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India's internet gaming pioneer | Indiagames and GoQii
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying - if I can see further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants. And one such giant of the Indian tech startup ecosystem is Vishal Gondal.
Vishal started tinkering with computers in an era when they didn’t even have floppy disks, and he eventually became a tech entrepreneur while he was still in college.
In the first part of a two-episode series, he talks about his journey as a pioneering tech entrepreneur culminating with Disney acquiring his first venture, Indiagames for almost a hundred million dollars.
Other Ways to Listen:
Some of the things he shared:-
Early days of Indian internet gaming
How to engage customers with adware gaming
Using branding to scale and acquisition strategies
In the second part, Vishal talks about his journey into fitness, and the birth of his startup GoQii which is on a mission to make people fitter using smart technology.
GoQii is a leader in the health-tech space, building India’s preventive healthcare ecosystem. The startup has raised more than 100 mn dollars to date from top VCs and impacts millions of lives every day.
Vishal leveraged his understanding of gaming to make gamification the heart of Goqii. He recollects his journey of building GoQii as a second-time founder.
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Read the text version here:-
[00:00:00] Vishal Gondal: Hello, I'm Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO of Goqii.
[00:00:04] I spent pretty much my childhood and all my life in the city of Mumbai. More specifically in the suburb of Chembur.
[00:01:17] And in fact my companies whether it was India Games or whether it is Goqii , we are all based in this area. In fact, I pretty much walked to my office from my home. Ever since I was a kid, I was a curious kid. I used to love tinkering with technology. I used to open my television set or radio and all the electronic gadgetry at home. Of course, that was a different thing, I could never put it back but early on I was involved in two things. One is sports. I was very avidly into sports. I used to play volleyball and I ended up representing the state in the national tournament. I was the captain of Mumbai, captain of my school. So a lot of my time used to go playing sports. And the rest of the time I was always trying to tinker with electronics. So that's when my father gave me a gift once. And that gift was actually a very interesting device. And people who are listening to this should actually Google this.
[00:02:18] It's called the Casio PB 110 . So Casio PB 110 was this calculator which you could actually program with basic, the computer programming language. And this was called the data bank version, and you can even see it today. And this was like one of the earliest computing device, the Casio PB 110 .
[00:02:40] And I think it was released like in the late seventies or eighties, 1983 is when it was released actually. And I got it, maybe 87, 88. I started learning programming myself because I really wanted to make the most of this calculator I had and programs.
[00:03:00] And that time there was no place to learn computer programming. So I used to get the manuals, which taught me. So I taught myself basic programming and my father saw the enthusiasm. So then he got me the next thing, which was called the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Sinclair ZX Spectrum was, again, one of the early computing devices.
[00:03:20] It used the Z 80 processor and it used a audio cassette to store data. So this is way before. Even floppy discs where this is pre-dating floppy disc where you literally, so you could get games and stuff in audio cassettes and you actually used to play that whole cassette and load a game.
[00:03:40] And again, I was tinkering with those devices and making games and codes, and again, this is all self-learning. I was maybe 14, 15, 16 years old and so my father was really enthusiastic seeing that, hey, this kid is doing all of this. So he then got me and that was the biggest turning point, he then got me my first PC, and this was a PC device with the two floppy drives. T here was no hard disk. It just used to have two floppy drives. I think it was
[00:04:06] Akshay Datt: One would be the OS and the other for data storage.
[00:04:09] Vishal Gondal: Exactly. So this is the five and a quarter inch floppy. And then I pretty much graduated through every computing device, whether it, I started with the pc, then I went to the pc, 2 86, 3 86, 4 86, and then the Pentium.
[00:04:24] Bottom line is, so I was curious. I started coding, learning and, and that one thing led to another and that's what the, my first business actually ended up becoming that I started teaching my friends coding, and this was from home.
[00:04:39] And, I used to be the coolest kid who could, who could play games and code. So I started that and that led to me starting a computer institute. So I was doing this at home and then, I got two other people and there was a little garage my father had in this area called Shell Colony.
[00:04:56] And that led to a computer institute and it had an interesting name. It was called FACT Computers and FACT actually stood for Futura Academy of Computer Technology. So it was like an abbreviation made up. And it was literally among the first few Computer training Institutes in the country actually.
[00:05:14] Akshay Datt: This was pre- NIIT?
[00:05:16] Vishal Gondal: Oh, yeah. Yeah. This was pre-NIIT pre-app tech days also. And I used to train people in GW basic D based three plus word star.
[00:05:26] Akshay Datt: How old were you when you were, when you launched FACT?
[00:05:28] Vishal Gondal: I think I must be 17, 16, 17, 18. Around that time.
