I always wanted to be at the forefront of using digital technology and entrepreneurship to promote sports and entertainment. For me, as a computer science engineering graduate, understanding digital media and its technical applications was the missing piece in the puzzle. Working in the sports and entertainment digital media industry requires envisioning the future, leveraging technology and practicing with the best in the business. That brought me to Columbia University and its Sports Management program. Here, over the course of 2 years, I landed three highly coveted internships – Marketing at Wasserman (a sports and entertainment agency in New York), Analytics and Ticket Sales at New York City Football Club (the MLS franchise) and another as a Media and Communications Assistant at Columbia Athletics . I also worked as a freelancer with two companies, undertook a digital media project for Yahoo! Sports and AOL, volunteered at at-least a dozen sports conferences and events in the city, and coached the U-17 South Bronx United Boys’ soccer team. Now, a month after graduating from the program, I’ve joined a near-dream job at a sports digital-tech company called Grabyo in New York.
In my senior year in undergrad, I did a marketing/operations internship at Nasscom 10,000 Startups – a platform that provides mentoring, incubation and acceleration to young startups in India. In retrospect, I can claim to have learned two things during my time - the relentless attitude and bootstrap skills of entrepreneurs. Simply watching this unfold before me helped me in the long run. I began noticing how different entrepreneurs reacted and approached situations and setbacks. It was a live case study of sorts. Beyond networking, I observed something unique to the entrepreneurs around me. They spoke openly about their plans – what they want to do, where they want to be and who they want as part of their team. I made a mental note of this practice. "It would be handy someday", I said to myself.
Having previously worked on my own startup, with startups and big corporate companies, I returned to pursue my ‘dream’ – a career in sports and entertainment. I really wanted to be at the intersection of sports, digital media and technology, and shape the industry in years to come. However, I didn’t know where to start.
You’re surrounded by people from all walks of business. Everyone will tell you that ‘networking is the key’ and share stories of how they ‘networked their way’ to a job. I strongly endorse that piece of advice; however, I’m not going to ask you to network, you’re going to do that anyway (at least I hope you will). I’d recommend another strategy which complements business networking. I call it the ‘boomerang approach’.
So, what is the boomerang approach?
It’s simply the practice of sharing your career plans with everyone you meet. Start incorporating ‘what you want’ into your personal pitch. You throw it out there in the universe and wait for it to come back to you. Now irrespective of your current professional status, you will either be looking for an internship or a job sooner or later. Needless to say, the competition out there is fierce, more so in niche fields. A great University brand name will help you stand out and jump 90% of the candidates, but that isn’t enough! You’ve now entered the top 10%. This is the true test of your competence and creativity.
We all try hard to strike a rapport with the people we meet. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This approach works (most times) irrespective of whether you forged a relationship or made an impression. For instance, during networking events, I told people who I was and what I wanted to do – “Hi I’m Akash Bhat, a former entrepreneur and a sports management graduate student at Columbia University… I’m currently exploring opportunities/interested in working for a sports-tech company in the digital space”. The emphasis on ‘sports-tech’ and ‘digital’, was the key to being memorable in my case. It’s easier for someone to register and relate to you when you tell them about what you want to do. At most networking events students don’t know what they want to do, they come off seeming very abstract. I’ve often heard my fellow colleagues saying, “I want to work in the NBA or MLS (or PwC)”. As good as it sounds, it’s still very vague. The NBA or the MLS for instance are split across various sub-verticals such as fan relationship management, player development, marketing, ticket sales etc. You’re not the first person who an employer meets and certainly not the last. Start by identifying your niche and make sure your share that with as many people as you can. It registers. Next time they come across an opening or know someone looking for a candidate, they will go – ‘Hey I know someone who wants to work in sports-tech/digital space’. That’s exactly how I landed a full-time job! Today, I’m loving every minute of everything I do – soaking in the experience and expanding my network.
I want to get back to entrepreneurship and start my own business in the future and I tell that to everyone I meet. It’s bringing me one step closer to my dream. It’s as if the boomerang approach albeit practical also has a philosophical side to it.