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Cards Chat News : Indian Poker Site Challenges Gender Stereotypes by Sponsoring Female Players

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February 18th, 2018 by Daniel Smyth

The Indian poker industry is leading the way in breaking down gender boundaries thanks to a sponsorship deal involving an all-female cast.

Part of the industry’s ongoing efforts to paint a positive public image and reach as many consumers as possible, online upstart 9stacks announced a new partnership with nine players.

Under the terms of the deal, India’s newest online site has recruited women from across the country to represent its brand at the Deltin Poker Tournament this February and beyond.

As well as representing the brand, the women will be aiming to show casual observers that poker isn’t just a man’s game.

Ambassadors Represent Women and Poker

Dubbed the Nine Missketeers and led by established pro Muskan Sethi, the team hail from a variety of backgrounds. As well as Rupal Bansal, the founder of an online poker news site, the ambassadors include a journalist (Radhika Mahalingaiah), an IIM Kozhikode graduate (Lavanya Thota) and chartered accountant Ritu Chadha.

Although poker around the world has gradually diversified in recent years thanks to high profile wins by the likes of Vanessa Selbst and Liv Boeree, a deal of this magnitude is rare.

What’s more, with attitudes to women in sport not being as liberal in India as they are in other parts of the world, 9stacks’ announcement is even more significant.

“Given that poker is a mind sport that requires strategic acumen regardless of their gender we think there’s a huge market waiting to be tapped here, and we just need a small push to encourage more women to take up poker either professionally or just for fun,” 9stacks founder Sudhir Kamat said.

Another Honor for Sethi

For team leader Sethi, this is the second major honor earned from her time in poker. Back in November 2017, the poker pro and animal rights activist was honored with a Women’s Achievers Award for making a name for herself in a “male-dominated” profession.

“This time, we thought it fitting to bring together women who have been the first to make a career in male-dominated professions on a common platform and laud their achievement,” Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi told the Hindustan Times in October.

Named alongside 99 influential women in India, Sethi was recognized by President Ram Nath Kovind.

That award was not only a personal achievement for Sethi, but another example of how women and poker are starting to earn more respect among those in power as well as the general public in India.

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This extract has been taken from the original article by Daniel Smyth for CardsChat.com.

Read the original article by www.cardschat.com here : https://www.cardschat.com/news/indian-poker-site-challenges-gender-stereotypes-sponsorship-deal-58587

YourStory.com : With virtual skill-based gaming startup 9stacks, IITians and IIM alumnus have an ace up their sleeve

 

9stacks lets virtual gamers play online real-money poker and is betting big on the gaming industry in India, which is pegged at $60 billion, globally,  as of now.

What happens when 3 IITians from Kharagpur and one IIM-Ahmedabad student get together? There is business magic.

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Sudhir Kamath, Pratik Kumar, Rishabh Mathur, and Abhinav Nigam met through common friends in 2016 and realised that they had several common interests when it came to business ideas. But one of these ideas was on top of their list.

Pratik, who had been playing poker for many years and won online and offline poker events, came up with idea for 9Stacks in January 2016. It was a great idea as KPMG estimates that the online poker industry in India is to the tune of $100 million a year, not including the many Indians who play on foreign websites.

The 9Stacks team expects this market to hit $1 billion in the next 3-5 years, driven both by growth in the number of users and in the average value per customer. Their aim? “To be one of the top 3 players at that time.”

Sudhir Kamath, CEO and co-founder of 9Stacks, says: “For the first few months we worked on the business plan, started architecting the product, and had discussions with potential angel investors. In parallel, we got advice from lawyers and tax advisors on how best to structure the company’s operations, given the realities of operating a real-money poker company. In about 4 months we had all reached the conclusion that we had to commit full time to 9stacks, and put in our papers.”

Sudhir, 39 years old and an IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus, was formerly CEO at Suntera Energy (oil exploration) and McKinsey. He is also an angel investor in companies like INI Farms, Vienova Technologies, Shiksha Finance, and Swas Healthcare.

But the idea of 9Stacks came from poker fanatic Pratik. The 35-year-old former CMO of Nykaa.com and founding team member of Zivame.com has been responsible for marketing and product development in various roles. He has advised startups such as TVF, Roposo, Biba, and VelvetCase in marketing and scaling up operations.

The other two co-founders also come with stellar experience. Rishabh, 35, headed mobile technology for Nearbuy (Groupon India) and was Co-founder and CTO at 9monks and Blot Canvas.

Abhinav, 36, came with operations and strategy consulting experience at Boston Consulting Group and Accenture Strategy.

 

Here’s how it works

 

Real-money poker has a simple rake-based revenue model – every time customers wager against each other (never against the house) 9Stacks takes a small percentage from the winner’s pot. The major costs of the business are technology, marketing, and customer retention.

“The business will always make money. It is a tried-and-tested model, and this is one of the things that investors like about the sector,” Sudhir says. He adds that theirs is the “best and safest place for customers to play online poker”.

