Sitting in a crowded canteen in Delhi University during the Cricket World Cup is an exhilarating experience. Everybody gathers around the small TV. Lukewarm aloo patties and rajma chawal turn cold as students stare at the screen. Occasional bursts of excited shouts or disappointed sighs punctuate the proceedings from time to time.
Holding a fat book of computer programming in one hand and jostling with the other to find a clear line-of-sight to the television screen, I thought, “It would be so great if I could earn my dal-roti watching sports!”
18 years later, here I am, walking into my work space and watching sports for a living. What an innings it has been till now!
I was a budding programmer studying Computer Applications in Delhi University between 1998 and 2001, the years when the ‘Internet’ phenomenon was just entering our country. As usual, everyone predicted ‘techies’ to be the rulers of new India, and we were all slogging it with ‘binary’ as our new mother tongue. I, however, did not trudge the beaten path of going for an MBA degree after my graduation, opting instead to pursue a career in brand communications.
Being part of a team that conceptualized a travel show was a great learning experience in coordination and man management, and was a chance to explore the unique culture of our country. From then on, I spent a few years in advertising and marketing. I worked with various renowned brands such as John Players, HCL, Micromax, Dish TV, and Rado, as well as some of the most promising ad houses, learning the ropes of effective branding. This knowledge has come in extremely handy in my entrepreneurial career with Rooter.
During my entire corporate career, I was always clear that I definitely want to do something of my own, and that ‘something’ should ideally be related to sports. But as I started working, I slowly realized that I frequently ended up watching sports alone. The occasional days when important matches fell on weekends still brought all the friends together for a time spent in great revelry, but such moments were few and far between. This got me thinking on a problem on which I worked for five years – connecting sports fans. It was a frantic phase. I wrote down 10 different business ideas related to ticketing, sponsorship, and even a ‘Tinder’ for sports fans, but I felt I still hadn’t found that one idea which would cause disruption in the sports industry. I had realized, however, that I was onto something, so with great nervousness and equal amounts of excitement, I walked away from a high-paying, promising corporate career of over 13 years, with a lot of responsibilities and little more than a vague vision of the future.
I took the idea of creating a sports fan engagement platform, where sports aficionados could come together on a real-time basis and enjoy the experience of watching sports together, and met 2-3 investors. All of them appreciated the idea, especially the fact that it was a completely untapped market. That initial trust bestowed in a completely unproven business idea was extremely heartening, and injected me with an extra dose of confidence.
The next challenge was finding a right person to helm the technical division, as I envisioned Rooter essentially as a tech-based platform. One of the lessons I learnt and would like all budding entrepreneurs to follow is the fact that a startup’s founding members need to be the best guys you can hire. They need to be experts in their field before being your friends. An arranged marriage is a great metaphor for finding the first employees; if they are skillful and talented, camaraderie and friendship is bound to follow. I found a perfect match in Soham, who was the ideal person to lead the technical operations of Rooter. Both of us also took a great risk in working with completely unknown yet talented personnel with a passion for sports – a gamble that has paid off for us. Akshat joined us a month later to head the entire backend team and 3 of us together started working on the tech platform.
We had realized, during Rooter’s early stage itself, that connecting fans is not possible without engaging them. We decided to model the in-app features on the basis of ice-breaking sessions at HR workshops. Having identified the need to have an extremely strong engagement feature, we came up with the idea of the live match prediction feature.
2016 was probably the worst year to raise funds, especially for consumer-facing ventures. The fact that we managed to raise funding that year was a tremendous boost to us. It was the first time we felt we had succeeded in making people believe in an idea that was hitherto unknown, with no reference model to follow. And yet, investors believed in its potential.
Our audience engagement numbers have also grown immensely since our launch; from 3-5 minutes, Rooter users have started spending an average of 13-17 minutes every day on the app. In a claustrophobic virtual space where many apps barely get accessed once or twice a week if they are lucky, Rooter’s performance has exceeded our expectations.
With Rooter, real-time sports fan engagement has finally arrived. Having introduced live sports engagement, we are looking at bringing more innovation in the future. A sports currency that works across platforms such as Amazon, Paytm etc. is the next thing we are aiming for with Rooter Coins. These coins can only be earned by participating in various activities on Rooter’s platform and will never be bought. This will not only provide dedicated sports fans an additional incentive for engaging with Rooter, but will also underline their passion for sports. Real-time updates, sports quizzes, closed-group creations, interactions with players, sports merchandize, offline groups in social locations such as pubs – there are endless future possibilities of innovation for Rooter.
Belief in an idea, a smart approach, and hard work have allowed a few guys to create a unique platform which has brought millions of sports fan across the globe together, and watch sports all day long while they are doing it! Who knows, believing in your dreams and having the courage to follow it through might just allow you to do what you love, too!