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Two engineers raise Rs.4 crores in a month with unique chess technology!

by Sagar Shah - 19/11/2019

Two Indian engineers studying at the Somaiya college in Mumbai decided to create a chess board which could make moves on its own. This was back in 2016. Three years have passed and their company "Square Off" has had an amazing journey. They sold many chess boards of the Kingdom and Grand Kingdom set. The company got a funding of 1.1 million US dollars towards the end of 2018. Now they have come up with two new products - Square Off Neo and Square Off Swap. In this article we tell you about the journey of Square Off and its founders Bhavya Gohil and Aatur Mehta and also tell you about the Kickstarters project that was launched a month ago for Square off Neo and Swap. In 30 days, they have managed to raise a whopping Rs. 4 crore!

In 2016, we published an article entitled "World's smartest chess board is here!" It was the story of two engineers from Mumbai, India who had come up with the concept of a chess board that moves pieces on its own.

The Square Off chess set that was launched back in 2016

The idea was to use the app to connect the players across the world, and yet retain the feeling of playing physically on a chess board. So a person sitting in India could challenge someone in the US to a game with the help of the app. Let's say the Indian player has the white pieces. He makes the move 1.d2-d4 on the board and that same move will be played on the Square Off chess set of the person sitting in the USA. The feeling sometimes was magical, sometimes spooky! After all there was no opponent sitting opposite you, and yet the pieces would move!

The founders of Square Off - Bhavya Gohil and Aatur Mehta

In the year 2013, Bhavya and Aatur got in touch with the Chairperson of National Association of Blind (NAB) to understand the feasibility of an idea. They wanted to design a chessboard for the visually impaired. It was not possible for the blind to play chess on computers and smartphones. Being board game lovers, Bhavya and Aatur dived in to explore the possibilities. They researched tirelessly to finally arrive at a design. But, they didn’t have the funds to bring the design alive. 

 

In order to fund themselves they started participating in various technical paper presentations and national level tech competitions to earn the prize money, just to create the prototype. Gradually they gathered sufficient cash to design their first prototype in 2014. They were helped in a huge way by RiiDL (Research, Innovation, Incubation, Design Lab) at Somaiya College, Vidyavihar, the institution where both Bhavya and Aatur studied engineering.

Prototype 1 - The proof of concept to show the possibility of automated movements by sensing and analysing the user inputs. With a set-up time of 30 minutes, it was very slow and noisy. It required to be connected to a computer to meet the demand of high processing power.

Prototype 2 - It was  built in july 2014, for the visually impaired. With voice feedback for each and every move, braille coordinates, texture difference between black and white squares, strong magnetic chess pieces, it was a small and portable machine. But, the chess pieces were too small and the board still needed to be connected with a PC. It required bigger pieces to ensure a comfortable handling for the visually impaired.

The Chairman of National Association of Blind, who himself was visually impaired, tested the prototype and loved playing on it. As Bhavya puts it, "It was one of the happiest days of our life!" It was time to take it to the next level. On 3rd October, 2014, Aatur and Bhavya got an opportunity to present their prototype in front of an international audience at the Maker Faire, Rome. This was the real turning point. The response was tremendous and the exhaustive feedbacks made them realise that the board had the potential to connect the whole world.

Captivated audience at the Maker Faire in Rome

The automated board seems to have got better of his young kid!

Prototype 03: Built in December 2014, after returning from Rome. This was a sleeker version, with LED and LCD screen to make it visually interactive. Bluetooth enabled and app controlled, it was fast and accurate. Capture space was an added bonus.

More opportunities flowed in. The duo were invited to showcase the prototype at all the IITs in India, MIT Boston FAB 11, Startup Istanbul and the Sharjah Chess Club. Although, it had a smoother mechanism, the board lacked premiumness. That’s when they decided to create a classic, rosewood finish chessboard with exquisitely designed chess pieces.

A refined board that was designed tastefully, but was heavy and couldn’t endure weather conditions. It was also very expensive because of the Rosewood body.

The cost of these raw products was very high in India. Hence, they decided to visit China to procure the raw materials.

Shenzhen, China, being an electronics hub of the world, technical expertise was found without too much difficulty

Finding wood for the board wasn’t easy. After a lot of research they fortunately stumbled upon a dealer who could supply the desired quality of wood

Advanced hardware and software were perfectly encased in a premium wooden surface created in China

After three years of tedious efforts, finally the Beta product was ready in May, 2016. To test and gauge the response, a small batch of Collector’s Edition Square Off boards were produced and 20 of them were sold in no time.

That's the final product! Built with medium density fibre with rosewood finish, the board is water resistant. It can withstand seasonal changes. And the real rosewood and maple wood chess pieces give it an elite look.

Aatur and Bhavya decided to start production of the above chess board by putting up a fundraiser on kickstarters. They received great support from the chess community and managed to raise nearly two hundred thousand US dollars. Subsequently, the Square Off chess set was produced. There were two variations of the chess board that were produced - the Kingdom Chess Set for US$338 and the Grand Kingdom Chess Set for US$374. A lot of people loved it and there were several reviews published on YouTube. Here are a few:

Review published by the popular "What's Inside" channel
GM Niclas Huschenbeth reviews the square off Grand Kingdom Chess Set

The sales were going well and the company was growing at a fast pace. It was towards the end of 2018 that Square Off got in new investors and raised a whopping US$ 1.1 million (around 7.8 crore rupees).

Read the entire article on Inc42 website

The money was spent in building a good team and also pumping up the sales in 2019. However, there was one issue. The cost of their chess boards was quite high. It was not easy for every person who liked chess to buy their chess board. After due deliberation, they decided to bring out two new products in November 2019 - Square off Neo and Swap.

The Neo and Swap chess boards are the new ideas by the Square Off team

With these two products the Square Off team aimed at achieving two things -

1. lowering the cost of the board 

2. Ability to play more games apart from chess

 

The cost of Neo is US$129 and the cost of Swap is US$169. With Swap, the idea is to have a top surface which can be changed. Which means that you can not only play chess but also other games. 

The main features of Neo

The main features of Swap

A comparison of the Swap and Neo
The features of Neo and Swap explained in this video

Get your Neo and Swap on Kickstarters