to up-skill their talent and wants to make a decent income from playing the game of poker. We have managed to create quite a user base.

Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it??
Failures are a part of entrepreneurship and one has to learn to quickly navigate through obstacles and keep the learning for future use. When we started we had a very limited budget and there were numerous setbacks before we even went live. The most important thing for a startup is the team and the belief that we are creating a difference. We were always confident in our idea and it was the trust we had in each other that carried us through our tough times. Teamwork and partnering with the right people is the biggest learning I have had.

Q.: How are you pricing the Product? What is the logic behind it? What is the model you are following – Free / Freemium / Premium etc. ? Explain your thought process.
We work on a service fee model where we charge a service fee on the amount wagered on the platform. Since the sector is so nascent, we need to spend a lot to educate our users and promote online poker but we believe once more people join the bandwagon, the sector is going to grow exponentially.

Q.: Please tell us about the investors (if any)
Raised a last round in June 2018 from an angel investor for an undisclosed amount.

Q.: Is there any interesting success story of your startup? If yes, please write about it?
Within the first year of our existence, we acquired another poker platform, Pokermet. Pokermet was struggling in their operations and had a good user base. We acquired them and managed to clear were the first online poker company to successfully acquire another platform. We are also constantly innovating our offerings. From being the first ones to offer instant withdrawals to our users to launching 5 card PLO, we have managed to change the way poker is played in India.

Q.: Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture? Please explain in detail. (e.g., What is the current turnover? From Launching till date total no. of visitors on website/persons registered/enquiries and enrollment etc.)
We have more than 180000 users since our inception and we have grown our business more than 14x in the last 4 quarters. We are on a super high growth path and are projecting to quadruple our revenues in the next 18 months.

Q.: What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product/service leading to something bigger? If so, how?
We aspire to be the torch bearer for online poker in India. We aim to take the game to the masses and changing the narrative around poker in India. Our product is the heart of our business and it is state of the art. It is 100% compliant to all international norms and provides the users a safe, fun and reliable ecosystem to enjoy their favorite game.

This Delhi based startup is creating a niche for Poker in the online gaming industry

Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself with them?
We are competing with 5-6 platforms jostling for the same space and it is a challenging sector to crack. There are players with deeper pockets, first mover advantage but we still have managed to scale and compete with these players.

We were the first company in the country to introduce instant cash-out and 5 card PLO which are hugely popular with our user base.

Q.: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months? Any other information you would like to share?
We are making a lot of changes in our product. From launching new variants to making the UI more robust and customer friendly is a priority. We want to continue our high growth trajectory and consolidate our position in the online poker industry.

Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Keep grinding and hustling. The road to success is never easy.

Thanks Varun. All the best!