Mobile gaming is breaking records, and the global esports audience will be just shy of 500 million players in 2020. It’s a dynamic that gets a boost as more users in self-isolation look for ways to pass the time and earn money. It also benefits esports mavericks like Mobile Premier League (MPL), India’s fastest growing esports platform. The company has hit some impressive milestones since it launched in September 2018, counting over 40 million registered users across nearly 40 games on the platform. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Sai Srinivas Kiran G, Co-Founder & CEO at Mobile Premier League, to talk about the moves the company (and avoided) as part of its strategy to stop churn before it starts. Sai, who recently made the Entrepreneur 35under35, a list of the “35 most remarkable entrepreneurs of India who’ve aspired to greatness and are well on the way to achieving their goals,” also shares his secrets for success and his plans to launch live streaming.
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So, in this special bi-weekly mini-series, we deep dive into the dos, the don’ts or retention marketing, lifting the lid on how you can move the needle. And to guide us on this journey is my guest today, Sai Srinivas Kiran G, otherwise known as Sai, Co-Founder, CEO of Mobile Premier League, MPL, the largest mobile esports platform in India and one of the largest on the planet. So pleased to have you here today, Sai, how are you doing today, you’re coming to us from India, of course.
SSKG Thank you so much, Peggy, for having me on your show. It’s really great to be here. Yes, I’m dialling in from Bangalore, I’m doing pretty well and, yes, really excited to chat with you about retention, about gaming and about esports in general.
PAS Absolutely, and I have to say full disclosure again, I’m excited because we also have an article – rather, I’ve written about you in Forbes, I’m excited about what you’re building at MPL. But let’s just take step back for a moment. I called you the largest, one of the largest esports platforms on the planet but you also have a little bit of other street cred I’d like to deep dive into – you’ve recently made the Entrepreneur India’s under 35 2020 list with some leading names including yourself. How’s it feel to have achieved that, Sai?
SSKG Oh, thank you. Yes, you know it does feel good and I'm humble to be a part of this list, it always feel good to be part of lists like this when you have such amazing company alongside you but I think for us the biggest win, and for me personally also, is more to do with MPL. MPL started, or Mobile Premier League, we call it MPL for short, we started like about 18 months back and in just 18 months, we practically went from just 5 or 6 people building the company to probably being, or should I say, being the biggest gaming platform in India with 40 different games.
We also have the biggest sporting celebrity in the subcontinent who’s a brand ambassador. I think that is something I’m really, really proud about because if you’d asked me two years back, you know, where would I be in two years, I think I’d say a lot of things but this definitely wouldn’t be one of the things I would have said. So, I’m very, very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do this in the last 18 months.
PAS Absolutely, and in 18 months, that is amazing. How many – I’m just curious to know some of the milestones around your company, so do our listeners, we have a global audience but I think they need to sort of understand, you know, the breadth, for example, of your games. You’ve 40 games including Indian Premier League which is the big deal for Indians – our audience doesn’t know it, it’s like the Superbowl there. So, these are massively popular games.
SSKG Yes, I think actually it’s kind of bigger than the Superbowl…
PAS Of course it is, Sai, we can’t let the Americans think it is but, yes, it is, absolutely.
SSKG No, no, the reason why I say that it’s probably bigger than the Superbowl is because there are over a billion people in India with glued to the ifield for the entire duration of the two months that it runs for and many more across the world. And to be honest, I think in the next four or five years, it will probably end up being one of the most successful sports league globally and this year, you know, it’s a little unfortunate that it’s probably pushed out because of the tough situation around the world right now but I really, really hope that this passes and we all get back to work soon.
PAS I mean, that’s true for sports but also I’m looking at a lot of the data around how we interact with apps now and it’s actually, you know, it’s much, much higher than anyone had anticipated. We had AppAnnie on a show recently just going through the data with us. I mean, what are you seeing, how are users engaging with your app, what uplift are you seeing or maybe even addiction for that matter.
SSKG Yes, I mean, the uptake is definitely there, we’ve seen quite a big uptake in the last two to three weeks, I think that’s when the effect truly started showing itself in this part of the world with a large part of the country being under lockdown and now the entire country being under lockdown. We’ve seen almost 300-400% growth in some of the gaming categories, for examples, there’s this game called WCC Cricket, which is I think easily the best cricket game that’s available for users to play on mobile, you can actually bat and bowl and stuff.
