Dream11’s Harsh Jain reveals the secrets to building a good team at AWS Startup Spin

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Both sports and business are great levellers. Much like everything else in life, sports teaches us important life lessons that help us strive to become better. And it was this aspect of sports that made sure that Harsh Jain became a sports aficionado, long before he set out to launch the first fantasy sports team app Dream11. As a football player in his youth, Harsh says that he learnt a lot about life and culture from the game. During a conversation with cricket presenter and stand-up comedian Vikram Sathaye in the fifth episode of AWS Startup Spin - a show hosted in association with AWS, George P Johnson Experience Marketing and Bald Head Productions - Harsh explores more such instances of how sports changed his perception of life.

The episode also explores the definition of a good leader, successful partnerships, what constitutes a good team, and how Dream11 got its brand ambassador.

Life lessons from sports

Sports are a great teacher of skills, but it is essential to work hard to further hone those skills. Citing an example of ace footballer Cristiano Ronaldo of how he puts in an abundant amount of hard work, Harsh says that while skill is an important factor, one needs to know how to create a good team in order to be successful in sports.

“You can’t have one Ronaldo or one Messi and think that you are going to win. So I think that sports teach you to create a good team, but also that a good team is not just skill sets put together. The teammates have to complement each other, and chemistry is very important,” he says.

He adds that his mother encouraged him to participate in every sport during his school days and that ingrained a sporting culture in him. As an ardent fan of video games since childhood, he was given the freedom to spend his pocket money on video games at the Trocadero complex in London. According to him, this taught him a sense of responsibility and the importance of budgeting from a very young age.

Making a campaign a masterstroke

Harsh recalls how they had MS Dhoni’s images plastered across the Dream11 office (which they call a stadium) to imply that they wanted to follow the persona of ‘Captain Perfect’ for their company as well as their users. He goes on to say that while approaching Dhoni to be their ambassador wasn’t exactly on their agenda, it was the agency they were working with that came up with the title ‘Dimag se Dhoni’.

Harsh says that they were initially hesitant in using that title because they were not sure if Dhoni would agree to be their brand ambassador. He adds that they tried using other players’ names for the title, but when none of them fit, they finally approached the former Indian cricket team captain with the ad, and he loved it. “In a twist, normally you get the ambassador and then you frame a campaign. We first decided on the campaign and then we got the ambassador. That’s how the association started,” he laughs.

The ‘never give up’ attitude

As a fantasy football fan since 2001, Harsh went looking for similar apps after the IPL started in 2008. When he didn’t find any such apps, he decided that this was a problem that he needed to address.

When he decided to start the company, one of his friends decided to aid him in the venture. After encountering a lot of naysayers in the process, he went ahead and followed his dream that he was passionate about.

Harsh says that three years later, they realised that the season-long, free-to-play, ad-driven format does not work because they had zero revenue. Although it didn’t work as a business, people liked the game and the co-founders knew that it had potential. So, to fund his dream, Harsh and his team decided to start a digital agency that made enough money to give them the freedom to keep experimenting with their idea. It was finally in 2012 that they found the money they were looking for.

“We sold the agency to pump all the money back into Dream11, take it forward for the next two or three years, go through several VCs for funding, finally find investors in 2015, and the rest is history,” says Harsh.

Secret to successful partnerships

Harsh says that partnerships can be very broad, as it can mean the chemistry between teams - both internal and external. According to him, it is important to encourage teams to combine and provide candour, feedback and constructive criticism. “It is important to create partnerships where leaders are told that they are only allowed to build bridges and not walls,” he says.

Talking about their partnership with AWS, he says that their CTO helped them cement their partnership. He says that they have been using AWS over the last eight years, but in the last six to seven years, AWS has helped them scale new heights. He says that they can trust them to run cloud computing, and keep Dream11’s systems up and running.


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