Unwind Media (Solitaired)

Emry Downinghall, SVP Programmatic
Darshan Somashekar, Co-founder
Neal Taparia, Co–founder

New York, NY
Unwind Media (Solitaired) Unwind Media (Solitaired)
Reimagining a popular card game with purpose

Neal Taparia and Darshan Somashekar go way back - the two high school friends who grew up in Chicago started building websites in their teens. One of their first products, a citation tool called EasyBib, became a hit among students and the basis of an edtech company they would later grow. However, it wasn’t until 2019 when they had the opportunity to experiment with how to infuse classic games with an educational twist. They imagined a platform where players of all ages and backgrounds could learn a thing or two while playing Solitaire, one of the most popular games in the world.

Thus, Solitaired was born.

The duo replaced traditional cards with ones that carried focused themes like "Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement" and "Notable Women in Computing," telling fascinating stories about notable figures and moments in history through Solitaire.

Then, the pandemic hit.

"People were stuck at home and wanted to play games, so we shifted to, ‘how do we make an awesome gaming experience?’" Neal recalls. "It was during the pandemic that Solitaired really found its footing and became a gaming platform."

The Unwind Media team
Bringing education into games

Their previous foray into education, where they focused on creating seamless and intuitive writing tools for students, served as inspiration for the vision they had for Solitaired.

"We wanted to bring that to solitaire and gaming, we thought it was a more engaging way of drawing users in," Darshan says.

The team partnered with the Lemelson-MIT program, which promotes invention education, to make a deck of cards featuring famous inventors like Shuji Nakamura, responsible for the LED light and Margaret E. Knight, who is known for creating the flat-bottomed paper bag.

They’ve also expanded into different games, operating im–a-puzzle, where educators can create jigsaw puzzles in which the pieces can only unlock after answering questions under the umbrella of their company Unwind Media.

A player beating one of Unwind's games in 41 seconds.
“We think of advertising as the democratization of learning and access to information. Advertising is what powers the open internet.”
Upgrading Solitaired to the next level

Neal and Darshan’s new concept served as a source of educational entertainment for many during lockdown measures, and soon they grew their team of two to five - a feat they say would have been much more difficult without the support of Google Ad Manager. "Being ad-supported allows us to grow our business and stay true to our goals," Darshan says. "When you have a consumer business that’s reaching a lot of eyeballs it's just a great business model to monetize," Neal adds. "Ads support you and your goals to grow the business, without the ad component we couldn’t do what we do."

Emry Downinghall, SVP of Programmatic Revenue & Strategy at Unwind Media agrees. "We think of advertising as the democratization of learning and access to information," Emry says. "Advertising is what powers the open internet."

This has been an important area of focus and mission for Emry as he helps the team navigate internet privacy changes. "Users have a right to privacy online," Emry says. "As a publisher, we need to figure out how to replace the value of the third-party cookie. It’s been really encouraging to figure that out in partnership with Google."

Outside of their core work, Neal and Darshan are focused on creating a great company culture. "We try to live up to the namesake of our business: unwind," Neal says. His co-founder echoes the sentiment. "We’re about flexibility, freedom and not being overly managed," Darshan says. "We’re an intentionally small team, who we know and trust super well, and our philosophy is ‘less is more’ so we can focus on what's important - the more effective we are with our partnership with Google, the better we are at building business."

Beyond solitary success: Connecting with a publisher community reaps rewards

The success of Solitaired has opened up another avenue for Darshan, Neal and Emry: connecting with other publishers to keep the free access to information and education going.

Through Google, the team initially connected with two other publishers, and that eventually snowballed into a message group which now has over 200 publishers sharing tips and trends on how to approach monetization.

"We share in a community of publishers to give back and learn as much as we can," Emry says. "This is my favorite aspect of being a publisher!"

About the Publisher

Neal Taparia is a graduate from Northwestern University. After graduation, he briefly worked at Lehman Brother before growing Imagine Easy Solutions, an ed tech company he founded as a student that helped over 30 millions students yearly with writing. After selling the business and working at Chegg as an executive for three years he founded Unwind Media, a gaming company. Emry DowningHall has led programmatic revenue and strategy across startups and public companies. He was an early adopter of technology focused publisher solutions, particularly header bidding. Emry enjoys sharing learnings and challenges with other publishers and in 2018 received the AdMonsters Digital Media Leadership Award. Darshan Somashekar is a technology entrepreneur who built and sold two startups. After working for Bain & Company, Darshan co-founded drop.io, a media sharing startup that was acquired by Facebook in 2010. He also co-founded Imagine Easy Solutions, a research and citation platform, which was acquired by Chegg in 2016. Darshan subsequently served as Chegg's VP of Product, and most recently founded Unwind Media.
About the author