PAS Absolutely, and what about the way people engage? I mean, is there a certain audience, a certain age group? I mean, I remember back in the day writing all the time that it’s amazing, lots of games are actually pastimes for female, not necessarily male users. What’s it look like with you?
SSKG Actually, our audience is more skewed to the male side, when I say skewed, it’s probably 70% male and 30% female. It’s also more to do with the internet demographic split in India itself, like the internet split itself is more like a 60-65/35 male in India. And we see users from all across the country, we’ve got users from 4,000 different cities and small towns in India using the app so it’s not specifically driven to a particular metro or particular type of cities – we see all kinds of users. We’ve seen users from even small - really, really small towns come on and build these really, really big tournaments and these are tournaments with hundreds of thousands of people playing and win massive prize money that changes their lives in a very positive way.
So, our user base is really split and pretty homogenous and comes from pretty much all parts of the country.
PAS And we’re going to get to your user base, how you keep them engaged and some of the trends that you’re seeing there, some of the accomplishments you’ve had. It would just be interesting to understand again the breadth of the games you have. I mean, we’re talking about, yes, we have gaming but you’ve got quizzing, competitive exams, art, audio content, such a wide range. Is this something that also has a global following because these sound great and, you know, users around the world are most likely engaging with them.
SSKG Yes. One of the goal philosophies with which we started MPL was that right from day one, we wanted to be a platform, right, and the best example I keep taking is that of an amusement park – you don’t go to an amusement park with a plan to ride a particular ride, right? You’re just going to go to an amusement park, buy a bunch of tickets at the entry and then pick and choose whichever ride you want to take. And the whole idea with MPL was also something similar. We wanted to ensure that we had all possible games that the users enjoy playing, so we have games across five different categories – we have got the good old card games that people enjoy playing, we’ve got casual games, we’ve got mid-goal games, we’ve got fantasy, we’ve got quizzing and now, we’ve also added content.
And the whole idea of adding content, like audio shows for example, is that we’ve started realizing that people in the app were gaining a lot of followers because they were really good at some of these games and these guys were really interested in figuring out a way to talk to their followers and engage with their followers. So, adding audio shows was more an experiment, we wanted to see if a user is really good at a game like chess, then could that user be able to engage with his followers in the form of an audio show where these followers could ask him questions or chat with that user or, you know, just share their opinions and in turn, tip the user for sharing his knowledge his experience.
And that experiment seems to have worked and that’s something that just, you know, started working well for us. So now that’s become a full blown feature and in the course of the next, you know, two or three weeks, you’ll see us also do live streaming where these pro-users who are really good at these games can actually engage with their followers and tell them how they can up their skills in some of these games.
PAS That’s absolutely fascinating because that’s the way of the platform play and we all know that that’s one that’s most sustainable, that’s the one with competitive advantage so not just to be a game but to be a community, to be a platform, and you’re talking about sharing. I appreciate you sharing your insights and knowledge here, particularly such a high growth company as MPL but we do have to go to a break right now, so listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m Peggy Anne Salz. We have Sai, Co-Founder & CEO of MPL. And Sai, right before the break, we were talking about what you’re building there because, you know, 18 months ago, there was no MPL. Now, you know, what is it, 30 million users, I believe, and growing at a rapid rate? Is that correct?
SSKG Yes, yes, yes. 30 millions users, I think now we’re more like close to 40 but yes, I mean, even we were surprised as to how much the users liked what we built and it was quite crazy last year and continues to be crazy.
PAS And part of that is also, I think, the appeal of what you’re doing, you know, it’s not just an app or family of apps, it’s platforms and I was talking about that before the break because I know very well how we were talking about the power of the platform. It started with Amazon, the power of the platform, keep us coming back, keep us engaged. We’ll talk about retention in a moment but just the offer itself, you know, streaming chat. Tell me a little bit more about the motivation, the vision that you have – MPL is a platform play, where did the idea come from?
