Square Off: A smart chessboard that's straight out of 'Harry Potter'
With Square Off chessboard you do not need to be in the same room with your opponent to experience the lost pleasure of playing chess on an actual board. Designed and created by two twenty-something entrepreneurs this chessboard is beguiling not j...
Name of Founder (s): Bhavya Gohil and Aatur Mehta
Industry: Automated Gaming
Investors Details & Amount raised: Angel investment: Rs 30 lakh from Pranav Marwah (ThinQbate) and Samir Somaiya (Somaiya Group); VC funding: Rs 3 crore
"It's like playing against a ghost"
"It's so weird; it's like the board is alive,"
"It's the Harry Potter Wizard chess"
This is how the wonderstruck audience at the Maker Faire event in New York described the chessboard designed and created by two entrepreneurs in their early 20s.
The awe-struck descriptions may seem stretched to you, but these are not very far-off from the truth. Seeming ordinary, this chessboard called Square Off is anything but that.
It is not only your opponent's acumen at the game that may leave you astounded, but it is more likely going to be the spectral spectacle of the chess pieces gliding through the board with no apparent external force behind their movements.
Let the magic begin
At first glance, Square Off looks like any other simple yet classic board with plain brown squares criss-crossing the board. But, that is where the ordinary stops and the extraordinary begins.
Square Off is an automated chessboard which allows you to challenge anyone from across the globe. Your opponents do not even need to have the Square Off chessboard but just the app. They could be sitting on the far side of the globe, but can still make the pieces on your Square Off chessboard move. When your opponent makes their move on the app (available on Android and iOS), you see it playing out on your Square Off board with the selected piece gliding through the board, without colliding with any other piece and stops at the designated square.
This apparent magic is powered by a robotic arm which is placed under the board and fitted with an electromagnet. The pieces also have electromagnets under their bases. When the move is made on the app, your smartphone sends the signal via Bluetooth to the robotic arm which then moves under the board taking the designated piece with it. In essence, your opponent's move on the app gets emulated on your board.
While there are multiple platforms which do allow two players to play digital chess on their computers or mobile phones; the founders of Square Off wanted to bring the board back into the game while retaining the freedom of challenging anyone across the globe.
You can also challenge the artificial intelligence integrated in the app and comes with 20 levels of difficulty. Not just that, Square Off also allows the player to watch a championship game (live or recorded) being played directly on their boards. A user can watch the world's greatest chess players make their move on their personal chessboards.
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The founders have already filed patents in India under their startup name Infivention Technologies.
The two wizards
The two cofounders, Bhavya Gohil (23) and Aatur Mehta (24), were inspired to design the chessboard after a meeting with the Chairperson of National Association of Blind when they were still studying at the K.J. Somaiya Engineering College in Mumbai back in 2013.
"He suggested that we should make a chessboard for visually-impaired people where the player can play against a computer but on a board. After a year we showed him the prototype and he was impressed," recalls Gohil.
While the founders found themselves financially constrained to advance on the original purpose, the reviews garnered by the product gave them a commercially sustainable idea.
"We exhibited our chessboard at Maker Faire Rome in Italy in 2014 and the interest evinced by the board amidst the audience made us realise that there is a big market available for this product amongst visually-abled people as well," narrates Gohil.
It then took the founders one and a half years, six prototypes and a visit to several countries for feedback and market research to launch Square Off in September 2015.
A public spectacle
The chessboard has awed several users across the globe, the proof of which lies in the fact that the founders raised around half a million US dollars through crowdfunding (Kickstarter and Indiegogo) with approximately 2000 pre-orders from 70 plus countries.
Founders Aatur Mehta and Bhavya Gohil.
One Indian-born British billionaire found the Square Off chessboards so enticing that he bought 10 units, one each for his 10 homes spread across the globe.
The company since then has sold 2000 units priced at $250-300 and is now gearing towards making another splash around Christmas in the US and two European markets - Germany and the UK.
Although India is home to one of the largest chess playing populations; yet, the Indian chess enthusiasts will have to wait till the end of next year to get their hands on this chessboard.
"We decided to create a market in the US and the European nations because the price of the product could have played a deterrent here. While even middle class people constitute our market in these Western countries, we perceived price could be a pain point in India," remarks Gohil.
Gohil adds that the product may be introduced at approximately Rs 10000-12000 in the Indian market around Christmas next year.
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Some moolah magic
The proof of concept had been long established; a fantastic crowdfunding campaign had revealed an ardent market base; then, how can investors be far behind?
The company has already raised two rounds in which they received Rs 30 lakh in angel funding and Rs 3 crore in VC funding. "It was two of the very first buyers who later turned into our angel investors," says Gohil.
Gohil reveals the founders will raise their Series-A funding in April next year.
While it has been smooth sailing for the most part, Gohil says being a hardware startup comes with its own set of specific problems. "It is very difficult for a hardware startup to sustain, especially in India where every angel and VC wants to fund a software startup. I think the most difficult part right now is manufacturing and shipping globally," remarks Gohil.
The company is currently manufacturing the chessboards from China while the pieces come from a town in Amritsar. Since it is a small startup the company is manufacturing capabilities are limited - next company is in the process of wrapping up the manufacturing of 2000 units to be sold in the planned Christmas sale.
In October 2017, the company finalised the acquisition of a proprietorship firm in Bengaluru which deals in chess apps. Gohil says the plan is to integrate the IP with Square Off.
The founders have plans to use the same technology to create other interactive and automated games in future; however they have not forgotten their original inspiration.
"Although we do not yet have a timeline on producing specific chessboards for visually-impaired people, we are going to start work on that as soon as our startup becomes commercially viable," says Gohil.
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