[00:05:32] Akshay Datt: And you managed to clear your 12th board exams?
[00:05:35] Vishal Gondal: So the best part was I did not have to go to school as much because I was volleyball so in my 10th standard I barely scored any marks, but the best part was because of my volleyball, I got into the sports quota and I got into Podar college. I choose commerce because science required compulsory attendance.
[00:05:58] In commerce you did not need any, there was no attendance threshold. And especially if you're into sports, there is no threshold. As long as you give your exams. That's it. So I ended up joining Podar College. And that gave me the flexibility to continue continue playing my sport and running my business at the same time.
[00:06:17] And I used to somehow scrape through the exams and, from 10th I did manage to cover to clear, my 12th. Of course, by the time I finished my TY, I had many AT/KTs and stuff. So anyway, I didn't end up, I failed three, four times. But I think what I, what really happened is at a very early age I started earning, so one of my big projects actually came from a bank who wanted to send their annual report every year. And the bank, and this was a cooperative bank, which had some 5,000 members. So it was a task for them to write 5,000 names on everything. So what I did is I created a database and then I created a system which could print on the labels. So from this whole process of manually writing or typewriting I created, and this was a dot matrix printer, and I used to charge the bank per label.
[00:07:12] So I used to charge them 10 rupees per label. But it was a great thing for them because, what was taking them weeks and sometimes months to write 5,000 names, I just said at the press of a button, I give them this and all they have to do is remove the label and stick it on the envelope.
[00:07:28] Akshay Datt: This is the original mail merch.
[00:07:30] Vishal Gondal: And this actually became a great business because once I created the database, I used to keep charging them for every print. They came to me and now once they said, Hey, we sent annual report, now we want to send this, now we want to send that.
[00:07:44] So I, I did not realize the amount of paper banks had to send their members and, account holders. So again, I must have ended up earning a few lakhs by just doing that business this, I'm talking of the year 19 94, 95.
[00:08:00] Akshay Datt: How old were you at in 95?
[00:08:01] Vishal Gondal: So I was about, so I was born in 1976, so about, 20 years. So literally that age. And it was all fun. And then what happened, one fine day is that, while tinkering with programming and gaming, I got introduced to something called Macromedia Director.
[00:08:20] This was pre-Flash. Even flash was not there. So director, and then there was AutoCAD. So I got into AutoCAD this is Ventura clipper. So again, I'm talking about this new revolution called dtp. DTP became this new word again, nobody uses dtp, but DTP was like the big thing, the whole publishing industry was supposed to be, revolutionized. So I got into dtp I actually got into, 3d. In fact, in my institute, I became the first authorized training center for Autodesk. So I was teaching people how to make 3D models. So I actually have done animation, I've done modeling, I've done rigging on 3d.
[00:09:00] I've done 3D Studio, max Maya, everything. And that's what led me to gaming, because I already knew programming and I knew 3D art. So I said, and the combination is gaming. And that's when I started coding games. And one thing led to another. And I think the biggest inflection point for me happened during the Kargil War in 1998 when this whole thing was happening.
[00:09:22] Everybody was pissed at what was happening. So I created this game called I Love India. It was a game where, it was a very basic game, you actually had a screen with an India map, and at the border we had these characters coming down, which were the terrorists, and you were the Indian soldiers, and you had to shoot them down so that they don't cross into the border, like infiltrate in the border.
[00:09:42] The only difference was this game was rigged. So whatever you do, the right at the end, the game, India always won. Even if you were not doing anything at the end, something would happen and you would win. And I put this game online that time, by the way, internet came in 1997.
[00:09:57] So again, I had the first internet connection and, first email address from BSNL and all of that. So what happened really is when I was making this game got featured by B B C, that time there was star news in the early days of news in India.
[00:10:14] Akshay Datt: Yeah. Early days of cable TV.
[00:10:16] Vishal Gondal: And because
[00:10:19] of this, it was featured, we had almost 300,000 players of the game because that time, these were all, it used to take 20 minutes to download and play the game online.
[00:10:29] Akshay Datt: It was a like a browser game or you
[00:10:31] download an Exe?
[00:10:32] Vishal Gondal: it's a browser. But what happened is to play the game, you required a plugin, the Macromedia plugin, and that plugin used to take so long to download. So you first download the plugin, and similarly with flash also, if you remember, you needed a flash player and then your flash, content used to work.
[00:10:48] And then I said, Hey, this gaming looks interesting. How do I make this into a business? How do I make money with gaming?
[00:10:54] Akshay Datt: This is around 97 when you were thinking of pivoting into gaming?
