In this episode, Indrajit candidly discusses his approach to positioning and valuation, emphasizing the importance of driving talent in India and fostering a passion for sports through his organization. He also highlights the education gap in sports in India and the role of sports psychology and science in developing complete athletes. Additionally, he offers valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and sheds light on the sports industry.
So Indrajit, when you were talking about other sports, obviously being in the region that is very much known for football, I'm sure football is also a very important sport, so that should be occupying a lot of your volume of students?
In that background. Yeah. There are a lot of reasons why we are 125th or 130th in the world in football. But definitely one of the reasons is, like I said, like any other sport, I don't think children pursue after a point of time, it just remains a passion. It doesn't convert to obsession. You can be passionate, you can stay up till three in the morning to watch a football game and wear the jersey and pay lacs to go and watch a match. But that's all passion. But to be a champion, you have a country full of passionate people who will not make champions. You will need kids to decide that at the age of 8, 9, 10, that I'm going to be a footballer and work 500% into becoming one, and that is the reason why we don't do well in sports.
I think the entire education system in India is absolutely academic centric. You have sports as a subject, you have sports as a PT class. That's about it. But you don't really encourage yourself. You look at America, you look at Korea, you look at China. If you're a good athlete, you are supported by your school. You're given credits, you're given marks to play the sport. You’re, subjects are reduced. Everything is there to support you, to play your sport. There is nothing in India which does that for you.
India's sports story is a complete disaster when you are connected with the education system. And I've seen that from the age of 17. I'm 50, so 33 years. I've seen it since I was in school. So forever, I've seen it for 35 years that we don't have a system. Our education system kills all dreams and we don't have an alternative. The closest we have is NIOS and the IGU, which are all open schooling, but there's no tuition for it. There is no proper tuition for it. And like I said, all the tuition is excellence centric. It's virtually impossible for India to be in the top five in the middle stall ever in the Olympics unless we change the entire perspective or education in the country.
This is an interesting point because, whenever a sports event happens and we fail, there's a question that most common people ask, including me - we are a country of 100 crore people, or 130 crore plus people. How can a small country like Sri Lanka sometimes find some amazing players? But why India? I think you gave the answer to that. It's not about we don't have it. I think we just don't have the system to unearth these people, right?
Yeah. We don't. Because China, they're one extreme, right? They pick up the kids, they take them away from their families, and I believe they just put them in almost jails where they're trained. Whereas America and all, they give you that opportunity to follow a sport and the pressure is taken off your education and you still get a degree. Your subjects are reduced, your workload is reduced. You've got your college coach who's looking after all your other needs, giving you credits for playing well in sport. So there are different ways of doing it, but in India we have nothing. We have absolutely nothing. There is not a single school or college which actually supports sports and they cannot because you have your boards, you have your ICSEs, you have your CBSCs, you have your state boards which will not allow you to.
You were talking about how one can be very passionate about something, but the passion is only so much. But then obsession is what makes whatever it is, how would you say a kid is passionate? As a kid, six years, seven years, eight years, the kid can be passionate and then the kid can show interest in playing a game?
What is needed for the passion to turn into obsession? Does it happen on their own? Or is it the people around them that identify and then they turn it into obsession? Does that work?
You've asked a very good question. I'm also a qualified sports psychologist, I teach and lecture in a couple of colleges on sports psychology. This is a very important subject in that field. So to make a champion from the age of 7, 8, 9, 10, there is a triangle of relationship. It's a triangle which has to be in sync. The triangle is between that athlete or the kid, the parent and the coach. Each one has a role to play, so at the age of 8 or 9 or 10, the parent will say, okay, my child is good. He's showing promise. The kid is also dedicated. He wants to do it. Coach has to decide or identify whether the kid has it in him or not.
