IIT Bombay grad Arvind Iyengar was a consultant at the prestigious McKinsey & Co. Why would anyone ever quit that job to participate in a reality TV show called ‘Dream Job’?
Arvind was selected as a runner up in the show from about 10,000 participants in 2007. This opened a door for Arvind to secure a job he always wanted to do growing up — be a sports commentator. After winning the competition, he started commentary at ESPN Star for a year, and then went on to pursue an MBA from Stanford.
Today, Arvind leads Sportz Interactive, a Mumbai-based company which works with partners and clients to provide best in class sports fan experience across various consumption devices.
Let us find out more about his super entrepreneurial story; there’s a lot to learn from his journey of drive and perseverance.
YS: Was sports always your passion?
AI: I grew up in Bangalore. I always had the passion for sports. I remember spending my childhood days practicing cricket commentary with my brother. Everyone today is talking about fantasy games, but I remember cherishing the 1996 World Cup.
YS: You went to IIT Bombay for your undergrad. Did you let go of your passion for some time?
AI: If you love sports, especially in India, it is not clear where to channel that passion. When I was growing up, you had only two options; you either become an engineer or a doctor. I had no clue how to pursue sports as a career.
My father was an engineer from IIT Bombay and a lot of other family members were IITians too, so IIT felt like a good place to go for an all round development. Certain aspects of operations and analytics within Mechanical Engineering fascinated me; so going into engineering was an informed choice as well. However, I remained a sports enthusiast. I knew I would go back to it whenever I would get a chance.
YS: You later went on to join McKinsey. But, what made you quit that job to pursue a Reality TV Show?
AI: Most people will think that you are crazy to leave a job at McKinsey and participate in a reality TV show. Mandira Bedi was one of the judges when I went to participate and she asked me, “You went to a good college, you already have a very good job, why are you participating here!” My answer to that was, “I had a huge support system in my family and from McKinsey as well. Having people around you who say, “This has been your dream since childhood, you are very good at, just go for it,” really helps. Being in a supportive environment, I could get away with some stigma. Second important thing was having the drive to do it. On one Saturday, we had a meeting and I told my Engagement Manager at McKinsey that I have to attend the reality show being conducted by ESPN Star Sports. He said absolutely go ahead and do it. I flew into Bombay from Delhi at the time, waited for 8 hours to get an audition. I qualified for the final stages of the show, and eventually ended up getting the offer from ESPN, what was essentially a massive pay cut. I asked myself, “Is this something that I would regret not doing today, and the answer was clearly a yes”. Follow your conviction is easier said than done, but that is one motto that worked for me. I have been very lucky to have everyone’s support around me.
YS: Do you see a shift in the mindset vis-a-vis diverse career options in India?
AI: Overall, I see that in India young people are moving beyond engineering and medicine. Many kids want to pursue something more creative. A shift in mindset is great but along with it we are seeing career opportunities opening up as well. For example, if you want to do something in fashion there are options out there, when it comes to sports, we have a football league coming up, we have a ‘kabaddi’ league coming up, while IPL has already done that with cricket for younger cricketers. Because of IPL, opportunities got created in the supporting ecosystem. As more and more people start going into it, you will have a large pool of excellent talent. And you would have reinforced the feeling that ‘hey! my son or daughter can aspire to be someone in this field’. We are seeing that shift happen now.
YS: You left the job at ESPN, and went on to Stanford. Why?
AI: ESPN was great, but the thing McKinsey does to you is that it makes you feel that you are solving the world’s biggest problems. So talking about sports was just not enough, but going beyond yourself and making an impact was important. Stanford with its focus on entrepreneurship made a lot of sense; they had a lot of sports business programs. During my summer at Stanford, I spent time with NBA. I wanted to take all this exposure to sport and create a larger scale impact.
YS: After GSB, You came back to India to run Sportz Interactive, which is a 100 people company, based in Mumbai. What led you to come back?
AI: I came back to lead Sportz Interactive. We want to take all the data and revolutionize a fan’s experience across multiple touch points whether it is on digital or on mobile phones etc. We do that in a number of ways — we work with large broadcasters, we are building a product for the football World Cup and with all the new leagues coming up, we have an opportunity to be involved everywhere. For me, it’s really about touching the lives of hundreds of fans and making that sports experience much better. I love working on this every day. This is what drives me.
YS: What would you advise our young entrepreneurs?
AI: If you are passionate about something go for it. Always keep an eye on it, and come back to it. The amount of energy you can expend doing something you like cannot be compared to something you are doing for the sake of doing. Just go for it.
Always be prepared. Doing as much work as possible ahead of time is key to success. Doing a lot of research before hand is important. Having a high level of preparedness and being more prepared than anyone else in the room is going to help you. You cannot always be the smartest person in the room, you can’t control that, but you can always be the most prepared person in the room. It will really help you stay a step ahead of the game. It is the small things such as this that always come back. Small things just add up, so pay attention to the small stuff.
If you have an idea and you want to try it, always rapid prototype it, quickly try and implement it, you will never have a super polished product in the first launch, so just go launch your ideas.
Arvind has a great story. His entrepreneurial drive, energy and scrappiness inspires us. Hope it inspires you as much!