The company - with an investment of less than Rs 60 lakh - was launched in August 2017, and has been earning revenues from the first day of operations. They are on track to achieve operational breakeven within the next two quarters and complete breakeven (positive cash flows) within 18 months. Sources say that they have closed a funding round of Rs 10 crore in angel funding.

 

The challenges

 

The challenges are broadening the market to attract many more “casual” players who will play poker for fun, and at the same time see poker as a legitimate pursuit where they can leverage their skills to make money. This is their product challenge – to figure out what kind of games, tournament structures appeal to these players.

There is also the user experience challenge; basically how to make 9Stacks’ games easiest to play on mobiles. They are in place with the website, and say the poker lobby is “responsive and intuitive”.

The process challenge means the team must ensure that they have the quickest cash-outs when people withdraw money. Last but not the least is the marketing challenge – reaching “good” users when there are “restrictions to the channels we can use to reach them”.

 

What’s on the cards?

 

9Stacks’ competition comes from other poker sites, including companies such as Adda 52. However, they compete with other real money game-of-skill companies, including online rummy companies like RummyCircle and Ace2Three, as well as fantasy league companies like Dream11. The Indian industry is yet to scale up and has close to 100,000 people playing online. Big revenues are still a problem in the industry because of the low user base.

V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures, says: “Gaming is big business. But scaling up in India is big challenge.”

But the co-founders’ time in various businesses have taught them the value of keeping things simple and that’s what they are trying to do at 9stacks. Their focus is on customers above short-term profitability – this is a sector where the lifetime value of a customer is very high.

The team says they don’t want to go in for fancy promotions or complicated offers. They’ve chosen to go in for simple signup processes and easy and quick cash-outs to make gaming a seamless experience.

“This also reflects in our user interface, which is simple and intuitive, and our clean look and feel,” Sudhir says.

Over the next few years, 9Stacks hopes to be a big player in poker. They have to spend money on increasing the user base and will have to do so with increased social media marketing spends. And they seem to be playing their cards right!

This extract has been taken from the original article written for www.yourstory.com by Vishal Krishna on the 14th of February, 2018. To read the original article, click here

GutShot Magazine: In Conversation With 9Stacks CEO Sudhir Kamath

The game of poker is growing at a rapid pace in India at the moment. In keeping with the increasing demands of players, more sites are launching and many new tournaments and poker leagues are being introduced. In this piece we take a look at one of the latest entrants in the Indian online poker space – 9Stacks. 

9Stacks is an online gaming website that specializes in poker and was launched in 2017. The company was founded by Sudhir Kamath, Pratik Kumar, Abhinav Nigam & Rishab Mathur. All founders come from highly professional backgrounds and they have each built deep expertise in their respective fields over the last 12-15 years. Kamath, being an angel investor, got into talks of creating a poker company with Pratik Kumar and that's how the idea of 9Stacks floated up. Of course, they decided to include poker references in their brand name, with stacks referring to stacks of poker chips and 9 referring to the number of players on a poker table.

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The four of them have plans of taking 9Stacks up from its newbie status to one of the best gaming websites in the country and we at Gutshot wanted to know how they plan on doing so. We connected with MD/CEO of 9Stacks, Sudhir Kamath, and asked him a few questions regarding 9Stacks. Before we take a look at the interview, let's look at the backgrounds and previous places of work of the four co-founders:

Sudhir Kamath, age 39, formerly CEO of Suntera Energy (oil exploration). Worked with consulting firm McKinsey & Co before that. Also an angel investor in companies like INI Farms, Vienova Technologies, Shiksha Finance and Swas Healthcare. Computer Science, Delhi Institute of Technology. MBA, IIM Ahmedabad.

Pratik Kumar, age 35, formerly CMO of Nykaa.com and founding team member of Zivame.com. Responsible for marketing/product at 9Stacks. Advised startups such as TVF, Roposo, Biba, and VelvetCase on startup marketing and scale-up. Computer Science, IIT Kharagpur.

Rishab Mathur, age 35, headed mobile technology for Nearbuy (Groupon India). Co-founder and CTO at 9monks and Blot Canvas. Electrical Engineering, IIT Kharagpur.

Abhinav Nigam, age 36, operations and strategy consulting experience with Boston Consulting Group and Accenture Strategy. Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kharagpur.

You can get more information on the founders of 9Stacks here.

 

Now, let’s take a look at what Sudhir Kamath had to say:

Q1. Can you tell us about the software and security systems 9Stacks has in place?

We at 9Stacks are taking a number of steps to keep the ‘cyber bullies’ away. We have deep layered micro-services architecture to ensure that the user is restricted to communication at the outermost layer, whereas the rest of the machinery is enclosed within a private subnet. On top of this, all user level communications are enclosed within a secured SSL layer. The entry to the system for all users is based on encrypted access tokens using the latest protocols. Also, we have an IDS (Intrusion Detection System) in place to ensure that any malicious activity is blocked at the very first instant. Apart from this, we believe in continuous monitoring of our databases & services so that corrective action can be taken whenever required.