Sometimes the kid has it, the kid wants to do it, the coach believes in him, but the parent says, no, I want my child to be a doctor. I don't want my child to follow the sport. All these three people have to be in sync. The coach has to believe, the coach has to know that the child has the talent, the child has to be committed to the sport. It's very easy for a kid to say, I want to be a champion, but what does it take to be a champion? Is he ready to do that? The third thing is the parent has to be supportive. If the parent is not supportive, the child has no chance.
So it's a three way relationship, and all three of them have a role to play. Only when these three fall in sync will you have a chance of producing a champion. Someone like Tendulkar, his coach believed in him, parents believed in him, and the kid worked hard. There are probably a hundred thousand kids like that. Maybe one or two will only make it. There is no guarantee that you're going to make it. And trust me, a lot of kids dream about becoming an athlete or a world number one, but when they actually understand what it takes, they suddenly say, I don't think I can do it.
I'll give you an example without taking any names. I had one parent come to me for counseling for his son. The son was about 16, 17, and a very good tennis player. The parents were really well off and they were ready to do anything. They were sending him to the best academy in America to train, spending lakhs and lakhs of rupees. The kid was very passionate, played a lot, and worked on his game. So they said, " You think my son's going to make it? Why don't talk to him and figure out and see whether he has it in him to make it as an athlete, to make it as a tennis player.” I asked the boy, what is your goal? He says, I want to be world number one tennis player. I said, excellent, very good. I said, are you sure? He said, well, if not world number one, at least top hundred. I think there's only Ramish Krishna and Vijay Amritraj I think in the top hundred, otherwise no Indian. Like even Leander was number one in doubles, but not singles. No Indian has really done it. So even a top hundred is a big deal. So I said, great. So what do you think you have to do to be in the top hundred? He said, well, I need to work on my workout and I have to meditate. I have to get fit, I have to practice my strokes. There's that, how many hours a day? So eight hours a day. So six days a week now. I said, okay, you come back to me tomorrow and you tell me whether you're ready to work these 48 hours a week to actually make it. That means if you're going to work out, if you're gonna work eight hours a day, you'll need 10 hours of sleep. Right? You don't really have any time for yourself. The kid actually comes back to me the next day and says that, I don't think I want to do this because I don't think I can put in that effort.
He was living in a full paradise. He was living in denial, or he was living in a fantasy world where he saw himself becoming a top hundred player. He probably believed he could be a top hundred player, but he actually never went down to the bottom of it and realized what it took to be a top hundred player and how much he needed to put in and what sacrifices he needed to make.
Coming back to your question, it's all three of them. I believe, I personally believe, and I don't like saying this to any parent, but you cannot turn a donkey into a racehorse to put it as crudely as possible, especially in sport. You can make a donkey win the donkey’s race, you massage the donkey with the best oil, and you train it and you give it the best food and exercise everything. The donkey's going to win the donkey’s race. But it'll lose to the worst race horse.
To be a champion, you have to have it. Either you have it or you don't have it. You may be less talented, or you may be more talented like a Tendulker. So a Rahul Dravid will have to work much harder. His work ethic has to be a lot more. Or a VVS Laxman,or you be a Yuvraj singh or a Tendulker who's more naturally talented. But you have to have it.
You can't take a guy from the street who has no coordination and say that I will train him to be a champion. No, a champion has to be identified. The champion has to have that same conviction to be a champion. The parents or whoever the guardians are, have to be supportive emotionally, financially, right, in every possible way. He has to have a support team and a coach who's going to guide him through the system, through the process so that he knows what to do and everyone knows whether he's capable of it or not. So the entire relationship of these three people or the three ends has to be in sync. And then you have your champion. It doesn't happen by chance.
This is really insightful because we look at sport, the people who consume the sport, it's done for entertainment, it's done for pride and a lot of other things. But getting a deeper insight into that, how this transition happens, right from the time of identifying as an eight year old, and then that entire journey. It's so tricky because from 8 to 16 years old they're a kid and probably they are rich by their parents, and they don't think much of themselves maybe. But at 16 years, as you just said, to make a decision that one may not be able to put in all the effort. So what I take away here is that I think the first point of identification happens at home by the parent. And then what the parent has to do doesn't stop there. The parent has to take them to a coach. And that is like taking a patient to a doctor sort of thing. Because the coach is the certified person to be able to tell, okay, you know what, you've identified something, but the coach has to validate whether they're right or wrong.
