In conversation with Vivek Venugopalan, CTO and Co-founder at Fantain Sports Pvt. Ltd. The idea behind targeting a niche area such as Fan Relationship Management and their foray into Fantasy Sports.
Fantain was established in 2012, a startup based in Chennai with offices in Bangalore and Mumbai. Fantain is founded by the trio Anand Ramachandran (CEO), Aravind Ramachandran (CPO) and Vivek Venugopalan (CTO).
During this IPL 10 season Fantain launched it B2C Fantasy mobile app with the objective to reach out to the sports fans.
How did the idea of Fantain sports come in your mind?
All the three of us founders are passionate about sports and come from a technology background. When we decided to do something of our own and moved away from our existing jobs, it was logical that we built something in the intersection of sports and technology. We believe that fans are an under-served community in India who spend their money, time and express our love for sports, but in return get nothing else beyond that event.
The idea behind Fantain (‘Fan’ is the cap-tain) is to offer fans better ways to engage with their favourite sports team and players. We are in the business of building world class “fan engagement” assets for the sports fan.
What were the challenges you faced while developing this venture?
One of the biggest challenges initially was to help teams and leagues understand the need for fan engagement beyond the playing arena. Evangelizing this need as a small start-up was quite daunting but we stuck to it, and slowly saw more and more sports stakeholders being receptive to our ideas. In a sense, we were creating a new market around fan engagement where none existed before.
Building a world class team around a new concept was very hard. Particularly since we were competing with established industry players for the same talent. We always look for hiring and retaining the best talent and as founders, have taken on the responsibility to motivate and keep them invested in the company and the idea. We believe that the world class organization we strive to build requires a world-class team and that will be an ongoing challenge.
State few upcoming trends to watch out for in the gaming industry?
The dominance of a few big format sport at the national level is giving way to smaller, niche sports at regional and city levels. This creates tighter markets with everyone vying for the available mind and market share.
In the physical sphere, the sporting experience for the fan is no longer just on-field or TV viewing but a complete “experience” for the whole group – replete with pre/post-game parties and events, fantasy picks and strategies, F&B, team interaction, sports tourism, etc. Sports franchises that understand and cater to this will win out in this tight space.
In the digital sphere, social media is creating a larger and larger impact, and it is poised to upset the revenue calculations of traditional broadcasters. User generated content and sharing will have a huge impact on the value of franchises going forward.
Almost every aspect of the gaming industry is going to be massively impacted by technology trends like AI, big data analytics, machine learning, augmented reality, etc., creating new exciting companies and markets.
Fantasy gaming is at a nascent stage in India and has huge potential in games such as cricket and kabbadi. It is a $7 billion dollar plus industry in the US and the Indian gaming population is set to surpass that of US by 2021, and to over $1 Billion in market size. (Google-KPMG Report on Indian Gaming, May 2017).
State your growth and expansion plans? What is your USP?
Our vision is to be India’s leading fan engagement company, by:
1. Bring fans closer to the sport they love by creating a platform where the fans can engage, play, buy merchandise and tickets, view, listen, collaborate and share.
2. Build the most transparent platform in the world that fans can implicitly trust. We want fans to see how they play, how others have played, how are winners identified, and what they could have done better. All of these are critical for the fans to really trust the system.
We are a sports company run by sports fans. We have been harnessing data and have aggregate views of fan behaviour. This gives us some unique insights about fan in demographic and psychographic profiles that are immensely valuable to brands. We have invested immense time, effort & money to build an infrastructure that captures and harvests fan data. We use this information in all the solutions we build for our customers. We understand fan preferences and sentiments. We currently are providing fantasy games around cricket and kabaddi. We will expand to more sports (football, F1, etc.), more games in every sport and more playing options for every game. We will also introduce concepts like draft fantasy, season fantasy, etc. We also will introduce newer gaming options. In short – very exciting things to come on the platform shortly.
We take design seriously. Our platform will be easiest, beautiful and most fluid to use across different channels – mobile, desktop, TVs and whatever else lies ahead.
It takes a combination of passion, effort, perseverance and time to harness the data to provide a complete gaming experience fans love, and that will be our unique value proposition.
How are you drawing huge audience to the games?
We have already clocked significant downloads and adaptation to our current offerings. We have achieved that through word-of-mouth and standard advertising channels but we see more and more of our new users coming through other efforts. Key among them are built-in virality that makes users expand this to their friends and other players, a referral program that incentivises existing users, engaging with sports franchises and teams directly to appeal to their fan base, and a generous prize scheme that is always popular with our users.
We will also leverage our data and analytics to target potential new users and create campaigns around that.
What is the idea behind multi lingual app for Indian audience?
More than 90% of India either cannot understand English or is not comfortable with the language.
This creates a huge white-space and opportunity for apps that appeal to a large population of potential users that are starved for vernacular content for the things they love. Our adoption data clearly indicates the need for local language support for sports fans.
Kabaddi is largely a Hindi-belt sport. Tamil Nadu Premier Leage, Karnataka Premier League, Bengal Premier League, etc. has more fans in Tier-2 and 3 cities that can be engaged better with the local language app. Fantain is India’s first multi-lingual fantasy gaming app, and is also a pioneer in using regional language based digital & social promotions. We currently offer our app in Hindi and Tamil in addition to English. We have plans to roll out our fantasy app in 11 languages shortly.
What is your revenue model?
Fantain is currently free to play and we offer gift coupons from leading providers like BookMyShow, Amazon and FreeCharge. We are constantly looking for ways to reward our fans better – we have plans to introduce sports memorabilia and merchandise shortly as part of our rewards.
We will be launching a freemium model shortly. Again, our data and customer interaction indicates that there would be significant group of players that would engage with the platform for the paid model as long as they can see value in the association.
How can India be the next fantasy gaming destination?
We all know cricket is practically a religion in India. And we have seen the rapid growth of professional leagues in other sports like football, kabaddi, badminton, hockey, etc. This has resulted in an all year sports calendar that was non-existent just a few years ago.
Coupled with this is the growth of the Indian middle class, the explosive growth of mobile telephony (including the recent Jio factor), growth in broadband penetration, higher disposable incomes and the need for more entertainment and engagement avenues.
This has created the right conditions for the growth of a huge market around gaming. But for this market to fulfil its promise, we require a platform that is multi-sport, caters to large swathe of the population, uses data to tailor user experience, is beautiful and well designed and trustworthy. As such platforms emerge, India can rival the western world in terms of fantasy adoption and relative market size.
Does your company intend to adapt the game to other sports?
In addition to cricket and kabaddi that is offered now, we will be launching fantasy soccer soon. We are exploring the potential of extending this platform to other sports as well. We will make informed decisions based on what the fans want and what our data tells us, in expanding to other sport.