Calgary-born entrepreneur Rahul Sood buys stake in Sri Lankan cricket team

·4 min read

A millionaire at 19 after creating Voodoo PC, Calgary-born Rahul Sood says he went on to lose most of his bankroll.

But there have been more hits than misses thanks to time spent with Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft as well as his own ventures. Now co-founder and CEO of Unikrn (pronounced Unicorn), an esports betting platform that operates in 43 countries, the 47-year-old Sood has added a Sri Lankan cricket team to his portfolio with a stake in the Jaffna Stallions of the newly formed Lanka Premier League (LPL).

"It's unbelievable how many fans of cricket there are there," Sood said of Sri Lanka, which has a population of 22.9 million. "And when I saw that Sri Lanka's launching its own league, the Lanka Premier League, I couldn't believe it. I mean this is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It's pretty cool."

The five-team, 23-match Twenty20 tournament, delayed by the pandemic, is slated to run Nov. 26 to Dec. 16. The Stallions will be up against the Colombo Kings, Dambulla Viiking, Galle Gladiators and Kandy Tuskers.

Tournament director Ravin Wickramaratne, vice-president of Sri Lanka Cricket, expects a hit right out of the box.

Why? Because cricket in Sri Lanka is "second to religion," he said.

Sood, who now makes his home in the Seattle area, said he bought into the Stallions after a friend connected to the group called him up.

"It literally took me an afternoon to make a decision because of the size of the sport and the potential reach," said Sood, whose family has Indian bloodlines.

Sood founded Voodoo PC in 1991 as a teenager, building high-end gaming computers. The company was acquired in 2006 by Hewlett-Packard with Sood staying on until 2010.

Voodoo proved to be a huge success.

"I did very well at the beginning," Sood said. "And then I ended up losing most of it, just doing stupid things in the stock market and that sort of thing. And then just focused back on the business and we grew (Unikrn) into this amazing international brand.

"I've had quite an entrepreneurial career, you could say. Up and down. Challenges. Just trying to turn challenges into opportunities."

He moved to Seattle in late 2010 as GM of Microsoft’s global gaming business, transitioning to a Microsoft program designed for entrepreneurs and startups in 2012. He then founded Microsoft Ventures, a corporate venture capital subsidiary of Microsoft now known as M12.

"That's when my life got super-interesting," he said. "Because I was travelling the world and meeting startups from all around the world."

Going to Germany, India, Israel and beyond offered him the opportunity to "look at the future where entertainment was going."

"And that's how I got into esports."

In 2014, he left Microsoft to co-found Unikrn with Australian Karl Flores. The company's backers included Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and actor Ashton Kutcher.

"It's been quite a ride ever since," Sood said.

Unikrn allows patrons to use both normal funds and cryptocurrency to make bets. While it is known for esports betting — even allowing people to bet on their own skill at playing video games — the platform also allows wagering on traditional sports.

Sood describes himself as a big sports fan, but previously his interest has primarily focused on the NFL Seahawks. A season-ticket holder, he has been attending games for the last 10 years.

He's also taken in NHL games in Las Vegas, enjoying the Golden Knights' game atmosphere.

The Stallions are captained by Sri Lankan international Thisara Perera and coached by Thilina Kandamby, former captain of the Sri Lanka T20 team.

"We're actually quite optimistic of winning the competition," said Stallions majority owner Brindon Bagirathan.

Bagirathan is a 27-year-old British-based entrepreneur of Sri Lankan heritage who made his fortune in health care, including hair transplant surgery and other cosmetic procedures.

He has an ownership group of about a dozen with the Stallions.

"It's an absolute pleasure to have Rahul on board because he certainly brings a lot more kudos to the franchise than I do," Bagirathan said from London.

Having a Canadian involved is also welcome, he said, because of the number of Canadians with Sri Lankan ties.

Bagirathan and Sood both expect a return on their investment and hope to expand their cricket interests.

"It's a gigantic market. It's also a little bit of the Wild West in many ways," said Sood.

"I don't think people realize the magnitude of this opportunity," he added. "But the bottom line is when the country with the No. 3 global fan base for cricket is starting their own cricket league, getting involved at the ground floor just seems to make financial sense. I think we're going to be profitable in the first year."

Bagirathan plans to go to Sri Lanka to catch the business end of the tournament in person. Sood will be watching from afar.

"It might be weird hours but I have no problem with that," he said.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press