Grey Interactive is a product of the gaming passion. We got in a conversation with Mahadevan K. and Saurabh, the founders of Grey Interactives, about their venture and their journey. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
1. From working as a junior programmer to becoming the founder of multiple start-up ventures such as Game Montaz LLC and Grey Interactive, tell us all about it. Your education, corporate exposure and the inception story of your startup ventures.
Working as a junior programmer was great. I remember having only one rule. I’d wow my boss every day. My boss was great too, very enthusiastic and full of passion. His style of working was very entrepreneurial so I ended up learning a lot. When I later joined Reliance Big Animation to head their Software R&D, it gave me a bird’s eye view of how the entire company functioned, starting from the various processes in building 3D animation to HR, finance and operations. When I finished the Little Krishna project with Big, I decided to go it on my own, since I knew a lot about how companies worked, and because I had a lot of original ideas I wanted to experiment with. I worked on a game called Iron Grip The Oppression, which won an innovation award at Moddb that year, did a lot of mobile app development at Game Montaz. The experience was good and we served a lot of great clients like Huffington Post and Lo’real, but I still felt it lacking in terms of my ability to create something on my own and bring it to market. This set me off on my next stint in entrepreneurship with Radio Flote, a music platform for independent artists. It taught me a lot about the business side of things, though I failed miserably in making it a success. We learnt valuable lessons in how to market apps and services to people, and were also able to generate a bit of revenue, though it was not profitable. It helped me overcome the fear of approaching strangers, getting feedback and taught me how to shamelessly promote myself. In 2015, Radio Flote ran out of funding, so I had to shut it down and move on. A year after doing consulting for various startups, I ran across my teammate at Reliance Animation, Saurabh. I was surprised that he too was involved in a stint with entrepreneurship. We connected immediately, and loved the thought of building something together. Both of us had been through similar experiences and so, our bond was strengthened by that. We decided we’ll do some dabbling with game development for start, and within a week, we were both hooked, logging insane hours of work just to release the game. Within a month, we had a prototype, which was received very well, and we decided to improve the art a bit more. An amazing thing that happened was that an award winning game designer started following us on twitter. This was soon accompanied by a follow from Indiecade, a game festival which we immediately applied to. Encouraged by all of this, we wrote to a few publishers and got their interest too. This brings us to the present, Grey Interactive, a company that Saurabh and I want to establish and take forward.
2. For the founder of a startup venture such as yourself, what does an average working day look like?
The great thing about startups is that there’s always tons of work to do. Saurabh and I usually start the day with a call to brainstorm different ideas and sort priorities, and this, usually waters down to a few critical activities for the day. We then set out to accomplish it. Both of us are tenacious when it comes to work, so that helps. We usually end up working 10-16 hours a day. Though it gets tight and stressful often, our reward is that we get to do what we love doing, and that’s something that is hard to give up. In terms of roles both of us end up doing anything from framing letters to tech/marketing work to following up with people.
3. Can you elaborate about gaming as a segment and its attractiveness for startups?
Casual mobile gaming is a very crowded space, but the funny part about that is that most companies are making games that are so similar to what’s available that they aren’t able to differentiate themselves and build a loyal following. If you have it in you to build new original IP, I think you stand a far better chance out there in the ruthless market. That’s what we’re betting on too.
4. What is Grey Interactive all about? Tell us about the product offering and its target segment?
Grey Interactive is all about “play your passion”, that’s our tagline. We want to build fun and wholesome entertainment for the various wonderful things that people are passionate about. This could be anything from Jet engines to interior design or vintage cars. Saurabh and I feel that games that personally connect with a user, help us build a more loyal user base, who will stick to us throughout their lifetime, exploring their passion through our games. This approach comes in contrast to the approach of making games for mass appeal. Of course, too niche an audience will not work, so we’ll have to be smart about which interests we tackle in the beginning.
