Saurabh Aggarwal was one year out of college when the online bubble had burst. Being right in the middle of the valley at Stanford, the whole ecosystem was buzzing. In 2002, he started his first company, PDA Apps, in the US. He co-founded his first venture, a mobile IM solution, VeriChat, and had a million-dollar exit.
Before selling the company in 2005, he had started spending more time in India during 2004-05. The entrepreneurial bug bit again, and he started his journey with Octro in 2006. Talking about the sudden shift from voice platform to gaming, he says, “In app store, 90 out of 100 grossing apps were games. So we could figure out what made money.”
Out of 30 odd people, he was left with only eight, as they found the art of the pivot too drastic. However, in nine months, Octro was out with its first game. But without any prior experience in gaming, how did it all click? “We knew we were very good in building technology. We started off as a B2B model building technology for other gaming companies. We expected the gaming companies would leverage our technology in building their games. Since we didn’t get any game company trying to use our software, we decided to try our own games on this software.”
Going from building a platform to starting building games was really an accident for Aggarwal that actually proved lucky. When the first game started doing well, he realised what he built was actually incredibly useful. Most people would do it the other way. They would start building the game first and then the platform. In Octro’s case, the tech part came first, and the art came much later. Showcasing the earlier versions of Teen Patti, which looks like raw art without any animation or effects, Aggarwal admits not doing anything special except bringing the offline experience online.
Currently, Octro has two of India’s largest games in its portfolio with Teen Patti and Rummy. Tambola and Carom also lead in their category. Presently, there are two titles with Teen Patti – a classic version and Teen Patti live. Today, Teen Patti is available in English, Hindi, Marathi and Guajarati. The other games right now are only in English. Since Rummy is popular in south India, there might be an addition of a southern language. Octro saw 32 million downloads for Teen Patti alone. All other games have crossed a million downloads.
Gaming in India is at a nascent stage. Comparing India with China, he says, “They do about $12 billion revenue in mobile gaming every year. Our numbers are close to about 100 million.” The aim is now to look at new games and much bigger titles. Aggarwal ran Octro for six years with his own money. In 2014, the company raised its first round of funding from Sequoia.
After exiting his first company, is an exit sooner on the cards. Aggarwal says, “I built this company thinking that there would be an exit. I am not trying to make a family business here, but I don’t see an exit happening very soon. There are lots of opportunities to grow the company nowadays. We can make a lot more value inside the company, than outside the company at this time.”
Recently, Octro started working with a lot of small studios in India which were struggling because it’s expensive to build a game. Octro has partnered with some of the very promising studios in India and created a programme where they could de-risk the studios in building great content for India. Octro has signed a couple of EIR (Entrepreneurs in Residence) with Indian studios. Some of these games will be started in the app store very soon.
This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (November, 2015 Issue).