SSKG Right, I think the – so I started my career in Zynga, right, and game and game design is something that I was always very, very interested in and it just happened to be that it was something that I was also reasonably okay at. So, one of the things that I’ve always learned about games is that, you know, games like any form of content will always come with an expiry date, right, you know you will play a game but you will play a game for, like, two months or three months and then usually you move onto the next game.
But the beauty of a platform where there are a whole bunch of games is that you always keep coming back to the platform to find more games, to find new users so that you can engage in these newer games and engage with these new set of users.
So, the number one reason why we chose to be a platform and not make games ourselves and get developers to make these games is because we always felt that a game might go out of fashion but a platform where there are a whole bunch of games can never go out of fashion. So that was the fundamental reason why we decided to make it a platform and the second thing as to why we chose to make it in the form of a competitive esports app where people could compete in these tournaments to earn money is because we believe that the future in the next three or four years, the digital skills you have, that is the skills you can use on the internet and on any digital landscape, are probably going to be way more valuable than physical skills, right.
I can’t think of a better digital skill than gaming because it’s already happening all around you, you take some of the biggest esports tournaments, they probably pay out bigger prize monies than even the FIFA World Cup and the Cricket World Cup and this is just going to probably become the norm in the next, you know, what you call, three to four years and we felt that MPL has this lovely opportunity to be the platform where users from all across the world could compete in the games of their choice and win in big tournaments and can show their skills off to their peers and to the community.
PAS I couldn’t agree more, that’s exactly what I’m reading and seeing, there’s a great new report from Newzoo about the power of esports particularly in our unprecedented times, not only will we be looking for pastimes but we will be literally polishing up our skills. I’m wondering, it’s about the prize for the user but the prize for you, as a company, is to acquire and keep the users and I saw a recent video where you were talking about this, the importance of retention marketing, how you approach retention. Maybe you can give me a high level view of how you see this because it’s not something that you can do quite so overtly, it’s really about the appeal of your gameplay, appear of your platform, appeal of your messaging.
SSKG Absolutely and in a country like, especially in a country like India because, you know, users have so many options, there’s so many folks trying to capture the users’ attention so it’s all the more important in India and, you know, for us, retention is just very, very central to the whole product because if you have like 30 or 40 different games and the users are playing all these games, it’s very important to understand the user’s journey from the moment the users downloaded the app to the moment the user starts playing his first game, or her first game for that matter.
And it’s very important to understand when the user has started to get bored of that game or the user is starting to probably not enjoy the game as much as he did in the first one or two weeks, and it’s very important to connect those users at a very personalized level and introduce newer forms of content and newer forms of engagement with the app, right, because if you do not do that and you do not that at a personalized level to that user, then you’re always at the risk of, you know, churning that user.
And with any internet product, the worst thing that can happen to you is you acquiring the user, getting that user to use your app for like a month or a month and a half, and then churning and then that user churns because you’re much better off letting the user churn much sooner, like in probably the first or second day itself, but the fact that the user spent a month in your product, he understands your product, he used your product, and now the user is leaving it’s like literally – it’s literally like a big business going away if you were a B2B company, right?
ERSo, because of that very reason, a lot of our retention marketing is actually focused on building out proper segments of users, understanding which kind of users behave or which kind of users like particular kinds of games and then trying to ensure that those users continue to find that kind of content more and more, and we communicate that kind of content to the users via notifications, via in-app promotions, via servicing in the app and getting those users to engage more and more with the stuff they like.
This becomes all the more important especially when you’re spending massive amounts of money, money to the tune of like millions and millions of dollars in television advertising and brand building because these users are going to see you and these users are going to hear about you from all these various places and they’re going to come to you in huge numbers, like the numbers that we just spoke about, like 30-odd million users in a year, that’s a lot of users to acquire in a year.
And if you don’t have this infrastructure in place, you don’t have the infrastructure in place to design customized journeys for every single user amongst those 30 million to ensure that these users continue to use the app, then you’re in for a really, really rough time and you’d end up making a lot of mistakes which would cost you a lot in the long run.
