The Indian online gaming industry has reached a new stance and many companies are burgeoning in the space giving a massive boost to the entire ecosystem. As per a KPMG report, the market currently stands at over $360 million and is poised to grow to $1 billion by 2021. This growth can be attributed to multiple factors such as the increase in mass access to low-cost data & mobile internet, young demographics of India, high online user engagement and a rising per capita income.
When it comes to online gaming companies that are involved with real money, they need to understand the criticality of present day market scenario and adapt to the legality, technology, user engagement patterns, and flexible payment options to sustain in the long run. Moreover, when it comes to real money and cards, there still exists a lack of awareness and some social stigma attached to it in the country. Unlike games of chance such as Teen Patti, Bingo and other casino games, Poker has always been considered a game of skill, where a player can start making serious money purely based on talent and strategy, even if they start with a small investment. A fascinating example of this is the story of Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee, USA, who finished 1st in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event for a whopping $2.5 million on an investment of only $39. This phenomenon has officially come to be known as the ‘Moneymaker effect.' Unsurprisingly, when online poker was launched in the west, it took the gaming world by storm.
The multi-billion dollar success story of partypoker.com, started by two IITians, Vikrant Bhargava & Anurag Dikshit, had set a new standard in the online gaming industry. Drawing inspiration from the famed skills and success of legendary poker players and pioneers in the gaming industry, Mithun Rebello founded PokerHigh, a product of QuantumSkill Gaming & Tech (QSG), in 2015. He remarks, “Skill-based gaming is a legitimate career for many people and must be encouraged. If one's primary skill is to play the mind sport of poker, they must have a platform to showcase these skills and earn a living from it. We launched PokerHigh with a vision for it to be THE poker destination in India.”
The Growing Competition: An Overview of Indian Online Poker Sites
A constantly evolving legal and regulatory environment is one of the key aspects of online gaming which new companies often fail to grasp. One good example of this would be the few sites that have been successful in obtaining a license such as the one from the government of Nagaland, under the ‘Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion & Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act.' “We are one of the few Indian poker sites to have applied for and successfully obtained a license for online poker under this path-breaking legislation,” mentions Mithun, gratifyingly.
PokerHigh stands still in a market of new entrants. “This does not affect us in any way as we were early entrants in the industry and know what it takes to acquire, engage and retain users. It only presents a challenge to the new competitors to the industry as the entry ticket is now a big number”, Mithun adds.
Mithun gives credit to the passionate team of experienced professionals at PokerHigh who have been instrumental in building a brand that is reliable and fun. He says, “This is why we stand out in the crowd.”
“The team has always loved a good challenge. That is what keeps us going!” When the industry was set to skyrocket, the co-founders felt that they could create a difference in the market. Hence, they decided to “throw their hat in the ring and make their dream a reality,” speaks Harathi Reddy Rebello, Co-Founder, PokerHigh. To this, Mithun adds, “We reached out to the industry veterans for advice on the essentials of a seamless online poker experience and put together a plan to launch a platform that was engaging and entertaining.”
“It has been a fun and eventful three years. We have gone through our learning curve from all points of view, including legal and technological,” mentions Mithun.
PokerHigh had a humble beginning. Like most of the other start-ups, its founders were finding their feet in an industry that was entirely new to them. Coupled with that was the difficulty in finding the right talent pool as poker was still a fledgling industry in India. Overcoming this hurdle, the company hired passionate poker payers and veterans from the international poker community and created a lean & formidable team. “The response and support from the community have been overwhelming. We have received many compliments on our software which is deemed by the community as one of the best in India. We are constantly working to come up with new features to keep the country entertained with poker,” says Mithun.
"Ensuring hassle-free experience to the users, PokerHigh took great pride in introducing the vertical tables feature"
PokerHigh has always been focused on building a brand with deep values and a clear focus on the user experience. It has partnered with Arjun Rampal as celebrity brand ambassador to take the brand out to the masses as an intelligent entertainment choice. The company is amongst the top poker sites in India and is one of the select few sites to have been around for over three years. “I have lots of gratitude for our team which has been instrumental in enabling us to overcome the challenges. Their tireless efforts have made us one of the key players in the Indian poker scene”, says Mithun.
