Startup Mantra: Blazing a trail in gaming ecosystem
Simforge Engineering is the first and only sim racing gear manufacturer in India and exports to 43 countries, claims Niranjan Ovhal
Simulated car racing (sim racing) games at game parlours or game zones at the mall are as enticing to grown-ups as to teenagers. The high-quality sim racing setup at these game zones offer a real-life car racing experience to users. Besides casual users, the professional sim racing community in India – which at present is small in number – is growing at a rapid pace. If high-end quality and budget-friendly sim racing setups are made available to them, India would make a mark in the sim racing industry.
Identifying this market gap, Niranjan Ovhal, a 25-year-old youth from Pune, started Simforge Engineering, which manufactures affordable hardware to simulate auto racing on PC, complete with real-world variables such as fuel usage and tyre wear. Niranjan’s mission is to start manufacturing the entire sim racing ecosystem, and his vision is to see a sim racing setup in every home in India and more international motorsport drivers emerge from developing countries.
While doing his electronics and telecommunication engineering, Niranjan had been a motorsport fan himself. His father was a travel insurance professional while mother, a teacher by profession, taught disabled persons. How Niranjan pursued his dream of making a sim racing setup is an interesting story of rejection and perseverance.
Sharing his early experiences, Niranjan said, “Since I am a big fan of motorsports, I had found out that simulators are one thing that can give real-life experiences to gamers. I tried to build a simulator but realised that the equipment cost itself goes up to ₹3 lakh. During my third year, I had to submit a project and I thought I should build a low-cost simulator. So, I made a design and pitched the concept to the faculty. However, they rejected the idea because it was mostly a mechanical-related project and I was asked to find something related to electronics and telecommunication.”
“I submitted another project in college, but continued with my dream project with whatever time, money, and other resources I could utilise outside college. Again, during the final year, since my project was 50 per cent complete, I tried to convince the faculty but they rejected it again. After completing graduation in March 2019, I did some research and realised that simulators are not made in India. Since everything is imported from China, Netherlands, the UK, the USA, etc., the custom duty and other taxes increases the cost of product. As a result, users find it unaffordable and are left with no option,” Niranjan stated.
With his design almost ready, Niranjan gave a thought to manufacturing the simulator too. “I had no idea about how to start a company as I did not have the financial privilege. While I was in college, I had access to the workshop, tools, and machinery. Post-college I had nothing of it. So, I decided to do a part-time job, earn money, and fund my idea. I joined a call centre, did the night-shift job, and worked on the simulator project during day time. My family had no idea what I was doing. They understood what I was doing only after they saw the prototype of the product first time,” said Niranjan.
Niranjan said he took nearly six months to conclude the design work. He said, “While I was working night shifts, I completed the design work independently in six months. The next step involved making a prototype. Laser cutting and other things required for manufacturing were available at Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) Bhosari. So, I used to sleep in office and then go to MIDC Bhosari to get the prototype parts manufactured and later assembled those on weekends. It took me three weeks to make the prototype. The multiple parts were manufactured at eight different companies and the prototype cost me around ₹12,000.”
Even though the first prototype was made, Niranjan had to test it and make iterations. For that, he required more funds. Meanwhile, he made a testing rig at his home even though he did not have a workshop setup. Niranjan found out flaws in his design and after several iterations, the final prototype was made.
Niranjan said, “While I was working, I was simultaneously looking for funding options. I came through an Instagram post about an award finalist from a mentor at Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST), a not-for-profit organisation assisting disadvantaged Indian youth develop their business ideas into viable enterprises under the guidance of a mentor. After reading the bio, I found out they are in Pune itself. So, I messaged him and we met near our college.”
“We registered the company in August 2020 and decided to approach banks for loan. But the first problem I faced was to explain to bank officers what product are we manufacturing. It was difficult for BYST also to understand the product. As per my mentor Swapnil Kudale’s advice, we built a fully developed prototype and showed it to bank officials. We told them that we want to manufacture such pedals. We first went to Bank of Baroda and then to Bank of Maharashtra. Their query was that there is no collateral. So, we made changes to our proposal and instead asked them for a loan for stock purpose. The Bank of Maharashtra approved a loan of ₹1.5 lakh for working capital. After receiving the funds, I started working full-time on product manufacturing,” Niranjan said.
