Weekly Startup Profiles > GoSports India Pvt. Ltd

Go Sports
Vir traveled miles from his hometown for his training; compromised on his living conditions to save money for tournaments. To make things worse his parents wanted him to study. So how did he make it to the Olympics?

Quick Facts
Entrepreneur : Nandan Kamath
Age : 31
Company : GoSports India Pvt. Ltd
Based in : Bangalore
Founded in : 2006
Industry : Sports

Business Summary


Athlete development and management company

The Idea

Have you heard of Virdhawal Khade? If you haven't, you soon will, for he is one of India's most promising contenders for the Beijing Olympics this year. But, this 15-year-old swimmer almost didn't make it? and ironically, it had nothing to do with talent, and a lot to do with everything else.

Vir traveled miles from his hometown Kolhapur to Bangalore for his training; compromised on his living conditions and diet to save money for tournaments, and hunted frustratingly for a sponsor. To make things worse, his anxious parents were eager that he pursued his studies rather than become a swimmer.

Stepped in the three young founders of sports management company GoSports - Nandan Kamath, Hakimuddin S. Habibulla and Joseph Ollapally ' and changed his life forever.

GoSports is a 360 degree athlete development and management company that aims to "bring the right funding and right facilities to the right athlete". The three raised funds up to 70 lakhs per annum for sponsoring Vir at international competitions, ensured that his training and diet were back on track, played counselors for him and his family and got Vir's focus back to swimming.

"The coach trains, the athlete performs...everything else is looked after by us," explains Nandan.

Nandan, a former Karnataka State captain in junior level cricket at St Joseph's Boys High School, chose to study law at National Law School over pursuing a sports career. "The chances of succeeding as a cricketer were less than three per cent. So I studied law at NLS and Harvard Law School and practiced in the US for 3 years," Nandan reveals.

However, it was a decision that was to haunt Nandan in the coming years. In the US, he was impressed by the professional attitude towards sports - something that he felt was conspicuously absent in India. In early 2006, he bumped into Hakim - his junior from school and a former swimmer who represented India in the Sydney Olympics - who shared his views.

A few months later, when Nandan decided to return to India to start something new, sports was his first calling. He got in touch with Hakim, who was then working at Tata Consultancy Services, and Joseph, another talented sportsman from his schooldays and junior at Harvard, and started GoSports in 2006.

"We saw the opportunity for GoSports in our very personal experiences as young sportsmen. Having seen sports managed professionally in many other places, and recognizing the immense potential for making a difference in this sphere, we set about our entrepreneurial venture," shares Nandan.

"In some sense, this is a venture capital fund for careers in sports. We spend time, energy and money on making sporting careers possible, diversify our risk by working with a number of athletes and share in their success. This makes the whole venture successful and sustainable," he adds.

The Opportunity

Increasing foreign and domestic investment in sports infrastructure, leagues, events and tournaments - from football to rugby to golf to Formula One - has made sports a high profile and important sector.

Nandan is pleased with the trend. "Once there are platforms to perform on, athletes have outlets to display their talent and that also encourages sponsors to invest in these athletes for mutual gain. The best way to do that is by identifying, grooming and building sports champions who will inspire others and elevate the status of their respective sports. Our business model is to work with athletes from different sports and align our professional and commercial interests with theirs and to grow with them," explains Nandan.

As intermediaries, GoSports has two sets of customers: On one hand are talented athletes, and on the other hand, the corporate world and government. "Honestly, there is no dearth of customers, the challenge to scaling is in having a large network tapping that talent and in finding visionaries wanting to invest in potential rather than taking the easy way out and associating with celebrities," says Nandan.

According to Nandan, GoSports' differentiating factor is their focus on athlete development as opposed to athlete marketing. "We believe that few, if any, are involved in the early-stage interventions as we are. Also, we are unaware of anyone with equivalent educational credentials, personal credibility and professional qualifications in this space. Given that we are playing the role of change-makers and intermediaries that is without doubt a huge competitive advantage," he feels.