[00:10:58] Vishal Gondal: Yeah. 98. So my computer education was the first thing, FACT computers, and that's went to FACT interactive, that was the next venture and FACT interactive became, and in fact I still have a card somewhere so, my designation was interactivist.
[00:11:14] Akshay Datt: Okay, nice.
[00:11:15] 97, how much was FACT earning? Like how much were you able to generate monthly, annually, if you remember anything?
[00:11:21] Vishal Gondal: I would say that a few lakhs a month, easily.
[00:11:24] 4-5 lakhs a month.
[00:11:26] Akshay Datt: And this was a mix of selling courses and services, like the printing, the mail, bird service, and
[00:11:31] Vishal Gondal: Yeah all of that. In fact in my DTP days, I used to do one other very interesting thing and, and if there's anybody listening to this, I have made project reports for many students.
[00:11:42] So during their university days the engineering students have to create this project, which was all about, so I used to type, I had data entry operators who used to type it, and then we used to beautify it, make it look good. And again, each project used to be, a few hundred pages and then you required 10 copies of this.
[00:12:00] and each of that, we used to charge about 10, 20,000 rupees for the whole project with printing, designing and all that. And I must have again, done quite a lot of that. And I'm sure a lot of people listening to this might, I may have done that for you someday, from coding to banks used to call me when their systems got crashed, ki yaar so I, I've done it all. I used to even code an assembly I could get into assembly language and, these were the only days when DOS, windows was not even prevalent.
[00:12:30] I'm talking of DOS and then windows. So I've seen all the generations of computing in that sense. Tho gaming, me I realized, how do I make money? And that was the time the whole Pepsi war with Coca-Cola was at its peak. Pepsi and Coca-Cola were going at each other. And luckily Pepsi-
[00:12:46] Akshay Datt: Nothing official about it, uh, campaign.
[00:12:49] Vishal Gondal: So Pepsi's office was literally a few kilometers from my house. They had an office in Duke Soda Factory in Chembur. And now in fact, they've broken it and they're making it into a complex recently. But that was the most famous landmark of Bombay, actually, that Duke Soda factory.
[00:13:04] And that's where Pepsi's office was. So I said, let me go. And I created a game demo on my own. The demo basically was that there are these Coke cans, which are floating on the screen, and there's a cannon, which is in the face of a uh, Pepsi bottle, and you can hit on the cannon and you're hitting the Coke bottles.
[00:13:20] And I said, you know what? If they are so much anti Coke, Pepsi would love this. So I actually went there to meet them, but you know, that time there was no laptop. So I took my desktop with me in a auto rickshaw. So I carried a monitor, the whole CPU, keyboard, everything. And I ended up in Pepsi's office at I think nine or 10 in the morning.
[00:13:42] And I said, Hey, I wanna meet whoever is in charge of marketing. And they were looking at, who's this kid, who's come with this computer box and all of that. And they said no, please sit and all that. So I must have been there for a couple of hours, actually. Finally, there is a guy who came in his name is TJ Venkat.
[00:13:58] He was the general manager of marketing for Pepsi. And Venkat saw this game and his eyes lit up. Wow. So he called a few of our other colleagues here, and they said, we love it. Let's do one thing. Let's install this at movie theater. So Pepsi had deals with movie theaters like Sterling, Regal, all the movies.
[00:14:20] And the idea was, we'll install this at the movie theater and people can play this game, and if you shoot in 30 seconds x Coke cans, you get a free Pepsi. So we created a little promo out of it and this game was installed with kiosks. And by the way, we used touchscreen kiosks in that time. This I'm talking about before even iPhone introduced the touchscreen.
[00:14:44] So the thing was there was a screen you could touch it and play this game. And this was just done as an experiment in Mumbai. It really kicked ass, people loved it. There were lines outside this machine. In VT and Sterling Cinema was the first place we did it. And they saw the amazing thing this could do.
[00:15:02] And then the second thing, of course, they paid me a lot of money, a few lakhs for it. But what Pepsi did was the HR guys said, Hey, this is a great tool for motivating our employees. So they got, they again, paid me a bunch of money and they got this installed on all the computers of their employees. And they said that whenever you feel like having some Josh play this game and you can shoot at Coke cans. And then I ended up meeting another lady who of course is, still very active in the world of marketing and brand and communication. She was the then marketing director of Pepsi. Her name is Vibha Rishi. So Vibha saw this and Vibha loved it. And Vibha said, you know what? We'll take this national. And from just doing this little experiment in Mumbai, I ended up taking this game all over India.
[00:15:48] And that was one of the biggest success. And that led to this whole idea of what I call Adwar gaming. So the idea was go to a brand and tell them, Hey, I will create this amazing game which will engage with your customer. And you give them a gratification and you do that at the point of retail. So their whole thing was ki, by the way, this is a time when new shopping malls were new.
