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December 15, 1999
"To be one up, you don't have to see what is happening today, you have to see what is going to happen tomorrow..."
That's Vishal Gondal's (CEO, indiagames.com) formula for success. And one-up is what he believes he is today.
"Yeah, we have our basics perfectly correct. We have a great technical team in place. Very soon I can say that we are not going to be any less than what Spielberg is in the US."
Optimistic? Gondal thinks not.
Gondal is a commerce graduate who launched indiagames.com, a games site, three months ago. Perhaps to disabuse you of any doubts, you are informed that the red-letter day fell on September 1, 1999. But Vishal had gotten hooked to computers and all things connected back to his innocent school days.
"I got my first PC when I was in the eighth standard. When I was in the ninth, I got a project from a bank to make their complete mailing list...for around 6000 customers. My first income was 60,000 rupees. That sure was a lot of income for a ninth standard kid sitting at home."
He hasn't looked back since, perhaps because there was so much to look forward to.
At sixteen, he started a computer training institute in his dad's garage, where he taught WordStar, Dbase, Lotus... "State-of-the-art at that time," he says, markedly.
"With indiagames.com, we are not really a start-up because we already had a clientele and a reasonable turn-over," he says His company called Fact (Futura Academy of Computer Technology) Interactive that came into existence in 1990 did graphics for Sony Entertainment Television and DD's Superhit Muqabla.
Vishal also takes great pride in being the very first to introduce touchscreen kiosks in India and the screamometer at Planet M.
Today, at 23, Vishal is an old man in the business, leader to an eight-member team.
"We call him the MATA of Indiagames.com," laughs Ninad. MATA stands for Marketing and Technical Ace.
Ninad Chhaya, 24, is the creative director who joined up this August. He's involved with conceptualisation and visualisation. Chayya has an MSc in Organic Chemistry.
"But I was always interested in creative work," he says, when you express some surprise.
Vishal replies immediately. "Yeah and we call him the PITA and you know what that stands for...Pain In The A**".
They both burst into laughter. Ninad and Vishal got to know each other through e-mail and ICQ. They throw some light on how indiagames.com actually shot to fame.
"First let me make it very clear that the name of our company is FACT and indiagames.com is just one product," Vishal explains. "I don't know if the Kargil war affected Sonia Gandhi or Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But one thing is for sure. It proved a blessing for us," he laughs.
Vishal is referring to the game they developed during the Kargil conflict ('I love India' and 'Vijay'). The bloodthirsty game allowed players to gun down Nawaz Shareif and other Pakistanis. It made him so popular that he was interviewed by Star News, CNN and BBC.
"You won't believe it, but I was even felicitated by the Indian army," says an amused Vishal before recalling how the game had been developed in just one night.
"If we had been scared to make the game at that time, this would never happen," he says, speaking, undoubtedly, about his rosy present. After the early success, the site came up with other games, Ravan-vadh, (during Dassera), adandiya (during Navaratri) and, very recently, an online cricket game.
It's a little early in the day, so the rest of the battalion has not yet come in. Late nights are a norm here... And early mornings too.
"Our day begins at 12 in the night after we have finished endless meetings during the day. We work till three, or even four, in the morning and, sometimes, we have to get here at 7 am the next day," says Vishal.
Ninad nods agreement, but clearly doesn't mind the grind.
"We have our meetings over ICQ at weird hours," he says.
Indiagames.com is currently in the process of getting venture capital.
"We are soon going to make it big."
Vishal isn't all geek. He was a national volleyball player and represented Maharashtra in the national championship. "I got admission into R A Podar College of Economics only on their sports quota," he discloses with a sheepish smile.
One side of Vishal's cabin looks like a five-year-old's playroom. He has a little teddy bear, a football and a few other toys.
"Oh! I love toys", he says proudly lifting one of his 'prized possessions' and displaying it. But something seems to be missing here... A computer.
"I work on my laptop. I just cannot work on a computer," he clarifies, perhaps meaning a desktop.
As the interview progresses, one by one, the other members of the team wander in. Next in line is Shonilla Vazirani. Over time, you soon realise that, in sharp contrast to the other loud guys on view, Shonilla is soft-spoken and chooses her words with some care.
Shonilla joined five years ago as a trainee and is now the art director, involved in visualization, giving form to the storyboard, animation and designing.
She too wandered in after a BSc -- in microbiology.
"I learnt computers hands on. I didn't attend any course," she says. And she's cautiously picks her way through the hype too.
"I wouldn't say that nobody in India is doing what we are. But the fact is that we are getting noticed. We are constantly striving to bring our standards to international levels."
"You know the little guy in our logo? That was created by Shonilla. She is extremely talented and is one of the key persons out here. Shonilla is basically in charge of putting life into our ideas. She is the creator herself. You should see the way she gets carried away when she is doing something...," says Vishal. Didn't we mention contrasts there?
Indiagames.com claims to be a flat organisation, with only the product, not the designation, mattering. "We all wear multiple hats," sums up Ninad.
He has just assigned some task to the rest of the team.
"See? that's why we call him the PITA".
Ninad doesn't attempt to defend himself. Instead, he admits, "Absolutely. I call people at the craziest of hours and suggest some idea that I must have just got. I make life painful for people here."
Deepak Ail, 23 and Russel Kinny, 28 (the "uncle" at indiagames.com) are busy working on a project. Deepak looks after the programming and is currently involved in developing a new game that he is loath to discuss. Russel belongs to the creative department. Kailash, who does the art work and cartooning, is a night bird and comes in only after lights out.
The latest inclusion is Apaar Maniar, 24. Apar is the Games Critic and reviewer for Indiagames.com. Popularly known as 'Khalid Mohammed', Apaar is a games freak. His job is to test all the games and give an opinion. "Ninety-eight per cent of my suggestions are taken," he says a little smugly. Apaar is also supposed to be abreast with all the games in the market and have played each one of them.
"Isn't that an enviable job?" asks Vishal.
Besides, indiagames.com also has 15 beta testers (between 15 and 45) spread across the world.
The education wing of Fact Interactive is active even today. Over 50 students get hands-on training in Flash, Fireworks, Dreamweaver, Director, Office, and 3D MAX. And the tutelage is provided by Reena Shah and Swasheel Niwandkar, 20.
"Reena also helps me organise my day-to-day activities," says Vishal. And he can't resist this: "That's why I tell her, 'Reena, tere bina bhi kya jeena (Reena, what is there in life without you)'.
"Our competition comes from sites like The Zone and Yahoo... We've not spent a single rupee on advertising... We've had no marketing skills whatsoever. But soon we are gonna have a CEO from outside to head the team. Our core competency is technology and we want to stick to that. We'll get the pros to do our marketing," says Vishal.
Ninad says the group wants to go the Yahoo way. "I mean by starting with two programmers and ending up being the guys who virtually own the Net."
But Vishal wants to be the John Carmach of India. "I think gaming is alien territory in India. I want to give Indians the opportunity they've never had before."
At present, the team is looking forward to the venture capital they are to get very soon. There are plans to shift office and expand the team to around 30-45 members. Vishal is happy that the employees who have stuck with them will reap the benefits in terms of stock options and whatever else might happen in future.
Vishal has no plans to sell out the company.
"In fact, we will go ahead and buy other companies. Through our games, we are also trying to promote Indian culture. If you see, all the games have a small written message, so that, in the process, people also become aware of our history. I don't know why kids these days run toward pool and bowling. We want to bring gillidanda back into the picture", says the CEO who believes he can changes the gaming world.
On their card, every employee has the designation put down as 'Interactivist'. Except Vishal, who has 'CEO and Interactivist' on his. "We are all interactivists over here. The interaction could be with anything; a human being, a computer..." Perhaps, but not as flat an organisation as all that...
Vishal is certain his company is here to stay.
"The distinction between success and failure is innovation and that is our forte. I believe that we are all programmed to do something and have been given our own logic to do it. Those who manage to use that logic effectively succeed..."
We check the back of one card and find this inspiring exhortation: 'You can if you think you can'. Well, they could...
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