Kochi: Six little boys grew up playing chess and when they became big enough to start their own business venture, their passion, experience and expertise about the game was their biggest investment. Eight Times Eight, the beautifully named Kochi-based startup, is fast becoming a sought after destination for chess training in Kerala and other parts of the world.

The co-founders of the nascent company are Athul Krishna, Adesh Joshi, Manu M, Abhijith M, Arijith M and Chandar Raju. Four of them are from Kochi and two from Kozhikode. The friends, all in their 20s, started playing chess as early as six or seven years old and met each other during several tournaments. They all won different championships when they were in school. Sometimes they fought each other but the game on the black and white board helped them forge a long-term friendship. After Class 12, they went different ways with a focus on career, giving the game a break. However, they always shared the thought that they should do something for chess.

Pandemic prompts
“During the pandemic days, a neighbour of one of us asked him if he could help her son learn chess as she was worried about the boy’s mobile addiction. He accepted to do so online and it was the beginning,” Abhijith, the CEO of the startup, said.

The number of the children who wanted to learn chess gradually increased through personal connections and it prompted the friends to launch a formal and structured platform.

“We knew that chess is an easily saleable product because it has an intellectual image. Also from our own experience, we were convinced that chess helps in academics and improving concentration,” Abhijith said.

Eight Times Eight was registered as a private limited company in August, 2022. The platform offers three levels of training programmes — beginners, intermediate and advanced. The startup finds its revenues from the subscription. The beginners programme has more takers and over 1,000 children from 20 countries have enrolled for the course. Most of them are from Kerala followed by children from tier-1 cities like Delhi and Mumbai. There are learners from the Gulf countries and the US also.

The platform has 37 tutors, including coaches from the US, Germany and France. The coaches are certified by the International Chess Federation (FIDE). Eight Times Eight has also appointed grandmaster S L Narayanan, a long-term friend of the founders, as its chess ambassador. Narayanan designed the syllabus of Eight Times Eight workbook. The subscribers get a chess kit, including a quality board and the workbook. Each chapter of the book has a QR code with which a learner can access recorded classes also.

The startup got an initial boost when it raised Rs 50 lakh in a pre-seed funding. The money was mostly spent on the chess kits and workbooks.

Offline, Eight Times Eight conducts tournaments and orientation classes in schools in a bid to promote the game as well as their product. The company also offers scholarships to kids they find talented but need some financial support. The company also arranges guest lectures by international players occasionally.

Apart from kids, professionals who look for some leisure times after their busy schedules have also taken Eight Times Eight’s courses. The company’s main target however is children in the 5-15 age group.

The startup is expecting to clock an annual turnover of Rs 1.5 crore in the ongoing fiscal. There are already at least five well-established online chess academies in the country which means the startup has competition around.

“Our focus is now on strengthening our expertise,” Abhijith said. Their expansion plans include setting up physical chess clubs in the state which would help popularise the game.

(Startup Saturday is Onmanorama’s weekend series featuring promising startups from Kerala. Find the previous stories here)