PAS And I like the way you compared it to, you know, it is an investment, you have invested in users and if it was the onboarding process, it’s like okay, they came, they went but they come, they stay, they stay for a while, then they churn – it’s something you want to stop before it starts. I’m reading that you saw retention rates go up 30-40% in one campaign alone. I mean, how are you approaching this, is this something that you say we’re going to get in early, segmentation from onboarding onwards to really understand each individual user and adapt to that user’s practices and journey?
SSKG Right, so I think the key to getting this right is not actually during the campaign, it’s actually before the campaign, right, because during the campaign, it’s like the floodgates open and you want to get like massive numbers of users into your product. So you cannot actually define journeys, build journeys and create like a very, very ordered way of working for your team and very structured journey for the user during the campaign. So a lot of this is a function of how you are running your product marketing before you start the campaign, how are you ensuring that for all the users you’re acquiring from various channels, be it from digital ads, be it from organic, be it from referrals, how are you ensuring that for the users who come from these channels, you’ve done up the journeys in a way where the conversion rates are highest, where the retentions are best and you’ve also ensured that these journeys are customized to the game ad that they saw.
For example, Peggy, if you’ve seen an ad of a game called Pool and you come into MPL, then I need to ensure that the first game you play is Pool, it shouldn’t be some other game, right, simple things like that. So, you need to do all of that for all these various channels that you acquire users from and you need to ensure that you’ve optimized the conversion person gauges and you optimized the entire funnel to as best a degree as possible and then you turn on the big acquisition campaign and then you turn on your big brand campaigns, because if you do not get that optimization right and you turn on the big brand campaign, then you know it’s going to be a landslide, you’ll realize that a lot of users will just come into the app and then they’re just going to leave the app and that’s something I don’t think any business would want to see.
PAS That’s very smart what you’re saying, you do this up-front because this is very different from what app marketing, growth marketing was before. It was like look and see who you get in, into the funnel, fill the funnel, then figure it out and you’re doing it long before.
PAS Is that something that you learned through sort of trial and error or is this a new approach that you are in a way even perhaps pioneering to retention marketing because it is very different from what many of your peers have done in game marketing, to be quite frank.
SSKG Yes, yes. So, I think – I wouldn’t say it’s something that we’re pioneering, I’m sure a lot of other folks will have done it in the past, I think we’ve made our own set of mistakes in the past where we’ve set some money on fire without getting these basics right. So, I think we’ve learned from these mistakes and we’ve decided as a company that we will now always optimize our funnels and then turn on the heat in marketing. I think one is that and the second thing is if you look at all these other gaming companies, right, these gaming companies are more focused on advertising a single game, a specific game, they’re not advertising a platform, they’re not talking about a platform, they’re talking about a specific game.
When you’re talking about a specific game, it becomes much more easier because it’s just one linear funnel that you’re optimizing for, you’re advertising an apple to the user, the user comes and buys the apple but in my case, I’m actually advertising the entire shopping mall, right, so it’s all the more important for me to figure out which user to advertise what to and then once that user lands into the app, I need to ensure that, or once the user comes into the shopping mall, I need to ensure that the first shop he sees is the shop that he’s most likely going to purchase from, right? So, it’s a slightly different problem for me and that’s the reason why we’ve created this practice to suit the business that we’re running.
PAS Well, it’s been great that you’re so candid in sharing some of these, it’s a little bit of a cliffhanger because we do have to go to a break and we sort of want to say the next question is, well, how do you do it or what are some how tos around that but we do have to go to a break, Sai, so hold that thought, keep that thought. Listeners, we’ll be right back after the break.
And we are back to the final segment of Mobile Presence. I’m Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove. We have Sai, Co-Founder & CEO of Mobile Premier League, MPL, great to have you here Sai, so good that you’re also sharing so openly some of your best practices and you were talking about how you approach retention and how you approach marketing overall and talking about the preparation that goes into it. I’d love to hear, our listeners would love to hear, I would imagine, some dos and don’ts here. So, you said just start it even in the product marketing phase, that’s I think is a big do. But why don’t you follow on with a couple of others, one do, one don’t.
