From fighting in the Silicon Valley startup wars to leading the charge of bingo specialist BitRhymes, Sumit Gupta has a talent for reinvention. Which is why, he tells SCi, that his social casino business is only just getting started.
Betting on yourself is the best bet you can make,” Sumit Gupta emphatically states. “I love building companies and teams from the ground up.”
Gupta, it seems, can’t get enough of Silicon Valley’s start-up culture. Having first moved to San Francisco in 1998, he explains that after two years, “I became interested in the web start-up culture – and have been part of it ever since in one way or another”.
This entrepreneurial spirit prompted him to take a major risk in 2010; after building BitRhymes Apps into a successful social app developer, he took the decision to reshape the business as BitRhymes Games – a social casino operator developing mobile games, just as Facebook was taking off.
Two years later, BitRhymes’ Bingo Bash app is the leading cross-platform bingo app on the market, among the highest-grossing apps on iOS, and has recently launched on Android. So far, the appetite for risk has paid dividends.
The fact that he was willing to take such a huge gamble, Gupta explains, is partly due to Silicon Valley’s atmosphere, an environment he describes as the perfect incubator for fostering talent, that taught him three key lessons he claims are key to his success: “The importance of a strong team, focus and fearless execution.”
Despite the success of BitRhymes Apps, Gupta decided there were bigger opportunities available. “Being so involved in the social space in the Valley helped us realise the potential of social gaming early on. In 2010, we decided to invest heavily into isometric flash framework, a social gaming engine, and build a gaming studio. We released a couple of hits with around 10 million installs, but we decided to focus on larger opportunities.
This was a turning point for BitRhymes – around this time the business transformed from BitRhymes Apps to BitRhymes Games as the focus changed to mobile social casino games.
Vikas Gupta is keen to give his co-founder the credit for this shift. “Sumit was the main proponent for moving to mobile as soon as we had some traction on Facebook. He saw the biggest upside on iOS when everyone else in the company was focusing on Facebook; he resourced the mobile team and helped create the mobile port strategy,” Vikas explains.
This saw the company shift its focus from developing games for Facebook to creating dedicated iOS casino games – a move which Sumit Gupta describes as a chance to exploit a niche that had been largely overlooked by the sector until that point.
“By early 2011, we had started building a multi-player, cross-platform framework for casino games, which have a broad appeal and the mechanics have worked for centuries,” he explains. “Most other genres need a constant supply of new games, which is risky. In contrast, casino games have a very long shelf life.
“Back then, most casino game titles on social were simple ports. We saw an opportunity to innovate. In addition, we realised the future is multi-device. Users want to play the game on any device with friends on any device. We invested heavily in associated technology challenges, from factor iterations across devices early on even when the first version of the game was in development,” he adds.
This considered approach to platform was continued when deciding which product to launch. Gupta, as with most of the industry, is under no illusions about the core social demographic, and was eager to ensure that his product appealed to middle-aged women.
“Bingo is the third most popular casino game,” he says. “More than 100 million people around the world play it. Many have fond memories of the game, as they frequently played it in charity or church events. We realised that women have a preference for bingo, and yet there was no dominant online bingo player leveraging social and mobile platforms, and we saw an opportunity to be first to market with a great product and capture a large market share.”
The results are clear. Since its launch in November 2011, after which it was rolled out on iPad in April this year, followed by an iPhone variant in June, with the Android game soft-launched earlier this month, Bingo Bash has been the only game to see sustained growth across all platforms. It has performed most successfully on the iPad, becoming the highest-grossing app on the platform, and has broken into the top 15 highest-grossing iPhone apps after just three months.
One of Gupta’s key successes throughout his career has been his ability to quickly adopt, understand and embrace new technology. He recalls one project during his time with Escalate Ltd, now part of Escalate Retail – a cross channel ecommerce solutions provider – where he and his team “built the very first Software as a Service (SaaS) platform – before the term SaaS was even invented.”
This, Gupta says, is the biggest benefit of working on a startup. “You learn a lot; that’s the best thing about start-ups,” he explains. “I learned about web platform and architecture, metrics-driven ecommerce systems and datacentre operations without realising how that would be so useful down the years.
With the experience gained from years of building up businesses, he turned his attention to social, and this in turn put him in touch with former Yahoo lead engineer Vikas Gupta, and SlideShare software engineer Lalit Patel, with the trio becoming the founding team behind BitRhymes.
“I met Sumit through a common friend when we both were trying to do something in the social space,” Vikas Gupta begins. “We started talking and soon created a pilot app which did better than our own expectations, and things started becoming much clearer, with this early success also helping things to build up quickly.”
Sumit Gupta takes up the story: “We started applying multiple ideas to social platforms like MySpace, hi5 and later Facebook. We bootstrapped the business into multi-million annuity profits, acquired more than 25 million installs across casual dating and gaming apps on social networks, built many partnerships, but most importantly built a kick-ass team that understood social when no one else could.”