Client Showcase - 9Stacks: Online Gaming Startup

Card games, including poker, were once looked upon as a game of chance and luck. It would be considered gambling but today, the perception is changing. Poker in fact, is a game of skill. You can learn it, get better at it and even make a career out of it! Though it is relatively a new sport, poker is gaining popularity among Indians with the advent of the online platforms such as
9stacks started in 2017 with online poker. Today, it offers other skill-based games like quiz and fantasy sports too. 9Stacks captures its audience by offering a user-friendly, entertaining and easy interface backed by the best customer service in India. Its core business remains online poker, where users can learn to play the game on their website and also earn money once they've developed their skills playing the game. 
They are also one of our clients at FlexiBees, having hired a part-time and remote-working content writer from us to write about online gaming. So we recently caught up with Sudhir Kamath, CEO and Co-founder of 9stacks. What ensued was an interesting conversation about the growing popularity of poker in India and what makes it such a fun sport!
Some excerpts from our conversation:
How did it all start? Where did the idea take shape? 
9stacks started about 3 years back. Pratik (CMO & Co-Founder) who has headed product and marketing at startups like Zivame and Nykaa, is also a keen poker player. He observed that the existing poker sites in the country were far behind in product terms compared to other startups. 
At that point, Pratik, Rishab (CTO & Co-Founder) and me got together, spent the first few weeks researching the legal and regulatory aspects, and conceptualizing the product we wanted to build.
Once we were convinced, we all committed to the venture full time.
We decided this was a gap we could target; develop a cutting-edge product that would help attract and retain new poker players, and therefore lead to significant growth of the industry.
It took us about 6 months to get our product live in the market. In the meantime, we raised our first round of angel funding of 10 crores (entirely from ex-colleagues) and started building our team. 
Who is behind 9stacks?
9Stacks was developed by me, Sudhir Kamath (CEO), Pratik Kumar (CMO) and Rishab Mathur (CTO). I am a graduate from Delhi Institute of Technology and IIM Ahmedabad. I enjoy poker and think I am unbeatable at losing money in the game! 
Pratik is a postgraduate from IIT-Kharagpur in Computer Science & Engineering and has worked mostly with start-ups. He was part of the founding team of Zivame and headed marketing and product. He then joined Nykaa as Chief Marketing Officer and then went on to found Green Giraffes, a multi-faceted consulting firm that advises internet-based start-ups. Poker is Pratik’s passion and he likes to introduce it to everyone he meets. 
Rishab is the tech superhero behind 9stacks. He is a graduate in Electrical Engineering from IIT- Kharagpur and has worked in hard-core tech jobs all his life, overlaid with a strong feel for elegant design. Rishab is the one who came up with the statement that we all embraced and made our central theme: You Play Safe With Us!
How are you different from other online platform owners?
For starters, our educational and professional backgrounds! Secondly we, as founders have opted to be visible from day one. For example, on player groups on WhatsApp or Facebook, we are present, and players can reach us directly, any time. Most other poker companies in India do not even disclose the names of their owners / CEOs! We are sufficiently confident of our product, our customer service and our ethics, so no need to hide in the shadows. 
Rummy seems to be more popular in the Indian context. Poker for Indians seems like a unique proposition. How did this happen? 
Rummy is much bigger, but poker is growing faster and targets the market of the future. Rummy mainly appeals to 30+ age groups, while poker is popular amongst 20-30-year olds. 
In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about poker and this is expected to drive continued market growth of 80-100% year on year. We are also seeing entry of new players in the market from tier 2/3/4 parts of India, which is a great sign for sustained future growth.
Lately, many more players have started opting for a full-time career in poker, and the number of such players is more than doubling every year.  
Did you have to educate your users to get them onto the platform?
Some of the initial players we had were familiar with the game because of other online platforms and the free Zynga Poker app on Facebook. But we do see one of the biggest growth levers for the future as education - teaching poker in a fun and easy way. We currently have some basic rules, videos with tips and interviews of players talking about how they play, on our website and our Youtube channel. We also have a new product we are working on, purely for teaching the game in a fun way where money is not involved - this is live on the Android play store as a beta version right now. 
What were some of your notable achievements? 
Over the last 3 years, 9stacks has seen its user base cross over 3,50,000 users. We have built a brand and reputation among poker players. It is now safe to say that we are one of the most preferred brands in India especially because of the simple and easy to use interface of our app. 
Secondly, we have built safety systems into our infrastructure. We are one of the only platforms that has a feature called Responsible Gaming. This enables players to set limits to how much money they want to play for, so they don’t get carried away. For example, a player can choose not to play more than x number of games or deposit only x amount of money in a week or a month. We are the first in India to launch this feature, and this helps ensure players limit their losses while they are still learning the game. 
We also pride ourselves on our innovative customer offerings. We’ve recently launched voice enabled private tables, where you can talk live with your friends while playing - it’s like having a Zoom call over poker! 
Last year, 9stacks won the prestigious EGR marketing awards when our "Hustle Hai" campaign was judged as the best poker marketing campaign worldwide, beating many industry stalwarts - the first time an Indian company won this award! You can check out that rap song on our Youtube page.
What were some of the challenges you faced so far?
In India, all customer facing start-ups have big markets but a lot of competition. Trying to establish our brand and grow our share of the market while also making it profitable is a challenge. Over the last couple of years, we have made great strides on both these fronts, yet there is lots more to be done! 
Secondly, building a team posed its own challenges. As you scale very quickly, but sometimes finding and hiring the right kind of high-quality talent is not easy. 
What made you opt for remote talent and FlexiBees and how has been your experience? 
We also follow the vision of working flexibly where location is not a constraint. We do not want to add restraint to any employee but at the same time require a certain level of flexibility. And that's why Flexibees was the right choice! 
We have had a splendid experience with Flexibees. They have a diverse set of highly qualified professionals; you can select from. And you can customize it based on your requirements. The content writers they provided us with did a fantastic job in understanding our needs and delivering quality content on online gaming. 
Moreover, they are always actively engaged in finding the correct fit for your requirement, this is what differentiates them from any other platforms. 
If you are excited about playing online poker, as much as we are, then download their app today! Online poker awaits you!
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