However, he believes that given how little is going on in sports development, competition in this arena is good for everyone. "If more people began doing what we are doing this would further validate our proposition. We find that we are already raising the bar on what has otherwise been a very unstructured segment of the sports industry. Our approach is empowerment. If there are others than can meet or raise the standards we set, that can only be good for Indian sport," he explains.

The Money

"We are completely self-funded and continue to be so. We felt this was critical at the early stages when we had a vision and an approach which we did not want to compromise on, i.e., athlete-centred management and development. I'm not sure if this is a venture-capital friendly model as it needs certain leaps of faith to believe in the success of the model. We shared the passion and the belief in our long-term plan and decided to retain the freedom to stick to that vision," explains Nandan.

"Our revenue model is similar to that of an asset management fund, except that our assets are humans and athletes. You invest time, money, expertise and energy into enhancing the value of a portfolio of 'assets' by converting the talent potential into high-quality performances. This, in turn, result in commercial success through prize money, sponsorships and endorsements. Like in any fund, there are risks that some assets might not pay out (an athlete might get badly injured or might give up the sport) and the challenge is to adequately diversify the portfolio across sports and athletes.

Our initial capital investment was minimal, - we only invested in basic office equipment and our athletes (where we felt it was essential), our major cost was the opportunity cost of our time, efforts and expertise, which is also our biggest asset," he says.

Go Sport is currently ploughing back profits from Nandan's -legal business to meet the day-to-day expenses. "Given the nature of our business, its too early to make money. We are still in the stage of identifying and investing in talent and the revenues will be further down the road," he says.

The Team

In the beginning, the team spent time understanding the various necessary pieces of the pie, such as contracting standards, PR, sponsor management and marketing. They started by working alongside their other jobs but soon realized that the task at hand required a lot more attention. In early 2007, they took the leap of faith and went fulltime.

Initially they worked out of Nandan's apartment and handled everything collectively. "While that might not have been the most efficient way to do things, we have no regrets as it gave each of us a full perspective on what it takes and how it's done," says Nandan, adding, "As insiders to both the sports world as well as the corporate, legal and administrative spheres we saw ourselves as perfectly placed to really understand an athlete's needs, to manage them professionally and to present opportunities of association to administrators and corporates in ways that make sense to them."

The Company - today and tomorrow

Nandan is ready to take things to the next level. Three of GoSports athletes have qualified for the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 - Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal in swimming and Anup Sridhar in badminton.

The company is currently considering various growth strategies and intends to increase their athlete portfolio to 20 in the coming months.

Nandan feels their model is eminently scalable if well-managed. "Our decision to scale will depend on our ability to provide the appropriate quality of management expertise as we scale. Only time and experience will guide our future growth," he says.

What keeps you awake at night?

Injury or something really bad happening to any one of our athletes is probably our biggest concern. Every other challenge we can get through.

Entrepreneur Speak: Nandan Kamath

On entrepreneurship

I always wanted to be a trailblazer. As an entrepreneur, the more I do, the more I want to try. Giving myself the license to dream is the most important license agreement I have drawn as a lawyer.

On his biggest learning:

Patience. An entrepreneurial experience is far different from an employment situation ? the feedback is not immediate. What we have achieved today is a result of what we put in 18 months ago. As an entrepreneur, it is unrealistic to expect results overnight.

On taking risks:

Thanks to our educational background, we always have a backup choice of going back to our professional lives. As risk is non-existent, I feel it is as an obligation to take risk and make a change.

Why is GoSports cool?

It's considered a 'wise' business strategy to link revenue with products or solutions. However, by choosing to build a business that is directly linked to the destinies of other people, that too in the unpredictable field of sports, Nandan, Hakim and Joseph have defied conventional wisdom. But they are not rebels without a cause. GoSports is a culmination of their passion, confidence, commitment to sports and sound business idea of tapping the much-ignored sports industry in India ? and this makes their startup cool.

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