Rahul Sood is the CEO and co-founder of Unikrn, the world’s leading esportsbook innovator. He started his first company, the world’s first boutique PC manufacturer, is his teens and later sold it to HP. After leaving HP, he joined Microsoft as the founder and CEO or the startup incubation branch then-called Microsoft Ventures. Rahul is a long-time avid gamer and esports fan who also enjoys windsurfing in his spare time.
You mentioned about two “game-changing” products from Unikrn in your email. Could you tell us more about the products?
Rahul Sood: We have 3 singular experiences launching at Unikrn: Unikrn UMode, Unikrn Virtual Game and Unikrn Esportsbook’s Streamer Betting.
Unikrn UMode is the first online skill betting extension for matchmaking games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2, Halo and Counter-Strike. Unlike peer-to-peer betting, UMode lets players bet on their normal online matchmaking without betting opponents because Unikrn sets the odds, which lets you bet anytime in fair games without any worries about sharks ruining your fun.
The Unikrn Virtual Game is a curated collection of exciting professional esports matches from the past which are randomly selected and played fresh. There’s a new round every minute, and fans can go to bet on esports without ever facing delays or content gaps, which is an amazing quality-of-life improvement for esports fans used to waiting between rounds, games and tournaments.
Unikrn’s Streamer Betting uses in-house odds-determining trader bots and advanced screen-reading technology to interpret games happening on stream and set odds in real time, even updating odds as matches advance. We’re excited for how this will let fans play along with streamers and improve the community thrill of wins. After all, betting is better as a social experience, and very little in gaming is more social than streaming in its prime!
How do you think these products would change the way the betting industry operates?
Rahul Sood: The betting industry is still behind the curve on the way esports opens interactivity, data fidelity and sheer volume. There’s never been a challenge in sports akin to trying to place reliable odds on streamers. There’s YEARS of content hours consumed from Twitch every second across thousands of channels. Besides Unikrn, the world of betting operators hasn’t begun to scratch the surface of what gamers and esports fans are making possible, whether that’s creating 24/7 skill-based betting, new ways to package esports around the clock or ways to bring people together to cheer on their favorite players.
You are aiming to introduce innovative technologies to betting that would disrupt the dominance of traditional booking houses. In fact, quite a few new companies have aimed to do this, and almost all of them have failed. What is the x-factor for your company, if there is any?
Rahul Sood: Unikrn is x-factor from surface to core. I think the biggest difference is our culture, Unikrn sits at the intersection of esports & video games, blockchain & cryptocurrency, and regulated gambling. As such we employ talented people from all over the world. Our COO, CFO, and CPO along with lead product people are based in Sydney. Our CTO and development teams are in Berlin, Croatia, and Poland. Head of Marketing and Content are in New York, we have content people in Las Vegas, and I’m in Seattle with our Chief of Staff. There’s no way in hell we could build such a company in one city, we required the best talent in all 3 areas. Unikrn is also a technology first company, whereas typical wagering companies are simply licensing software from other platforms.
Maybe most importantly, this isn’t hypothetical: Unikrn is launching multiple singular experiences designed for customers. While others are building wagering experiences around old titles that no one cares about, Unikrn is building wagering experiences around games people love to play. Our products are live and regulator-approved well ahead of our runway, and they’re being followed by many other innovations.
It’s almost two years since you launched your cryptocurrency token UnikoinGold, based on the Ethereum blockchain. Could you tell us more about its performance so far?
Rahul Sood: UnikoinGold has been a fantastic success, achieving everything it was set out to do and hitting most of its projected benchmarks at or ahead of schedule. The whole point of developing UnikoinGold was to give users the ability to use our platform and partner platforms without the delays and fees associated with using traditional banks. At its launch, UnikoinGold closed the largest-ever token sale in esports and gaming, and our partners have included major players in the crypto space because they’re impressed with the unprecedented utility UnikoinGold has brought to the broader crypto ecosystem. I think our biggest challenge is making our crypto more accessible and easier to use. We’re working hard on this, it’s one of the key pillars for 2019.
Unikrn is into its fifth year. The company has received excellent funding and financial back-up. But has the company really captured the public imagination as an esports venture? How do you look back at the last five years of Unikrn?
Rahul Sood: Unikrn is fortunate to have had several extremely successful acquisitions, partnerships and blockchain ventures — the truth is there’s a staggering and publicly invisible business-to-business problem solving portion of our operations. This is common in successful companies in the tech sector: Amazon, for example, makes more of its money on web services than any other division, but it’s a part of the company the public basically never sees.
Everybody at this company is proud of our success and our current place in the ecosystem, as well as optimistic about the future all the way to the horizon.
Being a legal and responsible operator requires diligence and time (working with regulators, governments, patent offices, partners and taking the time to develop proprietary technology can’t be rushed!). Our current user base has been completely won-over, and the next step is broader engagement with new fans.
So are we where we want to be? Of course not, we’ll never truly be satisfied, but believe me Unikrn of 2019 is far ahead of the Unikrn from 2014. We have plenty of work to do and lots of runway to get to where we’re going.
The USA is witnessing a revolution of sorts in the sports betting sector, following the US Supreme Court’s verdict on PASPA Act. What is your take on the future of sports betting in the USA and the role of Unikrn on it?
Rahul Sood: Unikrn is already live with Unikrn UMode in the majority of the United States, making us pretty much first in the door, and we are obviously supportive of states allowing responsible, regulated wagering to expand. Unikrn has well-established connections with land based casinos in Las Vegas, where our primary content team is based, and we expect the United States to be a growing market for us looking forward. I fully expect us to launch our sportsbook across the USA in partnership with some of the largest casino operators in the world.
You had held top positions at HP and Microsoft before founding Unikrn. How different are the mainstream software companies and the gaming and betting companies in terms of challenges, job profile and working environment?
Rahul Sood: Every job is different, but wagering companies bring with them an enormous responsibility to work in partnership with regulators and governments. This happens in any industry, but wagering rightfully brings it to another level. That said, there’s also a tremendous amount of crossover: software and gaming hardware companies are ultimately selling consumers an experience, and that’s exactly what Unikrn does.
We’re sitting at the intersection of three of the most blockbuster industries on earth, regulated gambling, esports & video games, and blockchain & cryptocurrency. It’s never easy, but nothing good comes without hard work.
You have been a serial entrepreneur, having started entrepreneurship from an unusually young age. You have also worked with a number of startups while you were a General Manager at Microsoft Ventures. What is the one thing that separates successful startups from the failures? And what is your advice to startup founders and wannabe founders?
Rahul Sood: Great startups understand that a brand is nothing without 4 key components. An incredible product that people love, a strong team culture made of the smartest and most talented people who eat breath and sleep your mission, a thriving community of fans and evangelists, and most of all strong leadership and patience. All of these components become the foundation of your brand, which if applied correctly becomes a living breathing entity. Most people miss the community part, can you imagine Telsa, OnePlus, or Apple without a community? They’d be like nowhere!
Finally, on a lighter note, it is written on your Wikipedia page that “Sood first took an interest in computers at the age of 11, having disassembled and painted his first computer—an Apple IIc—before even turning it on”. Did it really happen? And did you disassemble your first gaming device as well!? Do share an interesting anecdote to conclude the interview.
Rahul Sood: It absolutely happened, and I had successfully founded my boutique computer manufacturer, VoodooPC, just a few years later. I went on to sell that brand to HP. I guess everything that I’ve ever involved myself with is something I truly care about, for without that I don’t think I’d be anywhere near where I am today.