Absolutely. Because you need an expert. And still, like the parents see the talent, the coach sees the talent, but the child doesn't want to do it. He's happy not doing it. And it's okay. You may be very talented, but you are happy you don't want to do it. You'd just rather hang out with your friends, have your ice cream, and watch a movie and grow up as a kid. Because when you want to be an athlete, you lose a lot of your childhood. If you feel, you’ll miss it while growing up, if you miss, and if you feel that you're making that sacrifice to be an athlete, you're going to burn out. And at some point of time you'll say, it's not worth it.
It's only those kids who enjoy that grind, enjoy that sacrifice without believing it's a sacrifice, because that end result is what they're looking at so desperately. It's a single minded approach where he's happy putting in that time. And he doesn't look at it as a sacrifice. It's only those kids who survive. It's only those kids who make it. The kid who feels that, oh my God, I'm not a normal kid. I can't go and watch a movie. I can't stay up late. I can't eat ice cream when I want. I'm making a sacrifice. Hopefully I'll make it someday. Some day it's going to snap and he is going to not do it. He'll say, I've had enough, now I'm not gonna do it anymore.
Got it Indrajit. It starts with a kid who shows promise, but then it also ends with the kid who has that promise.
Absolutely, because there's another journey to start the point of decision, am I gonna go for it or not? So it's a two-step process. You get to a state where you and people identify, okay, you have a chance, now is a time to make a decision whether you're gonna be putting in eight hours of effort or not.
Indrajit, you just revealed that you are also a sports psychologist now, which brings in a new angle. So in addition to your roles already at Champ for Life, do you also do this role as well?
Absolutely. We focus a lot on sports psychology. In Champ for Life, we have a program called Corporate Athlete, it's something that I have believed in, and I have seen it in America, where most of these sports science centers, where a sports science center is a place where other than your skill, you are taught sports nutrition, or fitness as well as mental toughness. Nutrition, fitness and mental toughness are three very important parts of sports science, which an athlete needs to train on to be a complete athlete. These trainers and these sports science centers actually play a big role with corporates because corporates want to go and work with them where their executives, their directors want to train like athletes because they also have to handle a lot of pressure. So they need to be mentally fit, physically fit, as well as totally in control of what they're doing, what they're thinking, so that they can make the right decisions, especially under stress.
Nothing is more glamorous than if I'm a corporate guy and I go to Tendulkar's coach, or I go to Leander Paes' coach, then obviously it's going to be a lot more. I would listen to the guy a lot more. And the guy is actually a psychologist, a sports psychologist, who is not treating a depressed man. He's treating someone who's already a supremely tough guy who's already a champion, who's already played in front of 40,000 people, but he's working on getting tougher. He's the nutritionist not working with a guy with a 42 waist. He's working with a guy who's already 32 waist, but making him fitter. Same with the fitness trainer. He's not trying to teach him to touch his toes, he's teaching him to go beyond. The entire training is more positive, more advanced, and much more exciting.
We've got this program, which is an online program on Champ for Life, which is actually working with corporate athletes, which gives a corporate athlete the knowledge which an athlete gets.
You must have heard of stock market traders?
I'm also a trader. Stock market is something that has always interested me. It's virtually impossible to make money if you're an intra day trader. And it's extremely stressful. So,yeah, I used to do a lot of trading intra, but I'm more of an investor since I'm so focused on Champ for Life, I don't have that much time to actually be on the screen. But I've done that for some time. It's sometimes a bit of a gamble, and I would never recommend intra day trading to somebody who's not a professional. Who doesn't have his charts, who doesn't have his stop losses. And I don't think one can really make money unless you are really good or you're really big. I believe if you can move the price of a stock, then you can make money. Otherwise it's going to be tough. You should have that much money to actually influence the price of the stock and those are the guys who make money.