5. How has your journey been with respect to your startup ventures so far? What were the challenges you faced in setting up and scaling your enterprise? Any challenges that you are still facing?
The journey has been tumultuous and full of struggle, starting from incompatibilities with earlier founders to being able to sell what we made. Over time I’ve learnt a lot of things about every aspect of running a company, so it’s hard to give specific details. Most problems are surmountable, except that I find recruiting and managing talent very hard. I think our sceptical nature as a society keeps us from doing the really brave things needed to improve it. So I find most youngsters very excited about joining startups, but very nervous about their future.
6. What is the competition in the market for Grey Interactive? What is the differentiator that sets it apart from the competition?
Grey competes in the casual mobile gaming space. Competition is fierce, with games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush and the recently launched Pokemon Go. What we feel differentiates us, is our alternative approach to building games, where we intentionally avoid mass appeal, and target large niches to build a better personal connect with our users.
7. What is the business model for Grey Interactive? How do you ensure sustainable growth?
Grey will create F2P(Free to play) games which will be monetised via ads, in-app purchases and merchandise. Sustainable growth will come from lean customer acquisition costs, and careful implementation of ads and in-app purchases, focusing on only on things which give us high returns for the money spent. Our current customer acquisition cost is between Rs.10-30, and we stand to make Rs. 200 annually out of every user.
8. What will Grey Interactive look like 5 years from now? All perspectives – people, business, revenue, team, size or anything you foresee for the venture.
We plan to release a game every 6 months. In 5 years we plan to cover enough niches to reach every smartphone user in the world. Our approach to teams, is to build a single dedicated team for each game/franchise, so from a people perspective, we see ourselves as a 60 member company. Xcavate, our first game, has a total market of 200 million people. If we capitalise 10% and make $3 out of every user. We can generate, $60 million of revenue per annum. Assuming that in 5 years we’ll have 10 such games in large niches, it’s easy to see that we’ll be somewhere in the range of $ 300-500 million revenue assuming everything goes according to plan. This is our hypothesis as of now.
9. Can you tell us about the core team for your startup, their background and rich experience?
Our core team is me, Mahadevan K and Saurabh Gupta. Both of us are techies who are also very familiar with sales & marketing from our entrepreneurial experiences.
Saurabh Gupta has 8+ years of industry experience, worked with me at Big, then went on to join MPC & Digital Domain where he built a multi-site pipeline that was used to create blockbuster Hollywood movies like Pirates Of The Caribbean, Harry Potter, Narnia, Sherlock Holmes and X-men. He then went on to create Superlative, a digital publishing company that produced books for the likes of Cambridge and Oxford.
I have over 12 years of experience in the entertainment industry, having worked on projects for Disney & Warner, and later, heading the R&D team for Reliance Big Animation for Little Krishna. I’ve worked freelance on a couple of games for clients, built Radio Flote, a platform for independent musicians, and am now focussed on Grey Interactive.
Apart from this, we have studio relations for art, and an evangelist who we are close to recruiting.
10. How are you funded for Grey Interactive currently? Any early stage/seed funding that you would like to share with us?
We’re currently funded by our pockets. Saurabh and I plan to establish the company with seed or early stage funding.
11. Any advice for soon to be startup founders out there?
A startup isn’t necessarily the best option for your career. Even if it’s true that you stand to make a lot of money with startups, that’s not the reason why you should do it. Do it to prove something, do it to show what you can make, do it because you love what you do, and do it because you have a vision for the future. Otherwise, taking a job is perfectly fine. It takes different kinds of people to come together to make things happen. Employees are as valuable as founders themselves.
12. What are your campus outreach initiatives for Hiring/Internships, engaging with students for events & adoption of your product among student community?
We currently have a contact in the student union at Delhi University who is going to help us reach out to campuses for promotion. We aren’t currently doing any activities related to hiring, but we’d love to get help on that.
We wish Grey Interactive the very best in all their future endeavours!