SSKG Alright. I think the first do is for you to know, say, let’s assume you’ve got $100 that you’re going to spend and you would know exactly where you’re going to spend those $100 so probably you’re going to spend $20 or $30 in digital marketing, you’re going to spend $30 or $40 of it, say, in television and you’re going to spend the other ones in, say, a whole bunch of other places. I think the first and most important thing that you should do almost certainly is that you should have spent some of these monies on these channels in the past and you should ensure that for the users who are coming from those channels, you need to ensure that the journeys that you set using the tools that you do, you’ve set up those journeys in a way that you optimized for those channels already.
So, for example, from the digital ads, let’s assume I get a 15% conversion, then you need to be prepared for the fact that when you amp up the spends, this conversion is going to probably drop by 3 or 4 basis points, to say like 11 or 12 or 10 in some cases, and you’ve got to make the same plan for every other channel. And you need to ensure that with that kind of conversion, the money that you’re going to spend and the journeys that you’ve set, you will be able to go and hit your target.
So that’s the first do that you should do. You should ensure that all these channels are things that you’ve run in the past and you’ve optimized your journeys and you’ve optimized personalized journeys and there are fantastic tools that will help you do that and you need to know that these conversions will drop when you up the scale. So, that’s the first do that you should do.
You need to ensure that you’ve got all these journeys in place, you need to ensure that you’ve done the modelling and you need to ensure that the monies that you’re going to spend is going to give you the numbers that you’re looking for even after a 3 or 4 basis points decrease when you increase the number of users that are going to come in.
The don’t I would say is I think the first don’t I’d say is that do not be optimistic or do not be too hopeful that magic is going to happen in marketing, right? You know, we always get to see some of those really beautiful magical campaigns or magical ads that show up every once in a while, a lot of them keep showing in the Superbowl apps, but you need to know as a business leader, it’s important for you to know that those ads are one in a thousand or one in a hundred, your ad is going to be one of them, your ad is not going to change everything. Your ad is probably going to be one of those average good ads that’s going to get you a decent number of users so you always plan assuming that your ad is going to be average, your ad is going to just get you the basic stuff and anything that happens over and above that is a bonus, but do not assume that your ad is going to go and set the world on fire.
PAS And speaking of ads, not as a segue intentionally, but I was also fascinated to read that you are also pursuing a brand awareness campaign for MPL. I’m excited to see some of those segments, even perhaps embed them here with the show notes in our show but can you give us a little taste of that, what can we expect?
SSKG Oh, in terms of the brand campaigns of MPL?
SSKG Yes, in fact, one of the craziest things that we did early on when we started MPL, in fact three weeks after we launched MPL, we went and signed with Virat Kholi as a brand ambassador – just to put things into perspective, Virat Kholi is like the Lionel Messi of cricket and is probably the most recognized face in India. And last year we did this really huge brand campaign with him during IPL which that enabled us to get MPL as a brand in front of every single user and just tell the users, hey, you know what, this is MPL and this is what you could do.
And since then, we’ve constantly been following that campaign up with more specific campaigns focused on specific types of games to get to specific pockets of users in all parts of the country because India is very diverse in that way. Something that works in the northern part of the country in terms of communication might not work in the southern part.
So in terms of brand, when you want to build a brand in India, you have to literally look at all the four or five different parts of the country as five different sub-countries maybe and use a really recognizable face like Virat to drive your messaging. And what you can expect from us in the next one year is to build more on these focus campaigns so that we build our brand all across the country in a much more methodical way.
PAS I’ll be looking forward to following that. I’d love to have you also maybe back a little bit later on, you know, down through the year to get an update on all of this and thanks for sharing so candidly, dos, don’ts, ideas around the user journey, how to architect it, how to optimize it. I’m sure our listeners are going to want to stay in touch with you or keep up with things over at MPL, what’s the best way to do that, Sai?
SSKG Yes, so thank you, Peggy, thank you so much for having me on your show. The best way to stay in touch with me would probably be on Twitter, you can reach out to me @saisrinivas or you can always drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m always happy to hear out new ideas and talk to new people and share my experiences in any way that would be helpful to them.
PAS And it was great to have you as well, Sai, as I said, I’d love to have you back. And in the meantime, listeners, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, email me, email@example.com, mobilegroove.com is where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
And of course we’ll have more about our guest and other details in our show notes. Of course you can check out all other episodes of Mobile Presence by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time – remember - every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Stay well, stay safe. We’ll see you soon.