[00:16:12] Stores were new. So people were saying that how do we engage? So I met brands like Kellogg's Pepsodent many brands from Unilever And even I went to pharma companies and we made this for medicines, for doctors to play games. In fact, I remember one of my biggest projects actually came from a company, which immediately after this thing went bankrupt, this is the start of the whole crash, which was that time called Arthur Anderson.
[00:16:39] So Arthur Anderson called me.
[00:16:42] Akshay Datt: This what was that, oil trading company. I forget the name, which got caught in some scandal. And the fallout was Arthur Anderson.
[00:16:49] Vishal Gondal: So they said that they have hired some very expensive consultant to make a new logo for them. And the new logo was nothing but an orange circle with the gradient orange, like a sun. So I had a meeting with all these top guys and they said, this is the logo, this is the new. And they wanted all their employees to play with this logo.
[00:17:10] And imbibe this logo and I created a jigsaw puzzle. I created, hidden object, find the logo. So basically, again, I charge them a bomb. And we created this games of all different kinds, all involving their logo, which is only used for a few hours for their launch when they were supposed to unveil the logo.
[00:17:30] But we're all thinking innovative, right? I mean, how do you make something like an orange logo so exciting? so what happened is that this started seeing, my business started growing. I had, all these revenues coming in. That was a time somewhere 99.
[00:17:43] I got a call from this company, never heard of them. They said, I'm calling from Pricewaterhouse and I am investment banker. So my father used to tell me one thing ki yaar don't take a loan. You don't need a loan. And I told them, listen, (hindi) I don't need a loan. They said no, no, no, we are not that banker.
[00:18:01] We are investment banker. I had no idea what investment banker is. So I said ok, we'll call you back. So I spoke to a friend of mine who, by the way, did his chartered accountancy. So he was the smartest kid in, in my college. And I told him, company Pricewater House, he said, no, they're a very big company.
[00:18:16] They do this, they do that. I said, okay. So they came to meet me. So my office was, just to give you a, an image. It's in the middle of Chembur Station. Chembur Station is like a bhaaji market. There are vegetable vendors all over. You can, like a station me (hindi)
[00:18:37] You know, this is like a station area of a suburb. You can barely walk in our office. The entrance is in this lane and that lane has, all these exotic vegetable vendors. So it in a way stinks, and then we were on the second floor of that building. It was called Parekh Building in Chembur station.
[00:18:55] S o I normally am always in t-shirts and jeans or t-shirts and shorts. So these guys said, we are coming to meet you. And, the guys are Sahaj Wala who by the way now is a very big guy in in I think he's now with not pwc, with somebody else I've met him recently in Singapore and when both these guys came, and they came in full suits. Everybody in our building was like, I don't think so there is anybody in our entire complex, whoever came wearing the black suit black tie and then they were even wearing the suit (hindi). So imagine in this bhaaji market, there are these two people coming in, and then they come up and I'm in shorts and t-shirts.
[00:19:37] And they told me that, oh, you know what you're doing is amazing gaming industry, both we will get you something called venture capital. I said, listen, (hindi).
[00:19:47] No, no, we'll get you. So basically they insisted that, they can get me venture capital. I had no idea what venture capital was. Nobody had heard of venture.
[00:19:55] Akshay Datt: I mean, there was no example of VC funding in India at that time.
[00:19:59] Vishal Gondal: Exactly, this is is 1999. So they said no, we will get you.
[00:20:02] And they said that we will get you two crores, I was like, two crores. So I was like, that's good. Again you know I said that, listen, what is the, how will you, why will somebody give me two crores? And they said no, this is equity. I had no idea what equity or what debt or any of this was.
[00:20:17] So basically then they explained to me, they said, venture capital is like a capital, which you never have to return back. I was like, wow. So I said, if I use the money, I can do whatever I, you can do whatever you want. And if it doesn't work out, do I have to give it back? They said no. I said, yeah, no, that makes sense.
[00:20:32] I said, we can take it. And then they said, fees, they said, okay, we'll make it success fees, so you only pay me if you get the money. So, I said well, that's even great. Before I could say anything, suddenly we had Pricewaterhouse appointed as our banker. These guys came in and they asked me lots of questions and then they said, we'll create a business model for you. What is the business model? I have no idea. So basically they asked me a bunch of questions and then they created an Excel. (hindi) of five layers and then they said assumptions and you change one number and the entire sheet changes. So the whole model was how many games, how many corporates are there, how many games we make, how much per revenue per game. And then we are going to put it on, so we, by the way, that time, we got the domain name, India games.com.
