On the surface, Junglee Games looks like a successful gaming company with its roots heavily based around Indian customer segments.
However, there is more to it than it meets the eye. This is one of those gaming companies which came out of nowhere and rose to success in a relatively short amount of time when compared to its counterparts. And no, it’s not sheer luck; it involves quite a heavy amount of blood, sweat and tears.
There’s a lot of “behind-the-scenes” stuff that happens at the fastest growing skill-based gaming company in India.
Boasting a 25 Mil registered user base across the globe, the company expects reaching to 50 Mil users by the end of the year. On the surface it might feel ambitious but you won’t (probably) disagree if you know what it’s been doing.
I had the privilege of connecting with their President & former Chief Product Officer Kapil Rathee who graciously agreed to spill some (secret) beans for us on what the company is up to these days.
A quick intro before we go ahead: Junglee Games had its modest beginnings back in 2012 and it has two primary arms: Skill-based gaming and Social gaming. With its immensely popular flagship products like Junglee Rummy and Junglee Teen Patti, the company has also made waves with its innocent and cartoonish-looking eatme.io, which combines strategy-based game mechanics used in games like Clash Royale.
The company has a healthy rating of 4.6 out of 5 on glassdoor.com, and you will find nothing in the reviews but praises for the company and its culture, setting a benchmark in the gaming industry.
(RV) Can you give us a little bit about Junglee games & your personal journey with the company?
(KR) Sure. Junglee Games started at the end of 2012, with Ankush Gera as the CEO. We figured out there was an actual opportunity in the Indian market for card games like Rummy and Teen Patti. We were a bit late to the party but the good news was the user segment was defined and there was a clear value proposition which we have leveraged upon. We had a clear advantage with the portfolio chosen, unlike other game genres which had a hard time figuring out the monetization potential in India. Also, our chosen genre nicely fits into the cultural aspect of India.
Having an added mixture of experience in i-gaming and being very passionate about Poker and other card game variants made us what we are today.
My Personal Journey: Earlier I did my food tech startup and traditional consulting before joining Junglee.
It was a different feeling when I started. A bit of overwhelming excitement rushed through me. I’ve got a decent first-hand experience with games before this. I know what ingredients are needed to make a product market-ready. The journey’s not easy but it’s not hard either, especially when you love what you’re doing. Basically, it’s a marriage between the heart and mind (smiles).
(RV) That’s great to hear. Thanks for sharing. Can you tell us more on the initial challenges you’ve faced or had to endure on setting up & running a product team which is a bit unheard of, at that point of time in Indian start-ups? Also, what sorts of products & product strategies are implemented from time to time?
(KR) Of course! We established the MVP version which was up and running in the market, generating some revenues. All good so far!
Then comes the question of being more efficient: craft a better version, better than ever before. Customize the product as much as possible. So we started doing a lot of Product Ops, which in fact was more of engineering ops (hosting/autonomy issues, etc).
And while this was happening, there was a parallel effort happening to experiment on other genres and markets. Junglee Rummy has positioned itself as a market leader.
Teen Patti was also there, which became #1 in India at one point. But we realized that monetization would be a struggle irrespective of the investment made in that. So we decided to put this game on “auto-pilot” and invested in other social games like region specific games (e.g. Matka, Bingo), a Temple Run-style game in Indian context centred around an arranged marriage where an Indian guy is seen running and a girl trying to catch him (laughs).
Post that, we tried to expand our reach globally and thus came eatme.io, which is roughly a combination of slither.io or agar.io with a mid-core strategy mechanic like Clash Royale, providing real-time gameplay. We’ve garnered around 6+ million downloads to date. We tried to engage in various sorts of marketing strategies with a bit of influencer marketing too. If you haven’t played that game, do take a stab at it. You’ll find it entertaining.
Then we made a move on experimenting with premium mobile games, worked on “trip“, went through multiple iterations and still kept it on hold. We had our learnings in that. We made another fantasy sports sort of game, Team Cricket, ran it for 2 years before putting it on the back-burner because of the legal framework and market penetration challenges at that point in time.
We tried our hands at facebook games too, where we felt a decent market penetration and a nicer cultural fit, like cricket. Howzzat was one of those games. Then Facebook space became obsolete and we had to put that to bed.
