Regulatory challenges are Dream 11’s moat in India, says CEO Harsh Jain

On his journey of building India’s first unicorn in the online gaming and sports space, Harsh Jain has learnt to look for opportunities in adversity, said the Dream 11 Co-founder and CEO at TechSparks 2021.
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Co-founder and Culture Enforcement Officer (CEO) of fantasy sports platform Dream11, Harsh Jain, is unfazed by criticism and naysayers. After being rejected by 150 investors, and being told it was a startup idea created ‘just for fun’ by Harsh and his Co-founder Bhavit Sheth, Dream 11 created history in 2019 by becoming India’s first online gaming unicorn

The validation has been tremendous after the company figured its product market fit, Harsh told Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory, during a fireside chat at TechSparks 2021

The key was to keep at it and build with a passion, said Harsh, who started the company in 2008.

“This was when Orkut was the number one social media platform in India and the iPhone hadn’t launched yet. We launched fantasy cricket, cricket news, scores, commentary, blogs, forums, polls, quizzes, and games, and kept adding everything,” he said, adding that it was just like making the famous Mumbai-style bhel puri

It took the company four years to figure out the one thing the platform wanted to do — build the stock market equivalent of fantasy sports. The validation came from multiple YouTube channels where self-proclaimed gurus gave advice on how to win on Dream 11, and books and tuition classes taught how to pick the right team.

The company also saw apps on Google Play Store — where it does not have a presence — that provided hacks to win on the platform.

Legal hurdles as an opportunity

Getting investors to take the fantasy sports space seriously hasn’t been the only challenge. Dream 11 has also had to contend with court cases that said that the platform promoted betting and gambling, deemed illegal in India. 

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court in its order upheld that the Dream 11 platform involved ‘game of skill’ cementing its legality.

For the ever-optimistic entrepreneur, this also provides the startup with a competitive advantage.

“These regulatory challenges also imply that a foreign company cannot come into India and launch this. We can build a business to scale without having to deal with extremely well-funded companies vying for our market share,” said Harsh.

Encouraging next gen entrepreneurs

Armed with his experience and foresight, Harsh announced Tenacity Ventures in September 2021 where his family is a Limited Partner and will contribute to half of the $200 million corpus. The fund will back early and mid-stage startups.

The parent company of Dream 11 has also launched a $250 million venture fund, Dream Capital, in August 2021 to back startups in sports, gaming, and fitness. It has backed the likes of sports content and commerce platform FanCode, sports experience platform DreamSetGo, apart from an astroturf company, esports venture, sports fan token company, and fitness platform Fittr

While these work for Harsh as avenues to invest in interesting opportunities, being an angel investor requires greater mind-space, said the entrepreneur.

“No matter how much of a passive angel investor you are, some mindspace will go into this...I want to devote 150 percent of my time into building Dream 11,” he added. 

The perennial-planner will be focused on growing Dream Sports to make sports experience better for fans by driving personalisation. 

In Harsh’s words, it is time to build the world’s largest sports tech company. 


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Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta