“Sports teaches children a whole lot of things – social fitness, how do get along with others from different backgrounds, how to lead a team, how to cope with failures, how to adapt with changing situations.”
He was staring down a barrel. An earlier venture had failed and this one too was not going anywhere. The business model itself had been tweaked a couple of times, each without much success.
There were questions from friends and well-wishers. There was hardly any money left. But, Saumil Majmudar knew he would turn the corner.
It was a phone call from a school in Madurai that finally got Saumil’s business off the ground. The TVS School in Madurai called up Saumil, based in Bangalore, and wondered whether he could come over as they were interested in what Saumil had to offer. Did I have a choice? asks Saumil.
“There were no meetings lined up for the next week or two in Bangalore. The first thing I did was say ‘yes, I will be there’ and immediately left for Madurai,” says Saumil, sitting at the Koramangala Club in Bangalore. The principal of the TVS School had read an article about Saumil’s business – that of having a structured physical education training programme for school children – and was keen to have him do it in their school. Then followed a call from a school in Raipur. After that there has been no looking back.
Saumil, co-founder and Managing Director of EduSports, is now able to look back and recall the many days he spent outside cabins of school principals in Bangalore, waiting for an appointment.
He sports his educational qualifications – a B.Tech from IIT-Bombay and an MBA from IIM-Bangalore – on his card only because his sales person advised him that he stood a better chance of getting an appointment if he had them on the business card.
He had joined Wipro after completing his MBA, worked for three years and quit to start his own venture, which folded up in a couple of years. In 2003, he founded a company – Sportz Village – that aimed to make sports education an integral part of a child’s upbringing and education. He hired a playground where children would come and train and play after school hours. That model did not scale. He then tried doing corporate sports, conducting inter-school tournaments, selling World Cup and IPL tickets, before having a re-look at what he was doing.
“In 2008, five years were out, opportunity costs, friends were asking what are you doing. Everybody has got a bigger car and a bigger house, a second car and a second house… That is how EduSports was created,” says Saumil, 39.
Sports, he says, is not about just performance. You do not learn mathematics or physics to become a mathematician or a physicist. You study them because they are part of education. Likewise, sports and fitness should also be part of education, and not necessarily because someone wants to become a professional sportsman. “There is a value of the sporting experience as part of education,” he adds.
Tweaking biz model
Sports, Saumil emphasises, teaches children a whole lot of things – social fitness, how do get along with others from different backgrounds, how to lead a team, how to cope with failures, how to adapt with changing situations.
While initially Saumil thought EduSports will provide the curriculum and train, monitor and audit the PT staff in schools, the schools insisted that Saumil and his team come and conduct their classes. This called for a further tweaking of the business model. Saumil did not hesitate. He and his team quickly drew up a curriculum and a schedule of training for children of different ages.
They also had to recruit qualified physical education staff. There is a structured programme that EduSports conducts for children in schools, the children are assessed and reports given to the schools. From being a content provider, EduSports had to become the operator. “Maybe we got lucky – right place, right time, right product. All of this coming together and we were going out and saying shouldn’t your kid play more,” Saumil says.
He attributes the change in fortunes to three aspects: One, parents’ concerns on the health and fitness of their kids has clearly increased; two, schools want to differentiate themselves on the basis of their sports activities also; and, three regulatory, where bodies like the CBSE have introduced continuous comprehensive evaluation.
Most of EduSports’ business has come from referrals or word of mouth. One school principal telling another or a parent remarking to some one else.
From 10 schools and 5,000 children in the first year, EduSports now is present in 70 cities, covering more than a 100 schools and 1.6 lakh children.
In five years, Saumil’s ambition is to cover a thousand schools and a million kids.
Schools pay EduSports about Rs 100 a child a month. EduSports has about 275 qualified physical education trainers. The curriculum is as per international standards of the National Association for Sports and Physical Education. EduSports has a technology platform through which it monitors and assesses performance across schools.
In 2010, Seedfund, a firm that invests in early-stage ventures, put in about Rs 5 crore in EduSports. This money will be used for content creation, curriculum development, technology improvement and expansion.
The initial cost for EduSports was in developing the platform and content, now it is in sales, marketing and salaries. The challenge to grow is in getting properly trained manpower, says Saumil.