The ongoing phenomenal growth in the popularity of eSports has ensured that it wouldn’t be long before significant investments began to appear left, right and centre. Three new start-ups, in the form of Unikrn, Vulcun, and AlphaDraft, have all seen considerable sums of money pumped into them in recent months as they look to conquer the eSports wagering market.
Unikrn expanded into the UK market in May, and they’ve big hopes ahead with many anticipating the legalisation of the US market in the not too distant future.SBC chatted with Unikrn Co-Founder & CEO, Rahul Sood about their achievements to date, their plans for the future, and his own views on the eSports market as a whole.
SBC: Rahul…congratulations on entering the UK market. What was it that made you prioritise establishing a presence in this market over others?
Rahul: The UK is one of the most mature betting markets in the world, not to mention there is a very large fanbase of eSports in the UK and across Ireland.
SBC: Unikrn’s partnership with Tabcorp was a big step for the company. What do you think their backing offers?
Rahul: The relationship with Tabcorp is pretty deep. When we set out to create Unikrn, we talked about how to deal with legal, liquidity and responsibility. Immediately Tabcorp became an obvious partner to us, so we went out and met with some of the higher-ups with no expectations.
My partner and I walked away incredibly surprised. Tabcorp is a big company but they operate like a startup. They completely bought into our vision, offered to invest, and we became their exclusive global partner for eSports. In my time at Microsoft Ventures, we helped many international companies connect to startups, and I have never seen a big company move like Tabcorp. They are amazing.
Their backing helps us build a safe, legal, and responsible betting arena for eSports. Unikrn has built a sports book on eSports, and we continue to optimize our odds. We offer the best odds on the market, and Tabcorp manages the betting. The partnership couldn’t be better.
SBC: As Unikrn co-founder and CEO, you took a leap of faith leaving a high flying position at Microsoft Ventures. When did your interest in eSports begin, and what convinced you to take the leap?
Rahul: Before Microsoft I was the founder of VoodooPC, which was the world’s first gaming PC company. We built that company into something amazing, eventually caught the attention of Dell, Hewlett-Packard and others. We sold to HP, after which I left to create another startup.
I then joined Microsoft where I started Microsoft Ventures. I led Microsoft Ventures globally for around 2 years before I left to start Unikrn. Leaving Microsoft was not an easy decision, Microsoft is a great company they treat their people well. I had to make a choice between leaving a high profile job with a significant income to being an entrepreneur with a fraction of the pay. I also left a bunch of stock on the table. ..but when I look back I can’t believe how far we’ve made it!
We started at zero in November, we quickly raised $3,000,000 from some amazing investors from around the world. We established an exclusive global partnership with one of the best wagering companies in the world, and we then built Unikrn Arena from the ground up. We have been covered in international press, and our gaming communities have grown significantly. We then launched Unikrn Arena in Australia, the UK, and Ireland.
Here we are today and we’re about to close a major round with one of the best boutique VC firms in San Francisco. Yes, things are looking good, totally worth leaving my job for.
SBC: With viewing figures for eSports already rivalling those of major, established sports such as American Football, are you expecting the likes of William Hill and co. to expand their betting markets accordingly in the near future?
Rahul: Absolutely, I think many competitors will come into the space. We respect our competitors, but the truth is that we have one of the biggest and best betting operators in the world behind us – Tabcorp.
We’re also comfortable in the fact that none of our competitors know or love eSports like we do. As someone who has a long history in the gaming business, I feel like I haven’t left. I think the experiences that we create over the coming weeks and months will set us apart from everyone else. So, at Unikrn, we bring major gaming experience together with major betting experience. We wish our competitors well, we really value our partnership with Tabcorp – they’re just incredible.
Both Tabcorp and Unikrn are here for the long term. We’re investing in building a safe, legal and fun destination for people to learn about and bet on eSports.
SBC: You secured funding for the Unikrn project at an almost alarming speed, what do you think drew them to making an investment?
Rahul: We’re actually about to close a second round, this is a big one for us. I think people were drawn to us because we’re building a real business here with an amazing team, a great culture, and a clear vision.
If there’s one thing I learned running MIcrosoft Ventures it was how to remove as much risk off the table as a startup and focus on the core of your business. At Unikrn I believe we have done everything we can to strengthen and bolster the company, we eliminated as much risk as possible. We established a strong partnership with Tabcorp, with new partnerships pending. We also brought on a group of investors who put effort behind their money.
SBC: What does Unikrn have in-store for the rest of 2015? Can we expect further expansions in the UK market, or yet more ventures into new territories?
Rahul: I think you should stay tuned, Unikrn is growing fast – and we are exploring new areas for expansion. We will also introduce new betting products to our platform as well.
SBC: Any final thoughts?
Rahul: I want to end by saying that eSports is pretty hot right now, we are at an inflection point. Thanks to companies like Blizzard, ESPN, Razer, Riot, Twitch and Valve, eSports is becoming mainstream and opportunities are created everyday.
Riot and Valve are changing the world in ways that older generations would be shocked. Universities are funding scholarships around eSports, IVY League schools are next, major companies are sponsoring and betting companies are stepping up their game. At Unikrn, we’re well positioned to be a player in this market. It’s only been a few months and we’ve effectively gone from nobody to an international player.
With all that said, there’s no way I would ever get into this business without some serious structure around legalities, liquidity and responsibility. I’m not going to single anyone out, but there are too many companies out there that only care about making a dollar…they circumvent local laws, they operate in grey markets and they don’t promote responsible betting. As a result, they’re putting themselves and their customers at risk. We are a different kind of company.
Rahul Sood Co-Founder & CEO – Unikrn