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The Underdog Story!
Today we announce $65MM Series C financing led by Griffin Gaming Partners. It’s a remarkable feat as our business turns well capitalized to fuel our growth ambitions. With so much capital getting deployed over the last couple of months in the ecosystem, it must be quite bewildering for many to get their head around what it really takes for teams to make the cut.
Is it a market leadership position? Was it the most attractive cap-table from D0? Validated founders with storytelling skills? or Is it sheer luck?
Rejections and failures have always been our path to reaching milestones. With each passing rejection, we were told a few more reasons for failing. Looking back at some of those reasons to consolidate our insights so far and realizing our strength, analyzing our decision-making framework and what works for us as a team at WinZO. Also, it places us at a great vantage point to anecdotally share our learnings and stories of being an Underdog.
Non-Coding Founders – “None of the two of you have ever coded – can you really build a tech platform?”
We were fortunate enough to build a strong core team of first engineers; Anshul, Sahil, and Rahul – these were coders who could talk business, and very patiently coached the founders; this also set the foundation of a culture where tech and business have a free-flowing knowledge exchange – maximizing the efficacy of our shipping cadence
“Is Casual Gaming even monetizable? If you don’t have a gaming expert onboard – how would you build a gaming platform?”
We never intended to make games. WinZO has always been a technology platform where games only act as a commodity. More or less, all platforms be it ZO Rooms or WinZO or even Amazon have 3 core systems – seller-side, buyer-side, and core platform
Through our first principle thinking and innovative monetization, today we feel ultra-proud to secure a vote of confidence from the world’s leading gaming investors – Griffin Gaming, Makers Fund, and Courtside Venture
“Tell me what happened b/w ZO vs. OYO?”; Successful is not always RIGHT!
During the seed round, 99% of our interactions used to start with people trying to get a scoop on what really happened b/w Zostel and OYO? Often, when 2 parties are in dispute, the bigger guy’s narrative is louder and travels faster than the speed of truth. There have been so many instances, where we saw strong preconceived notions against us entering the room ahead of us. But then there were some incredible folks like Revant Bhate and Vani Kola who showed confidence from the first glance. As a founder, all you need is 1 YES to kickstart your journey.
Zostel won the arbitration against OYO early this year, and what exactly happened there is available for anyone to access in public records. We talk a lot about the founder’s perseverance but kudos to Rehan’s (Managing Partner, Orios Venture Partner) grit who invested a sizable chunk into ZO and showed incredible patience with the company. Investors’ Perseverance is as important as Founder’s to win the long game.
Well-Funded Competitors – Other gaming contemporaries are 50x more funded – how do you plan to succeed?
Most of the founders face this question. Basis our experience we feel, well-funded players often try to make the capital a moat; a more-funded player would invite you to a turf where they have an edge; at ZO Rooms we ended up spending buck for buck against OYO, and eventually fell short in terms of capital; at WinZO we were very careful to continue our focus on the customer we are solving for and not get distracted by other players. It’s usually fairly hard to resist the insecurity of not hiring, marketing, or acquiring the way one’s more funded contemporary does, however, head down execution and sticking to the plan for long enough usually ends up creating invaluable long term moats with strong business fundamentals
“Strength of the Cap Table” – Founder-Investor Fit
In May’20, the company was grappling with a fallen term sheet on account of temporary disruption caused by COVID-19 in investment activities. There was a time where despite having dried up cash reserves, we took a tough call and decided to not take capital from an international VC fund that believed in conflicting values. By that time, we had fully understood, the hardest thing to undo is one’s capital table; founder-investor DNA match is an extremely crucial and yet most underrated aspect that founder’s need to be cognizant of. When in doubt, investor ref checks can be super insightful.
Today, we have an extremely functional board and gain a lot of strength from Makers, Courtside, and Kalaari. As a board, we have collaboratively orchestrated Hike’s complete exit, arranging capital for buyback, running the Series C process, or developing relations with global game studios. Our backers, today, let us play by our strength and continue to coach us on improvement areas in a psychologically safe environment.
Can Females be Founders of Tech startups, especially when they are not engineering grads?
There have been instances in the initial days, where people would prefer to just interact with Paavan even for topics that Saumya would be handling. Some meetings started without her introduction – subconsciously not counting her as part of the discussion. Can a female founder build a Tech Company?
Saumya gives massive credit to Paavan who ensures that Saumya gets every opportunity to express and learn. They both acknowledge the team and the board of WinZO plays a critical role too in empowering her to continue to play by her strength and build a culture that nurtures diversity.
n the words of those who have closely watched them in action – Saumya and Paavan strike the perfect balance by demonstrating complete alignment in core values along with strong complementary skill sets. While Paavan is an Engineer and MBA grad, Saumya is a Master’s in Psychology. He brings the experience of being a 2nd-time entrepreneur; she brings fresh takes and enthusiasm of a first-time entrepreneur. He is always ready with hard-hitting numbers with data being his forte, she continues to analyze human motivation, behavior, and the role of being culturally relevant for the audience.
What are WinZO’s Superpowers? 💪💪
The Dream Team – Amidst all the ups and downs, naysayers and their 99 reasons as to why things won’t work out, we had but 1 reason to disprove them all – the incredible grit and perseverance of our team of Spartans! In addition to being one of the leanest teams for a Series C stage venture, what sets us apart and creates this magical bonhomie is our 100% dedication to the mission. While most of the people know theoretically what’s the right thing to do, it takes a lot from each member to have that mission first attitude over one’s own preferences, shortcomings and personal comforts.
Our Backers – For the first 2 years of WinZO’s journey we had literally treated folks from Kalaari i.e. first Revant and then Rahul as our 3rd co-founders. Even to this date we seek their advice as guardian angels and feel supercharged by their level of conviction in us. Around 10 months ago, we had been immensely fortunate to onboard Makers Fund and Courtside Ventures.
The entire team at Makers operates at a “Founder First” principle. Right from the get-go, both Saumya and Paavan were humbled with the kind of empathy, trust, and freedom we received from them and that feeling has only grown exponentially. Despite their busy schedules, Jay, Michael, and Chao are always just a text away and have gone miles to support the company with their guidance, support, time, connections, and capital.
Another pillar of strength for us is Kai Bond from Courtside Venture. Kai has been a one-man army, who’s literally prioritized the company’s interest over his age-old relations. Speaking to him for an hour has lifted us off for weeks, and he’s been instrumental in shaping our vision as we continue to push our boundaries and works towards building WinZO into a hundred-billion-dollar enterprise.
We take pride in our accomplishments so far and feel extremely enthusiastic about what the future beholds. With this raise, we wholeheartedly welcome Nick, Phil, Peter, and the entire Griffin team, as we expand our footprint and become a more lovable product for Bharat.
Special thanks to our business partners, WinZO Superstars, Game Developers, Content Creators, and 50 million users who supported us in this journey so far.
Still, on Day 0, lot of ground to cover to disrupt and deliver!
Spreading the Kick of Winning, one app launch at a time,