Mithun adds, “We have nothing short of a battle plan to take on the challenge of becoming THE Poker destination in India”. A big part of that plan was to bring on board the famed “Gaggar Brothers” to lead the legal, structuring and growth strategy for PokerHigh. Gaurav Gaggar has come on board as a strategic investor and advisor to PokerHigh. Gaurav is one of the pioneers of the online poker industry in India and one of the creators of Adda52.com, which was taken over in 2016 by Delta Corp. Gaurav’s brother, Vaibhav, has been instrumental in leading the legal thought process for online real money gaming in India. He now leads the thought process for PokerHigh on all legal and structuring matters.
PokerHigh has certainly shifted gears for its next phase of growth. Guided by Gaurav Gaggar, the first move in this direction has been to acquire Hippo52.com which is another poker site on the FairPlay poker network. Sumit Khurana, one of the founders of Hippo52, has joined hands with PokerHigh to lead their offline marketing and event strategy. PokerHigh will soon announce its event calendar involving travel and poker to exotic destinations all over the world.
Platform Built for Enhancing Poker Experience – First in the Industry to Introduce Vertical Tables
PokerHigh as a brand has always endeavored to stand for innovation and authenticity. PokerHigh’s focus has always been on delivering a user experience that will make people fall in love with the game of poker all over again and ultimately reaching out to everyone through its user-friendly platform.
Ensuring smooth user experience, PokerHigh took great pride in introducing the vertical tables feature earlier this year. It allows players to play the game in portrait mode, an unprecedented feat in the Indian context. It is this technological advancement that gives PokerHigh an upper hand as a premium platform for enjoying a game of poker.
The Way Forward
The company has been growing consistently over the years. Revenue-wise, the company has been averaging a 30 percent YoY growth. The platform has users spread across India, with a strong base in NCR. The company has done 2 rounds of funding till date, including a bridge round, and is currently in discussions to raise a Series A in the current quarter.
More than anything else, the team believes in enabling growth in the gaming ecosystem. “Poker is not part of our culture yet, and that’s why we’ve set out now to open the country to the nuances of the game so that they appreciate how unique & fascinating it is,” says Mithun. In keeping with its vision, QSG under its banner PokerHigh has several other unique ventures that include PokerHigh Productions, PokerHigh School, PokerHigh Cares and Party High.
PokerHigh believes that a multi-pronged approach for the growth of the game and through different avenues, it aims to spread its wings wider to reach larger
As part of this, the company has recently concluded another round of hiring to ensure that they have the right talent to take the business to the next level. “With VC interest also warming up towards poker now, we are looking at scaling up fast. With a thorough understanding of the entire ecosystem over the last three years, our focus areas would include product, education, and personalization going forward,” concludes Mithun, optimistically.
Rebello's Success Mantra
My mantra for growth is simple! A result-oriented environment always results in better growth. We believe in teamwork and have focused on building a team to realize our dream of achieving the number one slot. Happy mindsets bring out innovative ideas and this is crucial in the workspace.
As a team player, I work with professionals who are passionate about poker and I believe that together we can achieve excellent results and carve a niche in the industry.
I work together with my team. We are a team of professionals who are passionate about poker. I believe that together we can achieve great things and lead in this industry.
What is Poker High Cares?
PokerHigh Cares is a vertical under QSG focused on ensuring that the company gives back to the community, through CSR initiatives and social impact projects. The team conducts tournaments on the site to raise awareness and organizes charity tournaments to raise funds. It is personally spearheaded by Harathi, who strongly believes in giving back to the society.
'All in'Rebello – Scaling Impact
Mithun exemplifies the true spirit of entrepreneurship. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he had initially started his professional career as a lawyer. With time, his interest towards starting a business on his own led to multiple successful ventures in real estate, niche technologies, and gaming.
Mithun never rests on his laurels and is working hard towards changing the dimensions of the online poker scenario in the country. His fascination towards technology and knowledge about the legal framework has helped him set up one of India’s first legal and licensed poker platforms – PokerHigh. He takes immense pride in his professional executive team, spread across Marketing, Operations, Finance, Compliance, Technology, and CRM.
As the early entrants in the online poker world, Mithun and his team have deep knowledge of the industry and ecosystem. They have a robust grassroots network of affiliates and players which they have built over the past few years and are one of the few companies to have invested in its own state-of-the-art technology, which is both a disrupter and a differentiator at the same time. Today, their unique technology advantage has given them an edge over other competitors in the market.
Mithun says, “It’s still early days when it comes to gaming in India, and we have always been in it for the long term because that’s where the real value of real money gaming will come out. Consequently, almost every business decision that I’ve made in the past three years has been made keeping in mind the long-term impact of it, gaining stability of our platform to scale and to scale fast from legal & technological standpoints.”