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Leela: How to create a successful and sustainable application from an old game

Leela: How to create a successful and sustainable application from an old game

18 Mar 2021

The market of psychological services is constantly developing and offering more and more new solutions. The team of LeelaGamIn startup has created an application based on the ancient board game about self-self-understanding, in which a person can find answers to their inner questions. The interesting fact is that the idea of the startup has appeared during the work on another project of the Phillip Zhuchkov’s team — ScanFace app. How it works and why it has demanded these days — more in today’s interview with the CEO of the project.

Startup Jedi

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What is Leela?

Leela is an ancient Indian game of self-discovery. The player asks the question they want an answer, then rolls the dice, moves around the play field, and stops on cells, each of which has a detailed description. After reading the description, the player starts the process of self-reflection. The game can last from 3 moves to infinity.

— Philipp, taking into consideration, that your startup is based on the game with a bimillennial history, could you, please, tell us how it works?

— As of now, Leela is made in the form of a text-game in A complex of chats and channels is attached to the game bot: newsfeed — a channel where the users’ reports are posted daily, banter-chat and chat with mini-games.

The gamer rolls the dice and gets to the cell, so this cell “supports“ him throughout the day. The user keeps tracks of how this cell affects him during the day, and at the end of the day writes a report: what feelings or insights hit him. Then, the user rolls the dice again and moves to a new cell.

Leela is like a specific social network, where you can write one post a day and chat with other users. Now, we are currently collecting data to train Machine Learning based recommendation algorithms. This algorithm will give better quality customized content so that the user can read reports of other players that are suitable for his condition.

From a text game, we are developing a Telegram app with a user-friendly interface. In addition, a mobile app on the Play Market for the Indian market is already ready.

— Who are your clients? What needs does Leela cover?

— In today’s world, the state of uncertainty and the fear of making a mistake appear due to the high information flow and numerous accidents in the modern world. People turn to psychologists, coaches, and sometimes to esotericism because of this discomfort.

- In today’s world, the saturation of information flow and the huge number of random events in life create a state of uncertainty and fear of making a mistake. Because of this discomfort, people turn to psychologists, coaches, and sometimes esotericism.

Our Leela helps to strive for results and achieve goals without resorting to specialists. You don’t need to go anywhere, negotiate with someone and adjust the schedule — the game is on your phone and is available at any time. In addition, the word “game” doesn’t sound serious, so the brain doesn’t take it as literally as if you came to a psychologist (after all, it is difficult to open up to a stranger, and the subconscious mind resists), but there is no resistance here.

Leela helps to deal with the requests that relate to completely different spheres of life: it can be career, love, self-realization, creativity, or even health and body image. The game also helps people who are in a state of uncertainty to understand their goals — the request becomes the basis for their personal growth. A person focuses on one specific request, which allows them to decompose life goals and get closer to success.

We consider ourselves as Mental Wellness 3.0 — Leela closes the client’s needs both technologically and automatically, without human intervention.

— Why did you switch from your first ScanFace startup to Leela?

— Leela is the pivot of my previous ScanFace project, where we found clients’ pain but couldn’t cover it with the solution we had. As part of ScanFace, we tested different mechanics of user retention in gamification mode, started using Leela as a feature and see how it will increase our retention. As a result, we realized that we had made an independent product and focused exclusively on it. When we confirmed that we had found a product-market fit, we started to monetize the game, update it and improve the user experience.

ScanFace remains a small studio fulfilling custom orders, but there is a small chance that we will return to this project again.

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— Who are your competitors?

— You should remember how about five years ago many skeptically laughed hearing the word “meditation”. In the best-case scenario, they remembered Tibetan monks from the movies, in the worst — the guys “in orange curtains” singing strange songs. And if meditation was the object of irony, then the phrase “he works with a psychotherapist” sounded like a stigma of unreliability: such a person fell on a par with psychopaths and maniacs, and it was better to avoid him.

Everything changed: according to one of the versions, we became way self-indulgent as the consumer society and thus, in the Maslow Pyramid, we have reached the stage with the questions of human existence, stopped struggling and started feeling blue. Where the demand rises, the supply rises accordingly: Calm, one of the most popular app for meditation, has become the first “unicorn”

Of course, the pandemic has brought us down to basic needs, but it didn’t take mental health issues out of focus, but rather highlighted them. Suddenly, it turned out that those who are “in therapy”, endure the hardships of being easier — so the topic of mental health care (thank you 2020!) is more relevant than ever.

Our competitors are traditional approaches: psychologists, mentors, coaches. In addition, there are various platforms that connect the client with the right specialist. And finally, self-discovery services such as Calm, Meditopia, and others.

