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Dream11's Harsh Jain-speak on the fantasy games leap

Jain shared that earlier IPL associations helped the brand to bid for this year's title sponsorshi

NEW DELHI: Fantasy sports platform Dream11 hit the headlines in early August when its bid of Rs 220 crore for the title sponsorship of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 came out tops, beating back the offers from larger firms. And it polevaulted its founders Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth into the limelight once again.

Set up by the duo in 2008, the Mumbai-based company has more than 80 million users and is the first gaming startup from India to attain unicorn status, an industry term for startups valued above Rs 6,500 crore ($1 billion).

With an array of top-notch investment firms across the globe, including Kalaari Capital, Multiples Equity, Tencent Holdings and Steadview Capital Management, Dream11 is one of the most stable and thriving start-up ecosystems. Dream11 has expanded its offerings with Fancode, DreamX, Dream Sports Investments, Dream Sports Foundation, DreamSetGo, and DreamPay.  

According to various media reports, the company spent Rs 785.08 crore on advertising and promotions during FY19, as against Rs 230.30 crore in FY18.

Speaking at the Internet and Mobile Association of India’s (IAMAI’s) Marketing Conclave on 28 August, Jain explained why he chose to put Dream11’s hat in the IPL title sponsorship ring. "IPL will break all records this year as one billion people stuck at home due to pandemic will definitely watch the sporting event. Our successful associations with IPL in the past gave us courage too,” he said.

With the Dream11 brand being hammered home all through the tournament, it’s quite likely that an additional few million might chose to download the app and get engaged with the fascinating opportunity to play the skill based matches. Of course, the app would further get embedded into young and old India’s minds.

During his address, Jain highlighted the need to focus on product development more than on marketing. “I see a lot of products today which use marketing right from the start. I believe it is the wrong thing to do,” he pointed out. “First, you need to develop a product fit for the market and once it is achieved, you should then go for scaling it.”

Jain explained that in 2008 when IPL was launched in India, it did so without any fantasy games. But today most sports in India cannot be imagined without a fantasy game element. Then there were the naysayers who dissuaded Jain, whose father Anand is a close associate of ace entrepreneur Mukesh Ambani, from foraying into the space when he returned to India after his education in the US.

"All marketing pundits told us that fantasy games won’t bloom in India and it will be a complete failure, but we succeeded. It was during this time when Sheth (currently serving as a co-founder & COO) joined me in this journey," Harsh elaborated.  

The initial three years were tough. The company suffered a cash crunch and other obstacles, but what kept them going was their digital agency, Red Digital, which managed social media accounts for  Discovery Networks, Reliance Foundation, and Mumbai Indians to name a few.  By 2012, the company had decided to go ahead with the freemium single match business.

 “Indian consumers don’t like to commit long term to certain products, they like instant gratification and high engagement.Since the time we have focused on organic reach, growth hacking, and targeted digital marketing . We focused on things like virality and getting users to invite their friends,” Jain shared.

In 2014, the company reported a million registered users, which grew to 45 million in 2018. Last year, the company reported having more than a 80 million user base.

Jain admitted, "From 2017 we started partnering with leagues and signed Harsha Bhogle as our first brand ambassador. In 2018, we roped in MS Dhoni and started TV advertising for the very first time, and launched the Dimaag Se Dhoni marketing campaign during the IPL 2018 ."  

Like any other brand, Dream11 faced hurdles in its growth journey, and the biggest challenge was not being available on Google Play store, a hurdle they surmounted.

“It has been a difficult journey to convince people to download our apps as an APK and answer questions about why we are not on play store. But if people find value, they will find it," Jain said.  

According to the 2019 report published by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) and KPMG, the number of fantasy sports operators saw 7x growth during 2016-2018, while the number of users grew by over 25x between June 2016 and February 2019.

The report also pointed out that the overall revenue of fantasy sports in India saw a three-fold growth from Rs 920 crore in FY19 to Rs 2,470 crore in FY20. As per IFSG-KPMG report, Dream11 commands 90 per cent market share.

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