[00:21:29] So India Games me jaayega the concept is that we are going to create Indian themed games, which will be funded by advertisers. So we will create an Indian game, but the Indian game will have Pepsi or Kelloggs or Boost or whatever, brand integration hoga aur brand humko dega and people will play it online and all of that.
[00:21:49] So the model was great and I had no idea, they just told me, yeah, just sound confident and, go and do this. Then they got meetings. My first meeting was with a gentleman who I have great respect for and coincidentally he's on my board even today. Pravin Gandhi.
[00:22:05] Pravin Gandhi had just set up Infinity Venture Fund. This is the first venture fund, which was set up by Pravin. By Sourav Shrivastav this predates any angel fund, nothing, or the Infinity was the original fund of Angels. So this was all the TIE so the TIE, what we see now, TIE all the original guys of TIE, set up infinity Venture Fund. So all these guys were the LPs of the fund and Pravin bhai loved it. And then I had another meeting with the, another gentleman called Rahul Shah. From that time, of course, abhi IL&FS is not a good name, but in 1999, il&fs was a great institute. They had a fund. So I met Rahul, and Rahul asked me the most notorious questions and I literally fought with him.
[00:22:46] He said, game (hindi) nobody's gonna ever pay for it. This is a fad. Gaming is all bullshit. so he provoked me and I said, listen, yaar, if you don't know gaming, then don't try and challenge me. And I literally stormed out of that meeting and I told, price Waterhouse that (hindi) but when you won't believe, they are the guys, both Infinity and il&fs said, we want to fund you.
[00:23:06] And now the problem was they wanted to give me more money. Infinity said, I want to be the lead. And il&fs said, I want to do this. Infinity wanted to put 1.75 crores. Il&fs wanted to put in 1.5 crores. So now they wanted to put more money. So finally, the amount of money I was getting was almost three and a half, whatever, that crores.
[00:23:25] And I said, wow, in a matter of weeks presentation, you know, public. I was like, man,
[00:23:40] The funny part again, I don't even have a lawyer The dots connect so amazingly. So I had gone to a bowling in Parel. There's a bowling company had just started. And I saw a senior from my college who's well-respected, bowling. And I told him, (hindi), I'm a lawyer. So I said, great.
[00:23:59] You're hired. And by the way, for everybody listening, this senior of mine was just I think, I dunno whether he was appointed, but he was just nominated to be a high court judge. He's one of India's top lawyer. He was with Jay Sagar Associates. He 's the most sought out lawyer for SEBI.
[00:24:17] His name is Soma . So Soma as he's popularly known, one of first case was my case or my term sheet, which he negotiate. And then he also did my shareholders agreement. And, the best part was we did not have any negotiating points because I was simply saying that, listen
[00:24:37] I never negotiated equity. I never negotiated any of these things. Today a lot of people overanalyze and do all of this. I sometimes say that not knowing is actually a good thing. In fact, a lot of people who knew a lot kept negotiating. And literally what happened is we were among the last few deals, which happened in 1999 end and 2000 me and 2000 .com bust happened.
[00:25:01] So basically, literally, we were among the last few deals which got done before the bust and the deals which did not get done were people who were negotiating and saying,
[00:25:14] so suddenly, imagine at that time, 1999, I was what, 22, 23 years old? With three and a half crores. And in that time, again, for people to know the context in that time, three crores is today's 30 crores, or maybe 40 crores, so it is like at least 10 x or, if you can take inflation, it is 10- 20 x.
[00:25:35] And, I had a venture funded company. I had a board. And again just to give you a flashback, they wanted me to get a president. They said, or ceo, they said, yeah, you don't have gray hair, you need gray hair. So I went guess to who? To the same guy, the Pepsi guy who gave me my first business, TJ Venkat.
[00:25:52] TJ Venkat by the way, by that time, had become the country head of Sri Lanka of Pepsi. So I used to go to Sri Lanka, did some business, and then I convinced TJ Venkat to come and join us to be the ceo, or president of the company. And Venkat came on board. it has been a crazy journey.
[00:26:09] And by the way, my volleyball was going on the side (hindi). And, you know, I started gaining weight and, all of that because, now that suddenly I'm running a company. So I think the starting of India games has literally lots of ups and downs and challenges.
[00:26:25] I think the journey had was even bigger, a rollercoaster. The minute we launched dot com bust happened, we had also put money in marketing. So within less than 12 months, we were about to run out of cash because like everybody else. But because my core skill was making games, we quickly moved our model to a services model.
[00:26:45] We said, we'll make games for others and we continue to survive.
[00:26:48] Akshay Datt: Games for brands for engaging customers or what?