The market for self-knowledge is huge: only in the USA, mentors and coaches have an estimated value of $10B. If you consider the world, you will get much more. In addition, this market is very promising, which is confirmed by the current growth of Leela: every day we grow and pay off the client even before he enters the game.

— Could you, please, tell us about your business model?

We’re offering to buy access to the game, and afterward, the user receives an invitation to the mail. The access can be either unlimited or with a limited number of gaming sessions and the subscription with payment for each subsequent game. The access and one request are worth $9.5, the access and 3 requests — $22, and the unlimited access is $36. In addition, the game includes paid features, and the satisfied users gladly send us donations — voluntary gratitude, and the amount is defined by them.

Our maximum daily revenue is $3 000 per day. Our daily ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment — an indicator of the advertising campaigns profitability and overall investment in marketing activities — Startup Jedi) of 200% allows us to allocate $1 000 for marketing in the morning, and “pull out” $2 000 in the evening. Сurrent retention of paying users who purchased limited access is over 55%.

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— How do you fundraise and on what conditions?

— We have not raised the rounds yet, as we are Money Positive, and now we are not dependent on external players and their money — after all, we managed to create a “cash cow” (On the business jargon “cash cow” is an enterprise that generates the consistent return of revenue, exceeding the cost of funds required to purchase or launch it — Startup Jedi).We do not pay any fees to the platforms, there is no cash gap either, we do not need factoring.

In general, there are enough resources for development — however, we also understand that we need $250 000 to make a full-fledged product and scale to the global market. For this amount, we offer 5% of our company (according to preliminary estimates, Leela’s cost is estimated at $5M, and taking into account our daily revenue — we are worth $10M).

The purchase geography is very wide: the West is buying more actively than Russia, so the average paycheck there is higher there. We use our advertising traffic on Instagram and Facebook, and now we’re entering TikTok.

Despite the fact that we drift away from esotericism, the Hindu context and offer a global product, we have local hypotheses. For example, we entered India, and we’re thinking about entering the Chinese market with a specific Hindu context since this is embedded in their cultural code.

Within ScanFace, I have communicated with many investors, and we have completed many accelerators. Taking into account my previous experience of fundraising for ScanFace, we don’t have any commitments, but we do have people in our environment who share some pieces of advice. Now, we suggest that our investor will find us, thus, we’re focused on Growth Hacking (It is a tendency in modern marketing, which offers startup growth, scaling and promotion by the means of unusual solutions and innovative hacks — Startup Jedi)

— What problems did you face in creating the product?

— Initially, Leela was quite a marginal product, but we got away from that. In the past, meditation was something esoteric and marginal, but then it became a secular practice — so we made a secular product from an ancient board game.

We also have faced the problem of low client retention. If we turn Leela in just a game — it doesn’t retain clients. With 12 updates to our product, analysing customer behaviour, we have found the secret sauce that allows us to retain customers.

At the current stage, we’re affected by the lack of experience with traffic and client attraction on the international market, and it is our biggest challenge as of today.

— Tell us about the startup’s team.

— I’m an entrepreneur and since 2009 I’ve been working in major construction, and since 2018 I’ve been in the IT field: I worked as a counselor for the Dean of Digital Economics at Moscow State University, where I tried to create a strategy for a technological breakthrough on the government level. During my time there, I’ve learned all the breakthrough technologies, modeling and even implemented computer modeling in my own company. I came up with many ideas for the projects such as MedTech and blockchain, which I tested and at the same time looked for investors — this is how ScanFace appeared. While working on it, I gained competence and a vision of how to make products that will grow exponentially: in the meantime, we developed an algorithm based on artificial intelligence. We can say that Leela gave us a starting signal with its product-market fit.

Daria Merkurieva is a co-founder of Leela. She also came to the startup from a traditional business. Before Leela, Daria was involved in the organization of technological processes at Heineken. Her spheres of influence are planning, setting quality objectives and deadlines. In addition, Daria has extensive experience in SMM, marketing and targeted advertising. She also acts as a product manager at Mental Wellness psychology.

There is a backend developer in our team, and he wrote a bot for Leela. Also, there is a fullstack-developer, who creates a new version of our service, and a mobile-developer, who creates a mobile app for us. There is also another freelance backend-developer — he prepares product hypotheses for testing. The content manager deals with content on our main media channels. Currently, we’re looking for a product manager.

— And last but not least, share with us some insights from your work on Leela

— There is no point in going to investors if you don’t make money on your product. Don’t invest in a product that doesn’t bring money — you have to invest in the product development at the end of the line.

I’m grateful to all the investors, who didn’t give us the fund as it is very important.

In 90% of cases, startups don’t create the product, which they presented initially. You are wasting time, sitting on the dead horse. Analyzing my experience, I can surely say that we’ve lost much time trying to ride a dead horse. Try to find the one that’s alive.

 

18 Mar 2021

 

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