Soon, we got clarity on the legal aspect of fantasy sports, and since we were interested in that space since the very beginning, we quickly moved forward, acquired a company from Bangalore trying to come up with their own fantasy sports game and launched a better version of Howzat.com in that space.
(RV) Glad to hear that. Can you tell us more on team structure, product process & values you follow at Junglee games?
(KR) We are scaling, not in just numbers, but the team, production lines, revenue streams, and the culture. With the way we’ve scaled our processes, they can be easily replicated and today we feel confident that we’ve got everything in order — we just have to focus on doing better.
One of the key challenges we’re trying to focus on is the ability to ship a game faster. To address that, we’re investing heavily in tech to build a game engine. We’re leveraging the learnings from one game to another and not trying to create something completely different.
Having said that, we invest not only in tech, but also in our values. We revisit them on a periodical basis and evaluate them continuously.
One of our values is that we’re heavily data-driven. We put the right BI team in place where there’s a good mix of data engineers, business consultants and data scientists. Combining all of that provides opportunities to build world-class user segmentation capabilities, including churn-predictive models and RFM, which enables us to personalize experience at the user level instead of bare aggregations. We’re going big on speech processing and CRM comms.
While we’re doing this, we try to define our focus on every quarter in a different way. For example, our tournaments have been fantastic. Initially, we were hosting 500-player tournaments. Today, we can easily host 50000 size tourneys without any difficulty.
We’re building agility across departments and features and making us self-sufficient.
In this real money gaming industry, building trust is a super-crucial thing.
We’re probably one of the first in the industry to build a proactive fraud detection system and have a responsible gaming entity in place which you typically see in the European region (igaming domain).
We haven’t built it because someone asked us to do it, but because we really care for our customers. We knew that these could be barriers for us in generating revenue but we have gone ahead since it’s the right thing to do, for both the company and players.
Summing up, building the right team, leveraging the data science aspects, thinking ahead and diversifying our product line are some of the key reasons for achieving success at an incredibly fast pace, much faster than others.
(RV) I see. Seems you’ve progressed from being someone who’s trying to follow the trend and establishing yourself as a Trend setter in this market?
(KR) We don’t like to boast about it, but that’s right. We launched the first PWA (Progressive Web Apps) in our industry. By the time Google started advocating and pitching on using PWA for building lite apps, we had already built it. Later on, Google wanted to do a case study with us with their Chrome browser team based out of the US.
Earlier we used to have a social-rich app with all the fancy UI. We’ve gone bold and decided that we won’t focus on the niceties but rather focus on functionality first, by aiming to place users at game tables first with highly reduced wait times (more like going ahead with a super MVP version followed by enhancements).
In the online real money gaming world, transparency is important, which includes having a shorter reaction time, especially when cards are being dealt. We were able to prioritize players’ needs and work down accordingly. Of course, we witnessed some failures along the way.
We took those as learnings and moved up. Having this mindset helped us and made us what we are today.
And the timing was kind of right, circumstances helped, thanks to Jio. 4g entry barriers have been broken in India, which really expanded our reach to the audience and a significant interest was also built in investors’ mindset who started looking at India understanding its true potential.
(RV) Lately, there have been some big celebrity endorsements happening in gaming too. What’s your take on that?
(KR) The catch here is that you have to be very mindful of the audience and how this celebrity appeals to them. Once you understand that, you’ll have to work out on your primary and secondary audiences, essentially the core and blue ocean strategy.
Then you’ll see the ability or influence of the celebrity and decide on whether they should be a specific individual (like Tiktok one) or a global star or someone else. Are you trying to capitalize on the fans of those people? These questions will get subjective and a lot of care has to be taken instead of taking a leap of faith here.
(RV) Are you planning on having a publishing arm too? With such a strong brand presence, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens sometime in the near future!
(KR) Absolutely! We have been attending almost every key conference showing our presence and talking to the developers ranging from indie to big studios. We don’t shy away when there is an opportunity with the right alignment happening, eventually opening the publishing doors.
Having said that, there’s a lot on our plate as of today. We must tread carefully here, respecting our set roadmap all along. The publishing angle is on the horizon, but I can’t make any specific commitments at the moment. Maybe someday, with the right appeal, we can pursue that too.
Special thanks to Rahul Bharadwaj, Co-founder of Junglee Games without whom this interaction wouldn’t have been made possible.