[00:26:51] Vishal Gondal: No games for brands. Games for brands.
[00:26:53] Akshay Datt: The original model of, uh,
[00:26:56] Vishal Gondal: exactly. So the whole .com model came (hindi) in fact, I jokingly say we were saved by RBI. So the reason we got saved was otherwise we'll have zero money. We made a full ad film of one of our games and that ad film was supposed to play on tv, but that time to put your ad on tv. The MTV office was in Hong Kong and Star TV office was in Hong Kong.
[00:27:20] So you needed RBI approval to remit money to play your ad. And RBI disapproved our application. So we were about to spend almost 75 lakhs on our biggest ad campaign. And RBI disapproved the campaign, so I thank RBI and sometimes I say that, when we say that these things are, blocks and bottlenecks, but sometimes these bottlenecks are for the good,
[00:27:45] Akshay Datt: There's lovely saying, thank God for unanswered prayers.
[00:27:49] Vishal Gondal: Exactly. So, like I said, I've seen it all, with India games I look at India games in three phases.
[00:27:56] Phase one was when 2000 to 2002 when we were struggling as a startup. Phase two of India games were very interesting. We had discovered mobile gaming. This is again, when something called WAP, WAP was announced. I told my board ki mobile gaming is gonna be the next big thing. They said,
[00:28:17] one minute, who is going to play games on their phone? So I said, no, believe me, gaming is gonna be big. And since we could make games, we approached Nokia. We told Nokia that, that Nokia had the most phones that we will make games for you. Nokia was in the process of launching its first color camera phone and that was the first phone which supported Java games in Symbian games. And Nokia told us that, listen, we want games for this, but (hindi) we will not pay for the games. You have to make the games. We will give you revenue share. Said, what is revenue share? They said, listen, revenue share,
[00:28:54] mobile operators will sell these games to their customers and they will retain 50% and you'll take 50%, but we'll not pay any money. They said okay chalo we'll give you some money for it, but we are just gonna support you from our budget, but you have to make the game. So we made 11 games totally.
[00:29:13] For that phone for 7,6,5,0 and the rest is history. What happened is that there were only four companies in the world who Nokia told to make games. One was us, one was a Finnish company, one was an American Company, and one was I think from Barcelona or Spain somewhere. (hindi) . And what Nokia was the dominant mobile phone manufacturer. So what Nokia did is they went to every mobile operator and said, here is the new phone. And they said, (hindi). Please launch these games on your portal. So Nokia helped us get contracts with 65 mobile operators across the world, be it Singtel, Verizon, KDDI any, you name a country and you name a mobile operator.
[00:30:07] Nokia got us. I was literally on a plane and all of them did deals with us and these games launched. And from having no revenue, we ended up doing almost a million dollars in revenue. And from these 11 odd games we said, man, this is crazy. And that's when we got the next idea. We said, tank attack, zapper.
[00:30:34] These are all like, simple games with no brand. So then the idea was what if we could get a brand? Can those games become very big? And that's when we said, let's get a brand. So I scribble the name Superman, spider-Man, Batman, and then we said, let's get one of these games. So we then identified Marvel, this is Marvel comics, before they were acquired by Disney.
[00:30:53] So Marvel had an office in New York. So I went to Marvel comics and I said, listen, we need to make games for you. And they said, listen, we don't make games. We license out. (hindi). And the licensing amount they asked us basically we had to bet every dollar we have in our company to get that license. Again, that negotiation went back and forth for many months. And finally, you know what we did was the biggest hack. I told my team, let's start making the game anyhow, whether we have the license or no. So while we were negotiating, the game was getting developed and finally they said, we can only give you a six months license.
[00:31:33] Six months license, we are happy to take six months. They said, what can you do? Yeah, we'll take six months license. Because they thought that six months license (hindi) they actually give it, gave it in a way to dissuade us, but we said, no, we can do it. They did not know that my game is almost ready.
[00:31:50] Akshay Datt: And how much did they charge for a six month license?
[00:31:53] Vishal Gondal: So we paid them, I think at that point of time, a minimum guarantee of almost I think it was almost $150,000 a minimum guarantee.
[00:32:02] Akshay Datt: Which means that their share of the revenue made through these, basically it was a O T T model, right? Like mobile operators would sell it as an O T T and 50% of that comes to you out of that 50% some percentage goes to Marvel, which you guarantee that $150,000.
