We all dream of turning our passion into a career. But things don’t always work out the way we want to. So, I will admit that when I met Vivek Kumar, I was a little envious that here is a man who has turned his lifelong passion into a viable business.
Thirty-year old Kumar runs a sports company, Sportswave out of a basement in Gurgaon with his four friends. If you live in Gurgaon and love sports, then chances are that you would have heard of this start up that organizes sports events in the city.
When I met Kumar at a coffee shop to chat about his company, it was quite obvious that the start up was born out of a sheer love for sports rather than an entrepreneurial bug. The very chatty Kumar had a lot of questions on marketing the company. “We don’t have a PR agency. Should we hire one?” he asked.
Clearly, this isn’t one of those start ups that hires a PR agency even before they break even. There are no tall revenue targets either. “The only target is to reach out to as many sports enthusiasts as possible,” says Kumar.
Kumar and his childhood friend Nikhil Jha started Sportswave on a whim. The two friends grew up together in Tata Nagar, Jamshedpur. “We played cricket together for 16-17 years,” says Kumar. The two grew up and went their separate ways.
Nikhil, an IIT-Bombay graduate joined Ernst and Young in Gurgaon and Kumar, an engineering, graduate joined an NGO in Nagpur. But their love for sports didn’t waver. “Whenever we met, we talked about sports with nostalgia. Once we started working, we had no time for sports,” says Kumar.
It is a problem that confronts all of us . No time for sports, can’t find like minded individuals to play with and no affordable sports infrastructure. The two friends though felt that they should bring back sports into their lives. “It dawned on us that if we felt this void, there must be others who miss the thrill of sports as well,” says Jha.
In July, 2010, Vivek and Nikhil talked to their friends Nikhil Rai, Tushar Kumar Ujjwal, and SriKumar Nair about starting a company that will help people play sports. “We decided that some of us will quit our jobs and start the company. If we did well, others could join in,” says Jha. Kumar, Jha and Rai took the plunge and started Sportswave in December, 2010, with a seed capital of Rs 3 lakh. The first demo cricket match, was held on 26th December, 2010 at the AnsalUniversity ground in Gurgaon.
The match was a ‘hit,’ with some 100 people attending it. From a tentative experiment, Sportswave grew into a sports company. The company works on a simple concept. Kumar says it is akin to booking a flight ticket online. “You log on to our site, http://www.sportswave.co.in/, choose the sports you want to play, register for it and start playing. It is as simple as that,” says Kumar.
The company organizes 20:20 cricket, tennis, basketball, football and volleyball matches with professional umpires hired from DDA sports academies. If you have played team sports you would know that the biggest problem is bringing a team together. Nikhil and Kumar went back to their childhood days for inspiration. Sportswave brings like minded members together to form teams. “It is similar to what happened in our school days. We announce there is a match and people who are interested join in,” says Kumar.
The company organizes net practice, one-off matches and tournaments. It has taken two sports grounds on an annual lease in Gurgaon, where matches are organized after office hours or on weekends. Members are either individuals or companies, who want to encourage sports among their employees.
Very early on, Kumar and his friends realized that organising matches alone puts Sportswave at the risk of turning into an event management company. “We want to be a sports company, which engages people on a regular basis. If you think of sports, you should come to us. That’s the brand we want to build,” says Kumar.
So, as part of its engagement process, in 2012, Sportswave started the practice of maintaining statistics for every player. “We track every individual across all the sports. This helps our members in identifying their strengths and weaknesses,” says Kumar.
The company has 5,000 members of which 3000, who joined after 2012, are tracked. Depending on their stats, players are given badges. There are 40 different achievement badges that can be unlocked across sports.
Every match is recorded and members are given 10 minute video links, featuring them.
Manish Singh, who lives and works in Gurgaon holds around 12 such badges for cricket, including the prestigious Mayor badge (given to the maximum scorer in any game). The 32 year old, joined Sportswave two years ago, to lose weight through sports.
Manish has lost over 12 kilos since then and regained his passion for sports. “The best thing about Sportswave is they have a good online presence, they upload match scores, maintain stats, make a profile of every player. They make me feel like a sports star,” says Singh.
The company is close to break even and will clock revenue of Rs 75 lakh in FY14 (they get paid every time a member plays) . Ironically, while the business is doing well, the founders are still struggling to find time for sports. Nikhil Jha laughs when asked about their grand plan of going back to playing sports. “There is a Sportswave cricket team consisting of our employees (12 people) and we try to squeeze in a match every two weekends. I try and play tennis twice a week,” says Jha. “But that’s all the action I get.”