Siddharth Pandey, a Sri Ram College of Commerce graduate, loves India, sports, business and lifestyle. So, he said do svidánija to Sydney, where he captained an indoor cricket team, and moved to Delhi, where he could reconnect with his love for philosophy and sha'iri.
Vikas Jawa, on the other hand, had been part of the internet industry for 6 years with the Smile Group. A traveller, poor joke connoisseur and afternoon chai addict, Jawa used to be the Sports Captain at the Birla Vidya Niketan.
Says Pandey, “I was looking for like-minded people to build a strong core team, and Vikas had just moved back to Delhi from Bombay. We had first met in SRCC in 2001, though spent most of our time together at a youth leadership organization called AIESEC.”
In May 2012, Jawa joined LEH LEH, after which his help in accelerating and growing the company strategically eventually lead to funding from Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE).
With 10 employees, generally 3-4 interns working, LEH LEH has already piloted in Bombay and Bangalore.
“Our Core management team has Aaditya, Aseem, Vidit - all of whom are Sports Business Managers- and Pawan, who heads Operations.
“It is a common love for sport that binds all of us. Aaditya’s sister Aditi is the goalkeeper for the Indian National Football Team, whereas Aseem himself is a squash player, and his sister Sachika recently won a World Squash Tournament in Pakistan!
“We also have another couple of project-based people Sidhant and Mohit, along with an Ops Assistant Shubham.
“The Founding Team looks at more strategic matters such as zone expansion, city expansion, business models, funding and so forth. The Management & Ops teams are involved in managing the end-to-end sports business cycle for every gig from conceptualization to completion.”
Pandey’s urge to start LEH LEH was literally instinctual. He felt a calling, and obliged, determined not to get ravelled in the corporate world. After mentorship in The Indus Entrepreneurs, Sydney, months of research and a business plan, Pandey thought, “We’re definitely on to something.”
Today, LEH LEH is funded, with positive cash flow and has completed more than 3000 matches across multiple sports.
LEH LEH’s core values are imbued in its name: Learning, excellence and happiness for anyone that plays with them; listening, empathy and humility in how they run their business.
If there’s one sentence that could characterise LEH LEH, Pandey thinks it would be “creating access for you to play the sport of your choice regularly.
“Every business derives its value from the problems it solves. In India, people want to play but face many problems which stop them from doing so regularly – can’t find places, can’t find partners, can’t find time, or it’s simply too difficult to organize.”
LEH LEH simplifies this predicament into a three-step solution: Turn up, pay, play.
“Everything is taken care of – venue, equipment, scoring, scheduling, rules, water, first aid, referees, photos, trophies, prizes & etc.”
Still in its nascent stage in the sports industry, LEH LEH kicked off in January 2012 attracting enthusiasts in the 25-35 year old bracket – a group with an active lifestyle, high disposable income and low disposable time.
“Since then, we have grown through sub-categories in many sports. We’ve started attracting a lot of younger players in sports like table tennis, basketball and badminton. Going forward, our growth will continue to come from new segments/categories in all sports – age-wise, gender-wise, skill-wise and format-wise. What will stay common to all players is a love for sport and intent to play.”
But, LEH LEH isn’t absolutely new to the playing field. There are companies doing similar work.
“Our competition,” says Pandey, “is not just other sports companies/gyms, but anyone that has a stake in the customer’s leisure time – cinemas, restobars etc. We want to make it a once a week part of your lifestyle to play sports.”
For LEH LEH, the player is the most important stakeholder in everything they do.
“We have managed to do the tougher thing first, i.e., get disparate groups of individuals to come together and play. 70% of our business in the first couple of years has been consumer, and only about 25-30% corporate. Sometimes, corporate businesses pay a negotiated rate to stage a sport for them or a series of sports for employee engagement initiatives.
“In the long term, it is definitely the B2C business that we see as the most important.
“We get a lot of expats and embassies playing with us. We've have had over 50+ nationalities represented in our football gigs.
“Our competitive advantage is that we are doing more sports, more frequently and with more participation than anyone else we are aware of in the market.”
Over the years, LEH LEH has hosted tournaments in a number of sports ranging from table tennis, badminton, football, volleyball to gully cricket, dogeball and basketball for customers as well as corporates.
“We also have sponsorship and theme based sports projects like Kick for a Cause to promote AIDS awareness.”
Initially bootstrapped, LEH LEH found the leprechaun’s pot when their participation in the Economic Times Power of Ideas 2012 event lead Rs 5 lakh cash grant and Rs 20 lakh seed funding offer.
“We were the only sports company from across India to make it to the final shortlist of 75 from among 14,000 applications,” says Pandey.
It’s been a smooth and exciting journey ever since.
“In our first year of Operations, we conducted 434 matches. In 2013, we staged 1952 games across 74 tournaments and 7 leagues and added tennis, badminton and TT to our new sport launches. In Jan 2014, we launched Squash.
“Till date, we’ve staged 1419 matches across 53 tournaments and 7 leagues.
“One of the biggest benefits of our business model is that we have been profitable on direct costs since Day 1. We are definitely a cash-generating business.”
Pandey adds, “We have some investor interest as well, and would be very open to exploring others interested in funding us to accelerate our business in the coming months.”In spite of their success, however, challenges were natural. Getting good people on board without being able to pay them much was an initial challenge overcome with developing a strong founding and core team, along with the seed funding they received.
“You got to spend money to figure out where to spend money.”
Operational problems are a whole different matter. Booking venues, players not turning up after confirmation were big hindrances due to which LEH LEH introduced advanced booking of venues and registration of players, pre-scheduling events and strong stance on walkovers.
If there were regrettable mistakes, Pandey feels it was “not hiring early enough, not spending money fast enough, especially post-funding.
“I guess one can take a positive view, and say the benefit of going steadily is that we did not burn too much money on the wrong channels.”
But, all the magical moments they’ve witnessed over the years removes all the regrets from their minds.
“The emotion and celebration of the players truly epitomizes our tagline ‘FEEL LIKE A CHAMPION!’ These moments represent pure customer delight.
“The social element of meeting new people and making friends is a byproduct of our games.
“The LEH LEH Sports team plays every Thursday, and this is mandatory. It is usually a backyard cricket game or football in the park across our office though we occasionally get to the basketball, squash, badminton courts too.”
Nominated by FICCI India Sports Awards for one of the top 3 Sports Organisers in India, LEH LEH already has a roster of famous personalities who’ve played with them from Indigo Airlines CEO Aditya Ghosh, Winter Olympian Shiva Kesavan to SlideShare’s Amit Ranjan and Indian Women Squash player Sachika Ingale.
And, yes… they’re hiring.