It is perhaps a lesser tested hypothesis that pub nights are harbingers of our best work - but Tilak did conceive Ace of Pubs over a pint, with his mates, on an ordinary Saturday evening. It was no epiphany however, it was the culmination of a decade long passion for quizzing. The story of Ace of Pubs, more popularly known as AOP, is the result of the confluence of camaraderie and Tilak’s diligence as an entrepreneur.
While technically from the finance industry, Tilak Shah had found the allure of the stage quite early on. He had become a fixture in the university MUN (Model UN), debate and college fest circuit. Combined with his vast repository of knowledge, it was not surprising to learn that he had spent many hours hosting and participating in quizzes while growing up. It was during these early years that Tilak’s affable character and quizzing prowess led him to form a tight-knit community of quiz-enthusiasts from all over the country. With the support of that community, Tilak would often organise quiz nights; and what had started as the rather familiar sight of a spirited pub-quiz among friends gave birth to Ace of Pubs: India’s first exclusive community-based pub quizzing company.
AOP launched in 2018 with a rather simple goal - “ Complete and total, engagement and entertainment for people” as the founder remarked. Having already built a large quizzing community, bringing friends brimming with debates, questions, and theories together came naturally to Tilak. While several disparate small quiz companies did exist, their primary motive was to serve an uninspired alternative to live performers at corporate events. AOP is different. AOP provides pub-quizzing on a scale unseen before in India. More importantly, their meteoric success and expansion are predicated purely on the appreciation of ‘community’.
Right from its launch, it was an instant hit. Bombay - well known for its vibrant pub culture, where night outs are almost an act of subsistence amongst the city’s youth- readily embraced quizzing. Certainly rewarding one’s general knowledge with redeemable points for free drinks might have been a powerful motivator, but regardless, quizzing has now been firmly established as a mainstream parlour game thanks to AOP. Since their launch in Bombay, in 2019, AOP has already expanded to all major Indian cities simply due to word of mouth. What started with a few events publicised on Social Media platforms, organically grew into a pan-Indian success. The overwhelmingly positive response has also triggered an active courting by the nightlife and entertainment industry. Over time AOP has also transformed from the home of intrepid quizzers and bar-hoppers into an important venue for highlighting talent. Tilak takes an active part in looking for young quizmasters to grow the community. People who share his passion for the stage and this art form.
AOP has grown exponentially over the past year, despite the pandemic hitting us earlier this year. With that growth, came the need to streamline the user experience. Hence, AOP set out to create a comprehensive application that not only connects people to nearby events but also serves as a community engagement platform - a combination of Live Nation, Facebook and QuizUp, if you will. Lights Out Studio worked closely in tandem with AOP to realise this ambitious vision. It was quite a unique challenge to create an application for AOP, who had essentially built this entire market segment in India. There were no prevailing market models available for inspiration. Hence, we approached the matter academically and relied on the team’s creative fervour instead. The platform had to ensure satisfaction for the existing AOP community without alienating its new members. It also had to serve as an analytics tool to help the company track footfall, user preferences led by live dynamic data.
Light’s Out team along with Tilak, visited top bars in Bombay and Pune to understand footfall patterns, user behaviour, current pubbing styles, government regulations and so on. During the ground research, they also had to consider the partner pubs’ needs and market insights to strengthen the symbiotic relationship between them and AOP. A recurring concern was the drastic plummet in footfall during the weekdays. We were cognizant of this concern when planning events and geared our data analytics to help increase footfall particularly during the week. After weeks of careful external analysis and gauging the internal goals of AOP we settled on a few salient features of the app under-development; such as fluid navigation styles to move from one topic to another, an extensive and hopefully exhaustive range of topics to choose from depending upon one’s personal choices, bar proximity, sharing and social media features and finally geo-location based m-pins to participate in the quiz with security. After integrating all of this we created a High Fidelity prototype for pilot testing which has exhibited promising early results .
The success of AOP and their symbiotic relationship with pub businesses has not gone unnoticed by others. Hence, when Tilak realised the marketing potential of the quiz format, giant media conglomerates were more than eager to let AOP play with their precious IPs. Disney+Hotstar gave AOP exclusive rights to promote the last series - of the pop-culture juggernaut- Game of Thrones: through online quizzes, live events, pub nights and merchandising. Warner Brother struck up a similar deal for its sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory for promotional purposes. In a country where media and marketing practices evolve at a glacial pace, garnering such enthusiastic support from industry leaders is no small feat for AOP. AOP has effectively opened a new frontier of grassroots marketing whose economic potential is incalculable.
AOP effectively has found a way for topics to stay in the popular consciousness of one of the most coveted albeit hyper-kinetic demographics. With Westeros-themed and Sheldon Cooper-Esque quizzes capturing the milieu, it also ensured AOP that future high user-engagement on their app was a fait accompli. The bolstered traffic on the application helped accelerate the improvements in the app algorithms.
Ace of Pub’s journey reaffirms one’s faith in the industrious nature of the Indian entrepreneur at a time when things in the business sector seem grim. There are few people out there who speak with such passion about their work, as Tilak does. Even during this pandemic, undeterred, he and AOP have been hosting online quizzes to keep people engaged and provide respite from the mundanity of staying indoors. There is little doubt as to the reason for the company’s success. Their founder’s commitment to building a community through innovation. I have always felt that an oft under-appreciated legend is that of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. The hearth would bring people together for heat during the harshest times and allowed our ancestors to form complex social relations. The inspiration behind Ace of Pubs reminds me of a modern take on Hestia and how she brought people together. While times may seem bleak this monsoon, beyond these harshest of times, we shall congregate once again in the fiercest of debates, at pub quizzes with friends, thanks to Ace of Pubs.