[00:32:18] Vishal Gondal: Yeah. And that is all the money I had, in that sense. And Marvel said that these guys are probably stupid, right? I mean, anyway, we did the deal. And again, touch wood for us, and I say Spiderman always saves the day. And that game, we came and the minute contract was signed, our game was ready. In one week after the contract, the game went to all the mobile operators. We did it in I think, 20 languages. And on that one game in six months, we made close to 2 million in revenue. So again, we bet the whole house on that. And that's what got us to the next thing.
[00:32:53] So again, we were now rocking, right? A company which was going bankrupt to suddenly having millions of dollars in revenue.
[00:32:59] Akshay Datt: Which year was this? The Marvel spider-Man deal?
[00:33:01] Vishal Gondal: So this is 2004.
[00:33:02] Akshay Datt: And how big was your team by that time? What, tell me about the org.
[00:33:06] Vishal Gondal: We were about, 60, 70 people. No t too much.
[00:33:09] Akshay Datt: And these were like designers and coders who were basically making gifts?
[00:33:13] Vishal Gondal: All of that. All of that. So basically the, a very interesting part about the gaming industry is that today, if you look at gaming industry in India, you will not find a single company which does not have an ex India games employee.
[00:33:24] So in it's entire career of India games from 2000 to 2013- 14, a few thousand people came and, you know, like Churn, et cetera. So there we became like the the University of Gaming in India in a way, so what happened in 2004. Our initial investor wanted an exit. And that's when we again said, okay, let's go to the market. Let's raise money. And we got a new banker. And this time we appointed Ernst & Young as our banker. And Ernst & Young was led by this amazing gentleman. Of course he passed away a couple of years back, Samir Bangara.
[00:33:59] Samir Bangara was he was a CEO of Qyuki. So Samir came in as our banker, and again, we were negotiating with multiple VC funds. And, we had term sheets, et cetera, et cetera. We were about to finalize a deal. Then I got a call here, ki yaar there is this event happening, please come to Beijing.
[00:34:16] So I went to Beijing for an event, and there I met this amazing company never heard of them. They were called Tom Online. Tom Online was one of the biggest companies. They were listed on NASDAQ and Tom was big into the mobile vast space in China. It was basically part of, Hutchinson group. So Tom online, I met the people in Beijing and they said, man, we've just went, IPO in NASDAQ and (hindi), that we have to grow outside China and we want to do gaming.
[00:34:45] This sounds very exciting. We are happy to come as investors, et cetera, et cetera. So I said, listen, yaar, hamaari already deal is almost done (hindi) ki no, no, no, no. You know, we can do it. We like you a lot, et cetera. Can you come to Hong Kong and meet our group? I told them that, listen, I have a flight to go. And my flight ticket is directly directly from Beijing to Bombay.
[00:35:08] I can't change my ticket to go to, so basically I just said, I can't do, they said no, no, no, no, no, don't worry. We'll get you a ticket and we will take you to Hong Kong. I said, okay, chalo. They flew me in business class and made me stay at Ritz and all that. And they took me to Hong Kong and then I met the group CEO and, they were very impressed and they said what to do.
[00:35:26] So I told them, dheko yaar our deal is already done, more or less. And unless you are going to offer something which is, truly exceptional to our investors, why will they do the deal?
[00:35:37] They said, no, no, no. Tell us what is exceptional. So I called Pravin Gandhi, so just to give you a context, our investors had invested around, $600,000 that time, whatever, four, 500,000 . They had invested that. And our VC deal was at around 7-8 million dollars.
[00:35:55] So it was like a two three x jump. So they jokingly told me, ki yaar matlab (hindi). So I went to them and I said, listen, the investors will do the deal at 20 million that valuation. So they came back and they said, not 20 is a little high, but we can do 18. I said great. So I went back to our board and investors and I said, listen, you wanted 12, I'm going to get this select to at 18.
[00:36:24] And within 24 hours we got a term sheet signed. And finally it took, 30, 60 days to close. But what happened is these investors who came in at, who put three and a half crores in 1999, ended up selling at a evaluation of 18 million. So they made 17 x on the money they put in, and the deal was they bought out the investors.
[00:36:47] Me and my team sold a small percentage and we wanted to still, I mean, I was not gonna do anything else. So we still continued to run the company. The only difference was now instead of having two, three VCs, we had one investor, which is Tom Online, which was this large Chinese company.
[00:37:03] And that was the first time when, I saw an exit. And we saw how employees made money, investors made money. In fact, if you talk to Pravin bhai he will tell you that the only two bets which actually actually paid the whole fund of Infinity because most of them were write-offs for them, during that time. There were two companies, India Games, and they also had one of the company called India Bulls.
