Online gaming firm Nazara Technologies went public in March this year. Interestingly, it is the only listed gaming company in India. The Mumbai-based company was founded in 1999, at a time when the internet meant dial-up connections and Pentium III computers.
For its founder Nitish Mittersain, the love for gaming began when he was in Class VII. “I had been a passionate gamer for a long period of my life. In 1999, I was in college in Mumbai, and I’d be gaming instead of attending lectures. This is when I thought I’ll make myself productive by starting a gaming company. I really believed that gaming would become big in India,” he said, speaking at the India Internet Day by TiE, Delhi-NCR.
Mittersain said he didn’t factor in that he might be a decade early in starting a gaming company in India as the internet was still at its early stages in the country and there were not even devices to support his objective. But Mittersain was persistent. However, another blow in the name of the Dot-com crash in 2001 hit the company. Mittersain was just 21. He recollected that the period from 2001-2004 was quite a tough one.
“I realised pretty quickly that the eyeballs we were collecting would not pay the salary bills. There were times when we had to sell computers to pay salaries. I was 21-22 years old and had a lot of debt. I struggled for three years. But I often tell a lot of people that it was probably the most enriching and expensive MBA I had experienced sitting right here in Mumbai,” said Mittersain, who had plans to do an MBA in the US before Nazara happened.
The founder of the listed gaming company said he was too young and not experienced enough to understand the mess he was in then. “We did not have a large vision. At that time, it was all about going back and fighting to live another day after day, and that’s how we kind of got through that period.”
That period is hopefully in the past now as the company clocked a revenue of Rs 454.21 crore in FY21.
Similar stories of entrepreneurial struggles were shared at India Internet Day, a two-day conference for internet entrepreneurs. Mittersain made these comments while addressing a panel discussion titled Build to Last: Founders on Founders. Other speakers at this discussion were Neha Singh, Co-founder & CEO, Tracxn; Upasana Taku, Co-founder & COO, Mobikwik; Deep Kalra, Founder & Group Executive Chairman, MakeMyTrip, and Vinay Sanghi, Chairman & Founder,
Reacting to Mittersain’s experience, Kalra joked, “I think this could be a lesson to the young folks out there who are gamers that it’s perfectly alright to keep gaming. Don’t worry about attending classes, but build a wonderful product if that’s what you want to do.”
Neha Singh, CEO and co-founder, Tracxn, recollected how starting the business in the Bay Area, US, meant living on the edge in monetary terms. “One of the biggest challenges was being in the Bay Area, paying the rents, and not getting a salary. It was a near-death financial experience to see your bank account going down every month.”
Tracxn is a holistic database and global platform for corporate and private market investors to track startups. Singh talked about how Tracxn, founded in 2013, was a one-of-the-first of its kind product and the difficulty in selling the concept to investors and customers. “We had a brand-new product, which meant we didn’t have anything to compare it with or show that it was a better version of something,” she said.
While she was figuring out how to sell the concept, Singh also had to deal with the overwhelming experience of looking at a shrinking bank balance.
Agreeing with Singh, Kalra said personal savings and finance shrink while starting up a new company, but doing it abroad depletes it even more. India is, therefore, the easiest place to begin a startup. “You can really hunker down and bootstrap because you can easily cut back on a lot of expenses. Also, being good Indians, you can always go back and start living with your parents, no matter what your age is. You can save money by working out of the house and doing every kind of jugaad,” he said.
Another interesting anecdote came from Upasana Taku, co-founder and CEO of MobiKwik, when the company had to make a tough decision.
Founded in 2009, MobiKwik was one of the first fintech companies in India. Being in a low-margin consumer business is always a struggle, Taku said, but it can be really daunting at the start. “In the first year itself, some of the people we had started out with were almost giving up, because it was one year down and we didn’t have millions of users. That’s when we had to really make that choice: should we keep going. India, at that time, didn’t have millions of digitally savvy users,” she said.
However, MobiKwik made a smart move. Till the time consumers in India became digitally savvy, Taku said, MobiKwik worked on creating revenue through B2B services. Once the consumer business caught up, the company grew exponentially and raised its first cheque from Sequoia Capital in 2014.