Startup mantra: CricZone that bats (& bowls) for women
PUNE A single tweet or a social media post can change your life… that is the story of Yash Lahoti. Lahoti is founder of Breaking Boundaries, a company that has created a platform to promote women’s cricket - Women’s CricZone.
In the beginning
Born and brought up in town called Malegaon in Akola district in Vidarbha, Lahoti did his schooling till Class 10 there. He completed his Class 12 education in Hyderabad and then came to Pune for his computer engineering course at the Pune Institute of Computer Technology (PICT).
Says Lahoti, “I started my engineering in 2013, but after the first year itself, I understood that it is not my cup of tea. I started taking lot of interest in events like the tech and cultural fests. I thought management is something I like. I loved marketing, getting sponsors, handling finance. So, after completing my engineering, I was searching for jobs in the marketing domain only. I joined Mojo Networks in July 2017, where I handled marketing activities and social media. I worked there for 13 months and left the job in August 2018.”
I come from a Marwadi family and so starting a business was never a problem. When I called up my dad and said that I want to leave my job and start a business, his response was very clear –“do it”, but don’t stress too much. Lahoti said, “My dad says at no given point in time should you blame the business failure – if it did – on yourself alone.”
Women’s CricZone (WCZ)
Women’s CricZone was started to bridge the gap between coverage of women’s and men’s cricket. This gap has been prolonged for many years, where women’s cricket has not been given much importance. Cricket is generally liked in India and it grabs the majority of TV viewership. That was the point breaker, says Lahoti.
He recalls, “I am also a big, passionate fan of cricket. For me it was like, why is it that women’s cricket is not getting traction? Or coverage? Or viewership? So, I started with a Twitter handle during the 2017 World Cup. I tried to provide information to the public and people liked it. The social media handle got some traction and then after three to four months, a lot of people started messaging me to create a website to give detailed information to the public. Since I was working at another company at the time, I knew that I would not be able to manage it all on my own. I could create a website, given my educational background of computer engineering, but I could not get necessary information or write. A lot of people offered their contribution as freelancers. So, December 2017 we did that.”
A life-changing “tweet”
Says Lahoti, “In March 2018, there was a tri-series between India, Australia and England, going on at the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai. I was in the city for some office work for a week and I was there watching the match in the first half. There was a 11-year-old girl sitting in the crowd, watching the match, along with her parents. It was interesting. She was sitting about 100 metres away from the commentary box where Isa Guha, Melanie Jones and Anjum Chopra were present. The little girl was trying to approach them but the security guards were not allowing her. Women CricZone had a decent social media following then and I dropped a tweet and tagged Anjum, Melanie and Isa. Melanie Jones replied to the tweet, but since she was on air at that time, Anjum and Isa came and sat with the girl in the crowd for 10 minutes. They asked the girl to come again after couple of days during the India-England game and offered her the opportunity to meet all the other cricketers. The little girl got autographs of all the players in the dressing room. That was the point when I thought women’s cricket is growing, but has not got the backing needed. That was the tipping point for me. I started making a business plan. It was clear that I can’t run this as an NGO and so I left my job and started this full time.
Lahoti says, “How to grow was the next big question. With the website we were able to reach out to normal fans, but how to reach stakeholders, who are either playing the game (male or female cricketers), or sponsors. So, we decided to create a high-quality magazine which covers different nuances of the women’s game. Sidhant Patnaik was editor-in-chief of our magazine, but he passed away. Ananya Upendran then joined us as managing editor. After Ananya, S Sudarshanan and Ayan Mukherjee joined our team and the total strength now is 10.”
On the hiring strategy, Lahoti says, “Hiring is the most critical part of building a startup. That is something that will take you either to the top or bottom. You need to have right people at the right time in your startup.”
When I started in August 2018, I met Vinit Deo, founder of Posiview Consulting. Deo wanted to be an active part of my idea and joined me. Deo used to take care of finance and investment.
Deo introduced us to serial investor Chinmay Bhosale. My uncle from Hyderabad too came on board. Our legal advisor is Vivek Sadhale of LegaLogic and he introduced us to Hodek Ventures, who were looking to invest in companies. Hodek’s managing director Abhijit Khanvilkar is also a cricket fan.
Chitale Group partner Indraneel Chitale and Pranitya Wealth founder Praveen Bhalerao came on board too. Deo also was instrumental in getting Sunandan Lele as mentor and cricketer Kedar Jadhav as an investor.
Lahoti says, “We have got good mentors who have guided us from time to time. After we raised our first round of funding, we started getting a lot of traction on our social media and website. One of our mentors advised us to start the magazine while the other suggested an award show. The first show was organised at Bhubaneshwar.”
“Commentator Prakash Wakankar, Sunandan Lele, Vinit Deo, Indraneel Chitale everybody brings a lot of experience from their respective fields. These mentors give us solutions to our problems. They show us the path and we follow it.”
Platforms and responses
“In terms of engagements and conversations Twitter is the preferred platform and in terms of viewership, especially videos, Facebook is the platform which is driving our content. 85 per cent of our audience is from India and it is very widespread,” says Lahoti.
Recalling the lockdown days, Lahoti says, “After the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, we have reinvented ourselves. We initially focussed a lot on on-ground coverage. What to do when for seven to eight months there is no cricket at all? We started doing lot more video content. We didn’t want people to forget us. Now the matches have resumed, so we are also back covering the game.”
Says Lahoti, “Last year was very challenging, but next year is going to be very interesting. Consider the December 2021 to March 2023 period - in about 14 months we have three world cups. We have the first under-19 women’s cricket World Cup; the 50-over and 20-over World Cups. Women’s cricket will be played at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July 2022. ICC has announced that there will be a women’s cricket global tournament every year from 2022 to 2031. So, for the next 10 years, there will be four 50-overs World Cups, four T-20 World Cups and two T-20 Champion’s Cups. The T-20 Champion’s Cup is a new category that ICC has introduced wherein the top six teams will participate. We are also expanding our portfolio and want to make women’s cricket content available and accessible to all.”
“Of course, a combination of cricket and India is a no- brainer when it comes to business. However, what struck me the most was the fact that it also came with a cause - spreading women’s cricket in the world. Today, the success of WCZ has prompted official registered cricket boards as well as startups to take up to this idea which is eventually helping to spread awareness and popularity of women’s cricket. This was the fundamental vision behind supporting Lahoti in his endeavour, and the conviction on the vision was sufficiently strong to understand that money would also follow in due course. Today, most of the world cricketing bodies, ICC Hall of Famers and international women players have knowledge of WCZ’s work and that speaks volumes of the journey which Lahoti and team have managed to cover till date,” Bhosale says.
Indraneel Chitale, partner, Chitale Group
“Women’s cricket has been a fascinating area and the way the sport is picking up, I felt Lahoti was poised to become the go-to point in that industry. The diverse applications that the platform offers like data, association and now streaming, are great avenues and Lahoti has built a good team around him that led us to invest in this venture.”
Vinit Deo, CEO, Posiview Group
“Posiview Ventures looks at supporting entrepreneurs who work on startups that are “made In India”, for the World. When Yash met us we were impressed with his vision of being the World’s number 1 platform for Women’s cricket - a sport that is on the verge of take-off. With our network built over the last two decades, we could help Lahoti in creating an advisory board, get initial advertisers, as well as assist in putting together an organisational structure and processes to be ready for growth. We have already raised one round of angel funding from marquee investors and the next round is underway.