EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH AMIT SHARMA, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER OF DREAM SPORTS
Fan engagement is very essential for every sports organization. There are many new technological platforms present in today’s industry that are facilitating fan engagement. Now, there is no need to go to the stadium to support your favorite player. One of the most important aspects of fan engagement is providing the fans with the most advanced and entertaining sporting event since the home experience is becoming more real and advanced. Analytics is becoming an engaging and effective measurement tool in today’s sports industry.
Speaking with Analytics Insight, Amit Sharma, the Chief Technology Officer of Dream Sports, talks about the vision of ‘Make Sports Better’ by providing multiple avenues for fans to deeply engage with the sports they love through fantasy sports, content, commerce, experiences, and events, among others.
1. Tell us about Dream Sports and various brands under its portfolio.
Dream Sports is India’s leading sports technology company with various brands under its portfolio, such as Dream11, the world’s largest fantasy sports platform, FanCode, a premier digital sports platform that personalizes content and commerce for all sports fans, DreamX, a sports accelerator, DreamSetGo, a sports experiences platform, and DreamPay, a payment solutions provider. The company was founded in 2008 by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth with a vision to ‘Make Sports Better’.
2. How are Dream Sports leveraging AI and big data to enhance the experience of its users and consumers?
At Dream Sports, one of our core culture pillars is being data-obsessed, and every decision that we make is backed by data. We consider various metrics to continuously add ‘wow’ factors that help retain customers. For instance, as the company keeps growing, the number of decisions over various segments of users also grows multi-fold. In such situations, depending on manual action for repeatable decisions is not a scalable solution. Whether it is prioritizing the framework for the next set of things to be shipped, strategically collecting data to eliminate all blind spots for the business, or personalizing cross-platform initiatives, AI-based data-driven systems take care of such tasks efficiently. We have taken data collection and inferencing to the next level by creating metrics around how many experiments we conduct, track, analyze and make business decisions every week.
This has also helped our brands perform increasingly better. Last year, during the Dream11 IPL 2020, Dream11 crossed a 100+ million user mark, saw the concurrency almost double to over 5.5 million, and processed 80+ million requests per minute at edge services to support peak IPL traffic. To provide the best user experience at a large scale, we use our Data Analytics Platform to understand the preferences of our users in terms of features, functions, and engagement. They can be leveraged for experimentation platforms, switching to algorithms, conversions, in-house data platform philosophy, and product features (referral programs, social, product design, winner templates, etc.)
At Dream Sports, we follow hyper-experimentation that is based on HEAL – Hypothesis, Experiment, Analysis, and Learning. This enables us to fail fast, learn and build unique features for our users. At every touchpoint, starting from acquisition, onboarding, content generation to managing customer journey, big data helps us make unique recommendations and business decisions, right from showing personalized contests to users to guiding them to their preferred payment flow. Our fan engagement product FanCode (which recently raised $50 million) also uses AI and ML backend framework to provide impeccable and personalized user experience to sports fans. It curates and shows the content according to the preference of users, which makes it so easy to consume/engage sports data. Similarly, DreamPay, our payment solution, uses AI and big data processing to make runtime decisions to increase the payment success rate for users.
3. What differentiates Dream Sports from its competitors?
Dream Sports is one of very few companies in India with a wide array of brands dedicated to sports tech and sports fan engagement. Every day, our teams across brands are working towards adding new features and offerings to make sports better for all and create the best possible user experience.
At Dream Sports, our culture is central to everything we do, and each and every Sportan needs to imbibe it. Our organization is driven by five culture pillars called DO-PUT, which stands for Data obsessed, Ownership, Performance, User-first, and Transparency. Since the beginning of the pandemic, DO-PUT has helped us efficiently operate in small teams and achieve newer milestones as individual tech professionals and as an organization, even when we all worked from home during critical events such as the IPL.
As a data-obsessed organization, we have democratized data and its analytics to the extent that everyone at Dream Sports, irrespective of their level, can plan, test, or experiment features backed by data. That is quite unique in our work culture where people challenge the status quo day-in-day-out and that creates room for improvisation at all times.
4. Where do you see Dream Sports and the sports tech industry in the future?
With the sports industry in India expanding rapidly, innovative sports-tech solutions can be game-changers in this dynamic and fast-evolving market. There are over 850 million fans who follow sports in India, and more than 400 million are engaged online. This presents a tremendous opportunity for us at Dream Sports as well as other companies in sports technology. Keeping this in mind, we plan to focus on creating more solutions and platforms, so sports fans across the country have the best experience in further enhancing their knowledge and skills in sports and engaging with their favorite sport in the palm of their hands.
At Dream Sports, we are continuously focusing on higher retention for the users, adding value and new features with the aim to address the needs of sports fans in the country. We plan to channelize our data across various Dream Sports offerings to create synergies and provide a great user experience across product categories.
5. What does your innovation and business roadmap look like for the rest of the year?
In terms of innovation, we invest heavily in hyper-personalization across all user touchpoints to create forecasting and counterfactual platforms for super-smart strategic decision-making. We are focusing heavily on anomaly and fraud detection to strengthen user experience and trust. We are trying to get to a point where we can extend our experimentation platform to an intelligence platform that can unlock exceptional user experience and fast strategic decision-making.
In the coming months, we aim to upscale our tech advancements, expand our tech infrastructure and cater to the needs of our current and potential users seamlessly. For this, we have also hired more talent to our workforce, which currently stands at about 700. However, we will be hiring over 200 more, of which about 80% will be hired for core roles in tech, product, and design.
6. How are the big data and AI industries changing? What according to you are some of the key transformations in this space?
Big data and AI have already changed us all fundamentally. Every time we pick the phone, there is some intelligent piece of code trying to suggest what we can do next with it, like when we should eat, what we should eat, and even from where. Through experimentation, most tech companies always try to predictively find out what users want or what they are interested in doing.
Big data and AI are also transforming technology by helping engineers automate things and create self-decision-making and correcting systems. It is now time to focus not just on these changes but also on softer aspects of user touchpoints. Integrating empathy in user experiences, for instance, is more important than anything else in the times we live in. While the focus is obviously on some fundamental challenges faced by AI models such as data distribution shifts, cause, and effect, etc., the softer side of things needs to play the most important part in the next set of transformations. The fairness of every algorithm that is used needs to be debated. We already live in an emotionally fractured society, but that doesn’t mean that data algorithms should reinforce the same. It is also time for professionals like us, with access to big data, to promote and emphasize more on the humanizing user experience through data.
7. What are the skill sets that you specifically look for while hiring techies?
Sports technology is a new, exciting, and rapidly growing sector with a lot of opportunities. Dream Sports provides the perfect combination of sports and tech like no other in India. At Dream Sports, we are always looking for top talent who share our passion for sports, are data-driven, and are keen on building the latest cross-platform offerings with us.
We look forward to working with professionals who put users first and design innovative solutions. Data scientists, business analysts, and data engineers form the core data club that fuels decision-making at Dream Sports. We are expanding our talent pool and would love to meet professionals with experience in data warehousing, big data architecture, ML systems design, distributed systems, experimentation, and product analytics, predictive algorithms, descriptive and diagnostic analytics, and research sciences like reinforcement learning, causal inference modeling.