The financial-learning and stock market-simulation app started out as a trading game, allowing users to buy and sell without using real money. “To be good at trading, you need to really follow the market, which takes time. With Tradehero, you can see what the top traders are doing and learn from their moves,” says the charismatic co-founder, whose loss of a “couple hundred thousand dollars” during the 2007 financial crisis triggered him to conceptualise a product capable of helping users gain market wisdom.
“Gaming apps have a life cycle of just one to two years. For it to have longevity, it has to be interesting and have utility,” says Bhatia. The crowdsourcing of financial intelligence has been instrumental in helping Tradehero garner some 8 million users from the time it was launched in 2012, 70 per cent of whom reside in China. In July, he rolled out a live beta trading function, where confident players could play for cold, hard cash in the market.
Since its launch in 2012, the app has received about $20 million in venture capital funding. It has also collaborated with the Singapore Exchange on a series of videos and competitions to promote greater financial awareness.
Spurred by the success of Tradehero, he launched Sportshero in 2016, a social sports game allowing users to predict the outcome of matches. It went public on the Australian Securities Exchange in February, with a valuation of A$12 million (S$12.6 million). It has about 200,000 users.
Bhatia credits the rapid growth of his apps to a matter of timing. “Tradehero wouldn’t have taken off before 2010 because people didn’t have smartphones with mobile browsers, or understand the concept of user-generated content,” says the serial entrepreneur who has, over the years, helped create O Channel (a TV network in Indonesia), worked at Vickers Venture Partners as a venture partner, and founded a mobile media marketing start-up Mobinex in the United States.
Twenty years ago, he had already built a Web browser for the Palm Personal Digital Assistant, and, in 2005, his US start-up was tinkering with facial-tracking and augmented-reality technology long before the likes of Snapchat found fame with its playful filters. Those concepts were ahead of their time, says Bhatia.
Despite his easy manner, he admits the journey hasn’t been easy. “I’ve been through so much adversity that it does not disturb me anymore. I’ve endured financial loss, divorce, and was incarcerated for a short period of time on a misdemeanour charge. What I learnt is that I thrive in tough times,” he says.
After expanding his energy for each new project, Bhatia believes in taking time off to recharge. In August, he stepped down as CEO of Tradehero to take a back seat in the day-to-day running of the business, although he remains a shareholder in the privately held company.
“As an entrepreneur, my skills are best suited for the first four years of a start-up’s life. But then I need a break. This takes a lot from me, health-wise as well as personally, and it takes a year or two to compose myself back to normality.”
He plans to take a time out of about six months to a year. On his itinerary are visits to Sweden – to visit his daughters Nova and Tasa, aged nine and 13, and his ex-wife – and indulging in his hobbies, which include composing music on the piano and drone photography.
While he is certain he will be back with a new technology concept, he has no clue what that might be. Unfazed, he says: “You don’t need to be constructive your entire life. It is important to not have a plan. I’m not looking actively for something new, my ideas will come from my observations.”
Co-founder of Tradehero and Sportshero
YEARS IN OPERATION: 5.1
THE TECH: Social gaming apps that include letting users trade in a virtual stock market, and making match predictions, without real money. A live beta trading option for Tradehero was introduced in July.
IN 60 SECONDS
I am happiest when I am creating – like writing a new piece of music – or learning something new.
Tragedy is a precursor to something good happening. The more tragedy there is, the more I absorb it and look forward to better times.
A habit I’d like to adopt is to exercise regularly. I hate exercising so I recently bought a rowing machine which I can use while watching House of Cards.
This story was first published on The Peak on Nov 1, 2017.