Yesterday, an icon in the sports entertainment space – where I have innumerable memories with family, friends, team, and even a surprise birthday celebration, shut down. A few minutes after the news got out, my WhatsApp Groups got flooded with messages.
Most of the messages revolved around
- How difficult it is to do business in India
- How the idea was never going to work
- That Indians are challenging to sell to
- The classical – “there will be more startup casualties from the pandemic.”
I stopped reading the messages after a few minutes as I felt my energy levels plummet with the negativity. While I loved the concept, I had not studied the Smaaash business model very well; therefore, I started to research to educate myself better. I am blown away by what I have learned about them:
- It operated 30+ locations spread across:
- the Middle East
- one location at the Mall of America
- ₹600+ crores revenues in the last 3 financial years
- Employed over 700+ team members
- Raised $68.1 million from a slew of marquee investors
- It got listed on Nasdaq in 2018 under Smaaash Entertainment Inc (ticker code: SMSH).
- In 2019 they merged with Simplicity Esports to relist under Simplicity Esports and Gaming Company (ticker code: WINR).
This story could have ended very differently, but external circumstances landed it in the cemetery of startups that could have been. But Shripal Morakhia’s efforts would be a total waste if we only concentrated on the result and not the journey this founder went through.
Shripal took a massive risk with his time, money, and reputation to bring a world-class gaming arcade to India. His venture not only fed 700+ families for several years but also entertained 100,000s of people across India. It took guts of steel to build this venture and at a scale that no other entrepreneur achieved in this space in India.
Now, unfortunately, an event outside his control led to the demise of a promising venture, something the entrepreneur calls a “premature death.” His experiences are something for us to learn from – not to get further depressed over. If you, as a founder (or investor), are to grow, and if our ecosystem is to reach the global zenith that we all want it to – we must start sharing the learnings from our failures and celebrating the end of a journey!
I, for one, would love to learn from Shripal’s experiences of exciting innumerable Indian consumers for almost a decade so that I can utilize his learnings to help my ventures. Also, I would love a sit down with the investors who sat on the company’s board (Nikhil Vora) as it scaled heights and then watched it plummet to its eventual demise. He must have tried his best to save the ship, and it would be foolhardy for people connected to him to avoid gaining from his learnings.
But in the end, I will congratulate both for taking a risk and creating a permanent pivot in Indian gaming – their Smaaash journey is a unicorn learning for me.