“My parents wanted me to see a shrink. They could not understand my obsession to set forth on an entrepreneurial journey at a stage in life when I had everything going for me,” says Rohit Sharma, Founder, Pokkt, a mobile video ad platform.

The din of the naysayers was getting loud. Starting a business of your own requires tonnes of money, Rohit was told, many hours of toil and patience. What is the need, cried the naysayers, especially since he had such a good job.

The former CEO of Reliance Digital realised that a successful corporate background did not provide the necessary chutzpah. He decided it was time to drown out the voices of the naysayers.

“In 2006, I joined Reliance ADA Group to run their digital business. I was instrumental in setting up their online and mobile gaming business and set up Zapak.com, a causal gaming portal. Three years later, I was promoted to CEO, Digital Businesses, Reliance Entertainment, and was running all their digital business. I did this for six-and-a-half years and decided it was enough,” he says.

The year was 2012. “I was turning 40, and I decided it was the right time to become an entrepreneur. Especially since I had been in the corporate world for 18 years,” Rohit, who has a Masters in Physics and an MBA from the University of Lancaster.

Getting into e-commerce

In January 2012, Rohit teamed up with his former colleagues at Reliance, Vaibhav Odhekar and Sanjeev Singhal, to start an e-commerce portal for toys. Called wopshop.com, this formed the genesis of Pokkt, says Rohit, though the trio was forced to shut shop within six months.

“I had set up an offline toys distribution company while at Reliance, where we would import toys and distribute them through mom-and-pop stores. I decided my own venture would be on the same theme, but being entirely bootstrapped we could not raise significant money,” says Rohit.

“I invested ₹40 lakh of my own and tried to raise money. Angel funds, seed level, term sheet, we went through it all. We tried to sell the business to e-commerce portals like Snapdeal and Yebhi.com. Snapdeal said they would acquire us, but they wanted us to work for them. We didn’t want that,” he says.

The trio decided to pull the plug on their venture. “Despite the downer, we still wanted to do something in the start-up space. Since we understood the gaming business well, we decided it would be a good area to get into,” says Rohit.

Sitting outside Snapdeal’s office in August 2012 with co-founder Vaibhav Odhekar, and ruminating on where to go after their failed first venture, the duo decided to get into mobile gaming.

Core strength

“One of our core strengths was in digital advertising and we had created a strong revenue stream for Zapak. We realised mobile revolution would grow and there existed a huge opportunity for monetising games,” says Rohit, who brought in Manish Tewari, as co-founder and CTO. Manish was the co-founder and CEO of online fashion store Koovs.com.

In 2012, Pokkt, the video advertising and app monetisation platform, raised seed funding. Since then, it has raised close to $8 million in a funding round led by existing investors along with new investors such as Segnel Venture, Shinji Kimura and Sundar Chanrai.

“We have pivoted our business model twice. In 2012, we had Version 1.0 of Pokkt, but realised the model was not scaling up. We decided to build a platform for mobile digital content companies. Hungama, Nazara Tech and Micromax all have digital content, but people were not paying for content. We decided to use Pokkt as a payment platform,” he says.

That too didn’t work.

Thus was born the idea that advertising can become a revenue driver for a game publisher to make money, and for a user to consume an ad and go to the next level of the game. “We advertise brands within mobile games, so companies can run their video ad within the games,” says Rohit.