At Torchbearers Inc., Olympian Abhinav Bindra and Dream11’s Harsh Jain uncover their hustle to win on and off the field

May 2, 2022

Torchbearers Inc., an initiative by the AWS and NeoNiche, brings India’s torchbearers from the sports arena to the boardroom, onto one platform to share the story of their hustles and wins. In the curtain-raiser episode, Abhinav Bindra and Harsh Jain give a first-hand account of their experiences.

In the history of Indian sports, August 11, 2008 is a milestone. India registered its first-ever Individual Olympic gold. Participating in the 10-metre air rifle shoot, Abhinav Bindra was instrumental in achieving this incredible feat at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His last shot at the finals, which saw him notch a near-perfect score, sealed the gold medal. In the words of the Olympian himself, the 10 shots were the best shots of his life and termed something he could not shoot better – when it came to stability, timing or execution.

What it took to write history

However, this journey to perfection, winning the gold medal at the Olympics was an eight-year-long journey. It started in 2000 when Abhinav first represented India at the Olympics. Four years later, in 2004, he came close to winning a medal but missed that chance. The run-up to the Beijing Games saw the shooter further polishing his shooting skills by undergoing intense training in Germany and a commando training a week before the Games. Most importantly, the journey saw him finding the “faith” that he needed to win.

In his 22-year-long career of being in competitive sports, Abhinav has won 180 medals and participated in five Olympics where he made it to the finals in three and won one gold. This journey has been a rollercoaster, “where he failed a lot of times even while succeeding in some”. And, what adds to the complexity of his journey was that Abhinav was not a natural athlete and in many ways was reluctant about sports. Shooting was also not his first choice of sports. Yet, he was able to achieve a feat that remains a dream for most sportspersons.

Undeterred by drawbacks

At a time when Abhinav made history, an engineering graduate from the University of Pennsylvania who had just returned to India set out on a journey to script it. An ardent fantasy soccer fan, Harsh Jain noticed that even as IPL was gaining popularity in India, there weren’t real fantasy cricket platforms for cricket lovers. In 2008, he teamed up with his friend Bhavit Sheth and started Dream11 to bridge that gap. For Harsh, Dream11 brought together his love for sports, gaming, and technology.

Even with identifying a key market gap and passion for the sector, the success didn’t come easy. The journey to building Dream11 came after pivots, surviving on the bare minimum and keeping the journey going with every rejection. In fact, between 2008-10, the startup burnt 70 percent of the seed money that friends and families of the entrepreneurs had invested. And, when the reserve touched the last 10 percent, the entrepreneurs started a services agency to earn money to keep fuelling a dream of building a fantasy sports platform for India.

In 2011, Dream11 pivoted to its current form and in a span of 24 months, the platform began receiving organic traction even with zero marketing spend. But, yet, the challenges were far from over. For the next three years, Dream11 made 150+ pitches, only to be rejected. The startup’s attempt at entering the US and Australian markets had to be suspended because of the initiatives generating only one percent revenue as against 10-20 percent more work. It was only in 2015 that the venture secured its first big break by raising an undisclosed Series A from Kalaari Capital.

In the next four years, Dream11 went on to become the first Indian gaming company to achieve this milestone in 2019. A year later, it became the Title Sponsor for the 2020 edition of the IPL, upgrading their association from an Official Partner. Today, Dream11 is India’s biggest sports gaming platform, offering multiple sports such as fantasy cricket, football, kabaddi, basketball, and so on. In an emotional LinkedIn post, Harsh had pointed out that in the journey that has seen the startup achieve what was thought ‘impossible feats’, disappointments and setbacks, they would continue to stay strong and work towards the mission of making sports better in everyday life.

Torchbearers of a new generation

The curtain-raiser episode of Torchbearers Inc. by AWS will see Olympian Abhinav Bindra and entrepreneur Harsh Jain coming together to give a first-hand account of this journey, share untold experiences of the hustle, addressing competition, handling pressure, and staying focused to win.

Hosted by Shayamal Vallabhjee, a renowned leadership performance coach and India’s first sports scientist, the engaging format of this show will see the champions share lessons of perseverance, stories of testing moments, and their secret sauce of success.

The show has been conceptualised and presented by NeoNiche, one of India’s leading integrated marketing solutions providers. And, with AWS as its strategic partner, reinforces the idea behind the show – scaling, adapting and succeeding, just as AWS has been able to achieve as the world’s top cloud infrastructure solutions provider for businesses across 190 countries. TiE Mumbai and Startup Talky are ecosystem partners of Torchbearers Inc. YourStory is a media partner.

The parallels between sports and entrepreneurship are uncanny. Upon a closer look, one may find many similarities between succeeding in entrepreneurship and in sports. There is a clear goal, a lot of hard work, determination, focus, and big payoffs. But, most often, because of the excitement of the win, it’s easy to forget the amount of hustle involved every single day or the number of failures that they fought against before the big win. And, Torchbearers Inc. stands as a reminder, a testimony to these moments of truth.