's leaders and cricket legend Shane Watson decode winning formulas in cricket and startups: A special podcast

From strategic nuances to innovation, cricket legend Shane Watson and’s Venky Harinarayan, explore the universal principles that drive success in cricket and startups, in an engaging podcast with’s Managing Partner, Madhu Shalini Iyer.'s leaders and cricket legend Shane Watson decode winning formulas in cricket and startups: A special podcast

Friday February 02, 2024,

6 min Read

Cricket and startups may seem worlds apart, but the striking similarities between them became evident when cricket legend-turned-coach Shane Watson and’s dynamic Founding Partner Venky Harinarayan engaged in an interesting podcast with Madhu Shalini Iyer, Managing Partner at

While cricket is known for its strategic nuances, teamwork, and the ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions, the startup landscape mirrors these themes with its own tales of risk-taking, innovation, and unexpected triumphs.

Setting the context of the discussion, Iyer talked about the significance of disruptive innovation, building things from the ground up, and the resonance of great ideas across borders. This narrative closely aligns with the journey of startups, where entrepreneurs strive to create something unique, challenging existing norms and geographical boundaries.


This alignment with the startup ethos resonates well given the context of This venture capital firm, founded in 2014 by data wizards Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan, is rewriting the investment playbook with a blend of data and machine learning. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, the firm's proprietary Escape Velocity™ algorithm identifies companies with a Sustainable Growth Engine. With over 45 investments spanning five continents, is sector-agnostic and committed to data-driven, unbiased decision-making. Notable portfolio companies in India, including Teachmint, Apna, Yulu and KhataBook, reflect the firm's global support for innovative ventures.

A cricket maestro with an ardent fascination for startups, Watson shared insights into his experiences as a player, coach, and how the grit needed in both domains aligns seamlessly with the startup spirit.

Venture capitalist Venky Harinarayan, founding partner of, and a seasoned entrepreneur, was among the earliest investors in Facebook. As the co-owner of the Major League Cricket team SF Unicorns, his unique perspective enriched the podcast.

Prior to engaging with, Iyer served as the Chief Data Officer at Gojek and was instrumental in growing the business to a $1 billion unicorn. She has also played a key role in the success of Intuit's Quickbooks Lending Platform.

Together, they talked about cricketing triumphs and startup victories, drawing insightful connections from boundaries scored to deals closed.

From IPL to Major League Cricket

Drawing parallels between the inaugural IPL season in 2008 and Major League Cricket's first season, Watson talked about the joy and excitement that players and coaches experience when being part of something unexpected and groundbreaking.

“Looking back at the early seasons of the IPL and Major League Cricket (MLC), what resonates most is the incredible joy and excitement shared by players and coaches. The IPL, with its unexpected international-quality tournament format offered players like me a chance to showcase skills without the country's tag,” Watson shared.

“Transitioning to MLC was equally thrilling. It's really a celebration of world cricket. And everyone is so engaged in it because of this incredible opportunity that we never thought cricket would come to the US. For that reason alone, you could see the selection of all the best players in the world, making themselves available to come in and play in Major League Cricket,” he said.


Harinarayan spoke about the inception of Major League Cricket and SF Unicorns, narrating the journey of building a startup from the ground up. He talked about the risks, trepidations, and the unexpected support received from cricket aficionados in the US, proving that passion for the sport can be harnessed locally.

"Entering the season, there was trepidation. We know that people follow the IPL and some of the other franchise leagues here. What we didn't know was could we take this passion for cricket and make it a passion for the local team? That was a big risk as an investor. But the question was answered pretty clearly this season and took a big risk off the table. This led us to believe there's something here that we can build on as we go forward. The surprising fan reception validated the local passion for cricket and our vision for Major League Cricket," Harinarayan said.

Bats, balls, and bytes: Unlocking the secrets of cricket's technological advancements

The discussion further delved into the evolving landscape of cricket. From Bazball to increasing reliance on data analytics, Watson talked about strategies that can drive success on field. The integration of data analytics into cricket can become a competitive advantage for those who can master the blend of data and human intuition.

"Utilising data analytics in cricket is about creating a competitive advantage. The challenge is integrating it into the human side of the game," he said.


Watson also shed light on the innovation in cricket equipment that is apparent, particularly with cricket bats. The transformation is evident in the way bat makers now construct lighter bats by thoroughly drying out the wood. This modification not only makes the bats more efficient but also contributes to the increased distance the ball travels due to the larger bat size. These alterations have undeniably altered the dynamics of the game. Consequently, these subtle changes have added an extra layer of challenge for batsmen and made the task even more demanding for bowlers.

Overcoming adversity: From injuries to entrepreneurial challenges

Harinarayan reflected on his journey in startups, drawing comparisons between the tenacity required in the entrepreneurial world and the resilience showcased in Watson's cricketing career. "The fundamental nature of startups is finding a way to win when the world wants you to fail—a shared mentality with high-performance cricket," he said.

Watson opened up about his most significant professional adversity—battling injuries. The cricketer-turned-coach narrated his journey of overcoming physical setbacks, seeking expertise outside the conventional system, and ultimately crafting a triumphant return to the cricketing arena. "My biggest battle was with injuries. I couldn't accept being told to stop bowling. I sought expertise outside the system and made a comeback," Watson shared.

Mental makeup and coaching philosophy

The conversation took a deep dive into the mental makeup required for success, with a focus on Watson's experiences. The cricket legend shed light on his mental skills education, highlighting the pivotal role it played in his success during the IPL final in 2018. The discussion extended to coaching philosophy, emphasising the importance of creating an environment that fosters a growth mindset, adaptability, and continual learning.

"After every game, my debrief is about continuous learning and getting closer to the best version of us," Watson said.

Whether it's navigating the dynamic world of startups, leading a sports team, or steering a large organisation, the common thread lies in facing uncertainty and opposition.

According to Harinarayan, the startup world, much like a high-performance sports team, often grapples with the challenge of scaling rapidly while sustaining growth. The key is to assemble a team of exceptionally skilled talent. Empowering this talented team involves providing clarity in the overarching goals while maintaining a results-driven focus rather than a myopic fixation on outcomes.

The dialogue between Shane Watson and Venky Harinarayan, guided by Madhu Shalini Iyer, touched upon themes of resilience, mental fortitude, data analytics, and team building as common threads, underlining the universal principles that drive success in diverse fields. As cricket continues to find its place in the United States, lessons learned from the game can inspire entrepreneurs and enthusiasts alike, fostering a spirit of innovation and growth.