Adding further, Niranjan said, “We finalised the product and started actual manufacturing by October 2020.”
Simforge Engineering is now the first and only sim racing gear manufacturer in India and exports to 43 countries, claims Niranjan. With products available at half to one-third of the price of his competitors, it has enabled people around the world to start sim racing, paving the way for new communities to form and grow, he said, further adding that the company also offers special discounts to students, underprivileged youth and educational institutions.
Niranjan did not have a website when he started selling his product. “We were marketing our product on Instagram through which I got in touch with 15 people. Our first order was received from Netherland through Instagram and payment was made through PayPal. They were impressed with our product as they were paying 1,500 euros for same product there and we had offered it at one-third price,” Niranjan stated.
“We launched our website in January 2021 which drove more traffic and we began receiving orders online. We worked only with 100 per cent advance and in the first month, we exported all our products. Whilst many businesses shrunk due to Covid outbreak, our sales increased by 1,129 per cent within a year, with three official distributors and firm shipping contracts in place,” Niranjan said.
Simforge Engineering is an excellent example of a business that did not just overcome the struggles of Covid-19 lockdown, but successfully harnessed the opportunities. During lockdowns more people were stuck at home wanting to play video games, but for many quality auto racing games were unaffordable. Niranjan overcame the many practical problems lockdowns presented to his supply chain and workforce to take advantage of the growing demand and expand his business which manufactures affordable hardware to simulate auto racing on PC, complete with real-world variables such as fuel usage and tyre wear.
Says Niranjan, “Orders tripled during the lockdown period. We had manufactured stock which would have sufficed for three months. As lockdown was announced, orders started coming in heavily, all our stock was sold and we could not export for the next month despite orders being placed in advance.”
Explaining the product differentiation, Niranjan said, “Our competitors are pricing their product in the range of ₹1.5 lakh. Our product is not only affordable, but robust, adjustable, and better in terms of performance. The pedals are pro-level and we have designed it in such a way that users – whether young children, women, or men – can have comfortable level of adjustability as per their preference. We have kept the electronics part simple and robust too. Even if something fails, anyone from the family can source that part and fix it. There is no need for us to send any part separately later. We have made the design simple and innovative with negligible maintenance required. When people try out our products, they gain confidence about the quality despite lower costs. We want to take the company international.”
Niranjan said, “We have done design registration. Our competitors can copy our product, but they cannot manage the costs and manufacture at such low cost. We don’t have rent or salary expenses as I am trying to keep these additional expenses at a lower side. Besides, if we go into bulk manufacturing, the costs would reduce to half.”
“Bank loan of ₹1.5 lakh proved to be sufficient to run the business as we run on entire advance payment model. We try to keep the inventory low. Since we have advance payment received, we have the extra money if we want to invest in any machinery, etc. We are a lean team comprising me, my father and one employee,” Niranjan said.
Niranjan Ovhal won the Youth Business International Global Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2022 Award under the Covid Resilience category at The Hague, Netherlands on October 18, 2022. The award was received on Niranjan’s behalf by Lakshmi Venkataraman Venkatesan, founding and managing trustee, Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST).
“Unfortunately, I could not travel abroad as my Visa was rejected. Some administrative decisions are such that one cannot change them. But I am not demotivated. I will travel to that country one day on the invitation of their government,” Niranjan said.
Simforge Engineering’s mission is to start manufacturing the entire sim racing ecosystem, and they plan to set up offices in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Their vision is to see a sim racing setup in every home in India and more international motorsport drivers emerge from developing countries.
Niranjan said, “We comply to all export guidelines and hence we can export our product to several countries, including the European nations. At present, the demand is primarily being driven by the US, Canada, the UK, and Japan. In terms of sales, India comes at fourth position as the craze for motorsport is not high as compared to other countries. Amidst the global geopolitical crises and inflationary pressures, we are also facing pressure on sales. In order to mitigate the risk at global level, we have kept a three-month stock of chips which are sourced from China.”
“On the ither hand, India is in a strong economic position and hence we are planning to increase sales domestically. Sim racing community and customers are on a gradual rise. We have a target of 1,500 units per year sales in India in the next five years which would account for our 50 per cent sales,” Niranjan said.