If you are a chess player, you have probably heard of Chess.com. It is the go-to website for chess players of all levels, offering everything from online games to instructional content and forums for discussing chess strategies.
Interestingly, what you may not know is that Chess.com is a completely bootstrapped company that generates over $50 million annually in revenue.
Here’s the story of how Chess.com became a powerhouse in the chess community.
Erik Allebest, the founder of Chess.com, has always had a passion for chess. Before starting Chess.com, he ran two companies related to chess:
- a chess-teaching business and
- a chess retailer.
But Erik wanted to bring chess to the internet and make it social, just like MySpace did for music. He reached out to his old friend Jay Severson to help him build it.
They aimed to be the MySpace of chess – a social platform where players could share their games, build their profiles, add friends, and chat on forums.
However, they hit a roadblock early on. The two companies that already had the technology for online chess refused to partner with them. So they built it themselves with a cheat code: the Chess.com domain that Erik had bought for $55,000. Every day, they would receive thousands of free visitors as the top result for anyone searching for chess on Google.
In the early days, Chess.com profited by launching a subscription product that taught people how to play chess online. From there, they continued to grow. Today, Chess.com operates on a freemium model where users pay to remove ads and access additional features.
So how did Chess.com become so successful?
Here are three key takeaways:
1. Invest in content
Chess.com partners with and pays over 100 chess professionals to create content and commentate. This has been a key avenue for growth, especially with the rise of chess streamers and YouTubers. Certain Twitch tournaments on Chess.com gain 400,000 concurrent viewers.
By investing in quality content, Chess.com has become the destination for chess enthusiasts.
2. Listen to your customers
The live online playing feature was suggested by early community members. However, over time, the team has been responsive in refining their product, with the founders actively participating on their Reddit pages. By listening to their customers and incorporating their feedback, Chess.com has created a loyal community that keeps coming back.
3. Be ambitious with acquisitions
Chess.com acquired the rights to broadcast the World Chess Championship in 2021 and Komodo in 2018, which offers post-match analysis for players. By being ambitious with acquisitions, Chess.com has expanded its offerings and solidified its position as the leader in the chess community.
Chess.com is proof that a passion for your product, listening to your customers, investing in content, and being ambitious with acquisitions can take you a long way.
Chess.com has become the destination for chess players of all levels and has generated over $50 million annually in revenue – all without any external funding. Who knows where they’ll go from here?
The possibilities are endless.