Seattle-based eSports betting platform Unikrn said today it has raised $7 million from a list of well-known investors and celebrities, including Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the star of the hit show “Shark Tank.”
The company’s lead investors are Jonathan Teo and Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, who are not as high-profile as Cuban, although some of their previous investments are, including Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Other participating investors include Advancit Capital, Freelands Group, 500 Startups, Indicator Ventures and Tabcorp. To date, the company has raised $10 million.
eSports is fast becoming one of the largest sports globally, attracting viewer numbers that are on par with traditional sports such as football and basketball, so Cuban’s involvement might be a natural fit.
“Hundreds of companies every year try to get me to invest, whether on Shark Tank or off camera. However, I only put my money and my name on the companies that I feel will be successful, truly advance an industry and have a leadership team that I respect. Unikrn fits all these requirements,” said Cuban, in a statement. “The rapid growth of eSports has created an entire new category of competition and I am proud to partner with Rahul Sood and his team to help bring eSports to an even greater audience. As a sports fanatic and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, I’m excited to be involved with a new sport just as it’s poised for huge growth.”
Unikrn’s Co-Founder and CEO Rahul Sood said he’s known Cuban for years, but it wasn’t until after his appearance on CNBC two months ago that he reconnected with the TV star.
“I got a one-line email from him saying “eSports is pretty hot. Congrats.” A couple of email exchanges later, and Cuban said “I’m in.”
The rest of the cash sounds like easy money, too. For instance, the folks at Binary, already were acting in a advisory capacity before becoming official. Sood said he knew they were on board when Teo started saying “we” instead of “you guys,” but maybe that was his “Jedi mind trick,” in order to become an investor, he joked.
The past few months since the company was founded have been a whirlwind. In November, Sood left his job as general manager of Microsoft Ventures to start the company, and completed two acquisitions in December before launching its first eSports betting platform in April. For customers located in jurisdictions that permit online betting, the Unikrn platform allows people to place wagers on the outcomes of matches and tournaments for such games as League of Legends, Dota2, Counter-Strike, Heroes of the Storm and others.
“We’ve raised a total of $10 million now, and things are just blowing up. It’s been good, and we are in a great position,” he said.
Sood is not willing to disclose specific figures, but at the end of May, he said the number of people registering on the site rose rapidly, and people started to feel more comfortable placing larger bets. Today, the platform caps bets at $250 a game, and it offers about one game a day that people can bet on.
Another sign that the company is progressing is in the way it establishes odds on each game. Sood said when they first launched in April, it was a manual process that could take six to nine hours per game. Today, it takes about a minute. “We built an automated odds-making engine in the cloud. It’s a sports book that’s all cloud-based,” he said.
Next up, Unikrn will be launching an all-new Arena, where all the action happens. Today, the arena is live in the UK, Australia and Ireland, but the updates occurring in July — across all three geographies — will be major, he promises. Later in the month, a U.S.-friendly version will launch, too, since betting is not allowed here. Sood wouldn’t disclose details, but conceivably that could include a hybrid model, where users win prizes or bet with virtual currency.
The cash being announced will go towards hiring and a marketing budget. Today, it has 10 employees in Seattle (19 internationally), and is looking to hire engineers and has openings for a head up product and a head of marketing. But you won’t see Unikrn ramp up too quickly. “I think based on how it’s scaling, we can generate a very viable healthy business with a small number of people and still keep it growing,” Sood said.