YUVRAJ SINGH WANTS to finance movies based on sports. In fact his own life, documented in his autobiography The Test of My Life, would make for a blockbuster script.
Singh’s cricketing achievements are the stuff of legend: a 121-run partnership with Mohammad Kaif, which won India the 2002 NatWest series (immortalised by captain Sourav Ganguly’s chest-baring); the six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad in the 2007 T20 World Cup, a tournament India went on to win; the extraordinary run with bat and ball in the 2011 ODI World Cup, where he was named Player of the Tournament, and which too India won.
His life beyond cricket is characterised by equally high-pitched stories: his parents’ separation; his father’s heavy-handed insistence that he concentrate on cricket to the exclusion of other sports; and, most of all, his battle against lung cancer soon after the 2011 triumph.
The very next year he was fit and back on the field, and made big strides off it by launching YouWeCan, an initiative to help early detection of cancer and provide a helping hand to cancer patients. This year, even as he has found it tough to break into the Indian team, the all-rounder turned another leaf by becoming an early-stage investor. Here he explains how he picks the companies he wants to support, and what he brings to the table apart from the cash.
The idea of YouWeCan Ventures was born out of discussions with Nishant Singhal (now the company’s co-founder and chief investment officer), whom I met in 2010 when he was working with real estate advisory Investors Clinic. In 2011, I became brand ambassador for Investors Clinic, and we first thought of launching a startup investment firm together the year after. But at the time I was still recovering from cancer and was not up for it. In the past six or eight months, I have had some free time, and so we plunged into it. We have invested in nine startups so far. Nishant is now my manager as well.
YouWeCan Ventures shares its first name with my cancer initiative because we want to carry the brand forward. The aim is to do something for people who don’t have enough money to fulfil their dreams. I have seen many who could not pursue their dreams in cricket because they could not afford the equipment. Similarly, some young entrepreneurs have great ideas but no resources; why not invest to make their dreams come true?
Our choice of investible startups is not always dictated by the size of the market, whether they are in a mass or niche business. We want to understand how a startup can make a difference to society. Say, how many jobs will it create? We also look at whether there is good brand integration. (The brands should benefit from Singh’s public image—young, swashbuckling cricketer, cancer survivor).
If I were to choose between a venture that leads to social uplift and one focussed only on profit, I will always pick the former. It makes good business sense too. People will accept a product or service quickly if they feel it is benefiting many. The nine companies we have invested in started with 20 people between them. Today, they have more than 200 employees. So in our own way we have made an impact.
Today, getting the technology ready in a startup is not all that expensive. I believe you can build a taxi app for Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh. What startups really need is early traction, which I hope my endorsement will bring them. We are in this for the long term. We are not like those investors who want to exit in three or four quarters.
We have decided to invest only in business-to-customer online ventures, not in areas like big data analytics. But we are fairly diverse. With Vyomo, a mobile marketplace for beauty and wellness treatments, we are looking to improve the lives of beauty stylists by providing avenues to earn more. We put money in Moovo, a truck aggregator, because it provides truck drivers a platform to connect with customers. There’s also EduKart, which helps users make informed choices about education and connects them with appropriate course providers. Take the case of college students playing a sport professionally. How can they continue their education? Or say, a person is working and wants another degree. That’s where EduKart comes in.
We have also invested in JetSetGo, a marketplace listing private jet, helicopter, and air ambulance services, and in burger chain Carl’s Jr. Both these investments were completely driven by market considerations, but part of our earnings from JetSetGo will go towards charity.
Carl’s Jr. has just entered India. Only two quick-service restaurant brands—KFC and McDonald’s—matter in India. I am told they control 80% of the Rs 40,000 crore market. So there is space for a third player. Even with 10% market share, you can be a billion-dollar company.
Sport is obviously a big part of our plan. We would like to do something that has a long-term impact on how people play and follow sport in India. For instance, how do you identify grassroots talent and then generate funds to support them? We are looking not only at cricket but also at hockey and badminton.
To create a culture of sport, we invested in DAR Media. The idea is to help us build a platform that focusses on making sports films as a genre. Through DAR we want to promote the stories of people who have dedicated their lives to sport. I feel this genre has huge potential—take the success of a film like Mary Kom—but hardly any production house is exploring it.
We have also invested in Sports365, which is India’s largest online retailing platform for sports and fitness equipment. We are already starting to notice the rising popularity of sports other than cricket: For instance, we learnt that badminton is the biggest category for Sports365.
I am sure my involvement in these ventures will go up when I stop playing cricket. As of now, once in two months, I meet the people at the companies we have backed. I try to understand the challenges they are facing and find out if there is anything I can do for them in terms of making introductions or building relationships.
The people running the startups know their business but they could do with assurance, motivation, and a go-for-it attitude. That’s what I contribute at the meetings.