Apart from security, our #1 priority has been user experience and we're trying really hard to improve the experience for all kinds of players. For our multi-tablers we have Mac and Windows desktop clients; for bringing in new users or encouraging casual gamers to try poker, we've got a very ’mobile-first’ set of Android/iOS/HTML5 versions. We've tried to reimagine the online poker lobby as well as the table, and hope to do more in the coming months.

Q2. What is the minimum and maximum deposit limits? What is the turnaround time on cash outs?

Our minimum deposit is INR 100. First cash out to a new bank account takes 24 working hours as our bank takes time for beneficiary validation. Subsequent cash outs are currently processed within 4 business hours. We are continuously improving the process with our bankers and soon we will bring this lead time further down to 2 hours.

Q3. Do you have a customer support team in place? What are the contact details and timings? What are the different customer support services provided by 9Stacks?

Our customer support team is reachable at care@9stacks.com. During business hours, we usually respond to queries within two hours. We will also be launching live chat/phone options in the coming months.

Q4. Recently a few states have issued rulings against poker like Telangana and Gujarat. How are you combating these issues?

We do have our views (strong ones) on the level of skill needed to play poker and how it’s impossible for anyone to make money unless they really #StackUp their skills! However, for now, as a new entrant, we don't have the bandwidth or the scale to combat these issues; all we can do presently is scrupulously adhere to the letter of the law, and that's exactly what we do. We do not allow users from Assam, Orissa, Nagaland, Sikkim, Telangana and now Gujarat, and constantly monitor usage to ensure there are no violations happening on our system.

Q5: Who is your target audience?

Anyone who loves poker, or will grow to love poker in the future!

We do not believe in the artificial distinction between pros, regulars and fish - on the poker table, all of them can play each other and enjoy the experience, which is what we try to work towards. In the long run, people who spend more time improving their skills will inevitably make more money, but that's not the only pay-off. New players may make less money but should enjoy the overall experience and have a fair chance of winning hands and developing themselves. What we do work hard to ensure is that new players are also treated with respect on our tables. We are very strict on abusive language/chat and do not hesitate to ban chat privileges if users misuse our chat. We think this ensures new players find us a welcoming place to play.

Q6. Could you explain 9Stacks' bonus offers, VIP programs and rewards system? Are there any special ongoing offers for new joinees?

We want to build our business around retention rather than acquisition. Hence, our loyalty program is at the core of our offering. We have different ‘Stacks’ (bronze, silver, gold, etc. going upto kryptonite) and each of these stacks have levels. You move up the levels and stacks by accumulating stack up points (loyalty points).  We also have benefits associated with different stacks and levels e.g. bonus chips, points redemption, free tournament tickets and merchandise.

Our bonuses also follow a typical user journey. When you join 9stacks and complete your KYC, we give you 100 chips, followed by deposit codes for each of your first four deposits. Details of these can be found here.

We also design our promos to be very transparent - once you've won anything on our system (whether cash or tournament), we do not lock your winnings. You are always free to take your money out at any time - it is your money, not ours!

Q7. What’s different about 9Stacks that'll make it stand out among the rest? With many poker sites just coming and going, how does 9Stacks plan on being a market leader?

Like I said, user experience, transparent promotions, efforts to bring in new players, etc. are the things we’re trying to do differently. A couple of other things I'd like to highlight:

One, we have a ‘dual chip system’ that we introduced after a lot of research and drawing from our prior experience in other industries. Let me explain - let's say a user plays on one of our competitors, wins Rs. 5,000 in one session, and loses Rs. 5,000 in the next. The user assumes he has won zero overall and doesn't need to pay taxes. Unfortunately, the taxman may take a different view, and ask for tax on the 5,000 winnings without allowing set off of the 5,000 loss. Our ‘Dual chip system’ helps avoid this problem for our users (Remember, just because the tax authorities haven't gone after poker players’ winnings yet doesn't mean they won't - and when they do, we hope that players who played on our system will be able to sleep easy!).

Two, we are well aware of many sites that opened and shut down, often losing players money in the process. We have been very clear that user money and ‘our’ money are separate and need to be kept in separate accounts. We raised a little over $1.5 million (~INR 10 crores) from investors and use that for all our overheads as well as marketing expenses - user money stays segregated, and that is one reason why we are comfortable working towards fast cash-outs. In the long run, we believe our users will appreciate the comfort of knowing their money is safe with us and they can take it out any time they want.

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The entire 9Stacks website is structured as ‘You Play Safe With Us’ - these five words are the sections you navigate through!

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This excerpt has been taken from the original interview published on GutshotMagazine on 9th January, 2018. To read the original article, click here.

Economic Times : 9stacks raises Rs 10 crore funding towards product, workforce expansion

NEW DELHI: Virtual skill-based gaming startup 9stacks on Tuesday announced the close of more than Rs 10 crore in angel funding (Pre-Series A), to be used to scale tech, product and design team, ramp up online poker customer base in India, and evaluate new geographies and other real money skill-based gaming categories. 

9stacks currently offers online real-money poker to customers in 24 Indian states, who can access its modern and secure poker platform on 9stacks, and on iOS, Android, .. 
 

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