[00:37:24] That was their company. So then again, I started developing the company from 2004, but 2006 was another turning point. What happened is the stock of Tom online tanked in NASDAQ and the CEO got replaced. There was a new CEO and the new CEO said, we don't want to do anything outside China. We only want to focus in China. We want to get out of all assets outside China. And they told me that I said, okay, don't worry, I will get you a new investor and I will get you new. And then again, we went to market. And by the way, before I forget again, I went back and Samir, who was that time, our banker. I got Samir to join as our CEO, so I told Samir, no, you have sold them the plan.
[00:38:05] Akshay Datt: What was the plan? Licensing like the Marvel experiment, you wanted to scale that up?
[00:38:10] Vishal Gondal: There was many. Now we were in the mobile gaming, so set up offices, we set up office in Spain. We set up office in Los Angeles. We set up office in China, so Global Domination, ka plan tha vo.
[00:38:20] Akshay Datt: And this was through OTT route?
[00:38:23] Vishal Gondal: So it was called va This is pre the app store. This time there was no Android or no apple App Store. This is pre that. This is when Airtel had Airtel Live, Vodafone, Reliance kabhi ek store hota tha, Reliance web world, and whatever it was, right?
[00:38:39] Akshay Datt: And they would make a lot of money through things like Hello
[00:38:42] Vishal Gondal: And Wallpaper, ringtone wallpaper.
[00:38:46] In fact, Paytm by the way, Paytm was 197 that time and 197 used to run callback tones, ring tones. And Vijay and all these guys, they're all roots are in the vast space. They operator, SMS Hungama used to do the ringback tones. So a lot of the companies today have their roots or their founders have their roots in the vast ecosystem in some way or the other.
[00:39:09] So in 2006, the Chinese wanted to get out. So that time again, we went to market. And then we did another deal we got Ronnie. So Ronnie had UTV wanted to get into gaming in a big way, and Ronnie loved us. And, we loved Ronnie. And we then,
[00:39:24] Akshay Datt: so uTV was a film production company till then?
[00:39:27] Vishal Gondal: Yeah, UTV's business is only films and television. Ronnie wanted to get into gaming, and that is a time we said, listen, we are the best gaming in company in town. So Ronnie came in, he bought out the Chinese, put some more money, and basically we then replaced the Chinese with Ronnie. But then there are two other investors on our cap table.
[00:39:46] One was Cisco. So we were, by the way, Cisco's first investment in India. First ever investment of Cisco in India was India games. And Adobe also, by the way, invested in us. So we had Cisco, Adobe, and Ronnie on the cap table from 2006 -7. And the deal with Ronnie was at all the movies of U T V we will be making games for.
[00:40:05] So you named the movie, whether it was SU Raan, all the movies which was made under the UTV banner, India games got the rights to make games. So 2006 to 2010- 11 was again, very good time. We grew, our team was almost 400, 350, 400 people. We at the peak had almost 60% share of the gaming market in India.
[00:40:27] So Nazara by the way, was maybe 20%. At that time we were like 60%. Nazara was just,
[00:40:34] Akshay Datt: this is va uh, you're talking about?
[00:40:36] Vishal Gondal: We used to go and run gaming for operators. So what we went and told operator was (hindi). We'll be running your game store. So Airtel store we were working with Airtel.
[00:40:50] We were working with Vodafone, and now it was not just about giving them games. So we had two businesses. One was our own games, but the other was we were aggregating games from all over the world. And we had our own platform, which operators were running in. So it was our games plus, so the business had really matured to another level.
[00:41:09] Akshay Datt: And what kinda revenues were you doing by 2010?
[00:41:11] Vishal Gondal: We were close to, at the time of exit, so I don't remember 2010 exactly, so 2012, we sold the company to Disney.
[00:41:19] Akshay Datt: When Disney bought UTV like part of that?
[00:41:22] Vishal Gondal: Disney did two transactions. They bought UTV and they bought India games.
[00:41:25] I think we were around a little less than 10 million when they bought us with profitability, when Disney bought us. And so it was a great journey. And I'm just again summarizing this, but I can tell you that there were many ups and downs.
[00:41:38] I have done multiple transactions of getting new investor, getting old investor, getting money. Yeh sabh strategic investor. We have worked with strategics, we have worked with private equity. We have worked with venture capital, so all kinds of investors. And 2012 is when the grand finale happened in a way when, Disney acquired the company.
[00:41:57] And then I was with Disney for a year as an employee of Disney.
[00:42:00] Akshay Datt: What did they value at if you're at liberty to?
[00:42:02] Vishal Gondal: I think publicly they talked about a hundred million figure at which they bought the company. But again, me and my team were just having fun.
[00:42:09] This was more of fun. So I was with Disney for a year, but then Disney had a non-compete with me. So I left Disney, and that's what led me to Goqii , which is my current company.
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