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Neal Taparia, CEO of Solitaired – Interview Series

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Neal Taparia, is the CEO of Solitaired, a platform that offers over 500 versions of solitaire – Play Klondike Turn 1, Klondike Turn 3, Spider, Free Cell, Pyramid, and Golf Solitaire, among many other versions.

What inspired you to launch Solitaired?

There has been a more and more emphasis on mental health and how to stay mentally strong while aging. Many companies like Lumosity have sprung up to tackle concepts like brain training in a fun way. We believe this category will continue to grow as more attention is placed on mental health.

We wanted to find a unique angle to brain training, and find a way to try brain training exercises in a medium they are familiar with. We didn’t want potential consumers to learn new games. Not only would there be a learning curve, but it could hinder adoption.

So we decided to explore how classic games that people already know and love could be used as a medium for brain training. There is also the added benefit that our target market, which tends to be elderly individuals, love classic games and are interested in keeping their mental skills sharp.

Could you tell us about the different versions of games offered on Solitaired?

Right now, we offer 500 different versions of solitaire. This includes classic solitaire, often called Klondike, and popular variations like Spider Solitaire and FreeCell Solitaire.

We focused on creating high quality graphics to create a good user experience. We also have additional features like a game of the day, leaderboard, and ability to customize cards to keep users coming back to the site.

Soon, we’ll start offering features geared towards mentally challenging yourself. This includes trying to beat previous times and number of moves, and recreate an exact sequence to win a game.

Over the next year, we want to add more games, from crosswords puzzles, to Sudoku, to Majong, all designed in a way that are fun and help with brain training.

You’ve explored the link between classic games and brain training. Could you share with us how games can be used to train the brain?

Studies find that as we age, we lose cognitive abilities such as reasoning, memory, and processing speed. However, if we regularly exercise our minds, we can prevent or minimize these losses, and stay sharp. It can even help combat dementia.

Classic games like Solitaire are a great solution for this. Games that stimulate thinking are shown to improve processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making, and short-term memory.

Why is solitaire a great game for brain training?

Solitaire is a great way to cognitively push yourself. For example, trying to beat a solitaire game in the exact same sequence exercises your memory skills. There are dozens of sequential moves, and to repeat this is no easy feat. Doing so can strengthen your memory.

More broadly, games that require you to think help with your cognitive reserve which powers your ability to improvise, think on the spot, and make quick decisions. Solitaire, especially in a timed format, can strengthen this.

Lastly, novelty is important to strengthening your brain. With solitaire, there are endless decks that can be dealt of varying difficulty. Some games can’t even be won. The variability and variety of solitaire games creates a novel game play effect which is good for you cognitively.

What are some life skill sets that can be adapted from playing solitaire?

In solitaire, you might think you have successfully placed a card, only to find you need it back to unlock the game and further advance. It teaches you that sometimes, to take two steps forward, you have to take a step back. You can’t rush progress, and you need to constantly evaluate what it takes to get to your end goal.

Solitaire also teaches you how to be patient in your decision making. There are many moves that will come up where you might pass on, because moving a different card can surface more cards you can play. You have to mentally keep track of what the probability of this is, and decide if it’s worthwhile to be patient. If you’re selling your house, for example, you don’t want to bite on the first offer. Rather, you want to be patient and then make your decision.

This is your second startup, as previously you were a co-founder of EasyBib.com a company that was later acquired by Chegg. What are some of the lessons that you learned over the years about launching and successfully scaling a business?

No matter how good you think your product idea is, or how much research you’ve done, you will only truly know if it’s promising by putting a product or feature out there. I see so many entrepreneurs overthink their product, only to find out it’s a dud. Focus on getting something in the hands of your users to understand what value it brings and to learn and iterate to truly solve for their needs.

Now, instead of building out product features, we will regularly launch painted door tests. This is where we show a button to a feature, but have not built out the feature yet. To give you an example, we wanted to see if a multiplayer mode would be popular among our users. Instead of building it, we just launched a button where when clicked, it would say the feature is coming soon. We quickly learned there was little interest in it, and decided not to invest the resources in building it out.

To succeed, learn to fail fast. The faster you fail, the faster you learn and the faster you succeed.

You are also a Co-Founder of SOTA Partners, which invests, incubates, and advises companies. When it comes to gaming or VR products is there a specific type of concept or technology that you look for?

We really like identifying new ways technology can be applied. For example, we invested in TrasfrVR. With intelligent tutoring technology, they use virtual reality simulations that teach manufacturing skills. The idea is to rethink traditional education and directly teach skills needed on the job. They recently launched a partnership with the state of Alabama, and after using their technology, have placed candidates with companies like Lockheed Martin.

Classic games have also not been built for VR, and it’s something we think can become a new category.

Have you noticed any type of traffic jump since COVID-19?

We certainly saw an acceleration in our growth, and by looking at the stats of other classic gaming sites, we’ve seen the space as a whole grow. With people being stuck at home, and not venturing out, many have turned to games as an outlet. With people stressed, games are also a great way to take the edge off.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Solitaired?

Solitaire interestingly is one of the most popular and oldest games in the world. Millions of people play it today and it dates back to the 1800s!

Thank you for the interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Solitaired.

Antoine Tardif is the CEO of Gaming.net, and has always had a love affair for games, and has a special fondness for anything Nintendo related.