What value can you provide to the people who are looking at this podcast from the point of view that, here's an entrepreneur who's in the knowledge industry, but then it's a very unique one? What do you see that is similar between the knowledge entrepreneurship that you are into and the others? Is there any common thing or is it two different things?
I think it's two different things. Because I see a lot of these, tuition websites or portals, and they are all competing to actually give you results of - ‘we've had so many students who've done well, these are the 10 kids who have finished in the top hundred in the state etc. So we are not into that at all. We are into a space where the kid doesn't want to study, he is just doing it out of compulsion.
We are looking at people who don't want to do it. We are giving them an option of doing it. So as of now, I'm sure there will be others who will come into this space sooner than later. But we can definitely say we are the first to do this.
I went to a very big corporate, again, I won't name them, to invest in Champ for Life, and they said, we are not sure whether we will invest in this project. But one thing I can tell you is that you are the first entrepreneur I met who actually is doing something because he's experienced it. It's more from the heart than actually from the mind. That was a very nice thing, which I heard from him. He said that a lot of people come and the whole objective is to make money. And when it's a startup, you're looking at, eventually you're looking at making money, which we are also, but it's come out of something that you've experienced and you've found lacking in your life. And you found that lacking in your son's life. It's something more from the heart than actually from the money part of it, trying to make money out of it.
The second part of Champ for Life is I think we've been able to make a huge difference to 500 children, who can't afford an online portal to give them educational support. Whether we make it or not, but I think we've been able to touch 500 children's lives already, other than the students that we have, so we have, as of now, about 200 students who have signed up. On a, like a paper thing. If you ask us about the business model, we are still not really making money. But, what we are looking at is the positioning, and we are looking at the valuation of this entire project, and we didn't go for an investor.
So coming down to people who want to start out as a business entrepreneur, what I feel is if you believe in the product you have, and if you feel that it's going to work, for sure, don't sell yourself too cheap, and don't just get an investor and partner just to fund it a little bit. I think if you slog it out and if you can just hang in there and create a product where you can actually get a good valuation for, so that the investor gives you the right valuation, I think it makes more sense. We could have easily picked up maybe a couple of crores to start with as investment by giving our stake. But we've hung in there for the last eight years, and the first three, four years saw nothing. We got an IIM guy to head the project to create the content. So we spent a lot of money, I spent a lot of my own money in building this thing up. I believe that I have a product that will eventually be a game changer. I am quite sure that it'll be someday. And when it happens, I won't have sold myself too cheap.
What you're doing has come from a very personal experience and you're just looking to really solve a problem. This is something more bigger from a nation's perspective. Because we are doing well from an educational point of view. There are a lot of entrepreneurs. But when we look at the sports column, we are still not there. We are happy for just one silver, one gold and all those things. But I think what you're doing, this could be a very important moment from the gold.
The future. Also, we are just looking beyond sport now. What about a dancer? What about someone who wants to sing? What about someone who just wants to be a blogger, someone who just wants to travel? What does he do? What is their backup? He still needs education. So our model is now evolving and we are actually creating content which will be ready maybe in a month's time where it'll be more for the common man. It'll be more for people who are not athletes. They still need nutrition. They still need wellness, they still need to be confident in life. They still need to get a degree in India. If you're not a graduate, you will not get a membership in a club and a basic club because your education qualification doesn't make you eligible.
So in India, that graduate stamp is extremely important. In anything you do, just to be recognized. In India, education means everything. And what are you studying? Still the books that we studied in 1989 in class 10 haven't changed. Including the science books. So where are we?
Now, it could be for anybody. It could be somebody who wants to go and work, and support their family, but still they would want to get a degree and be a graduate.
It could be someone who's just doing a family business or wants to open a small shop and still complete his education. What the lockdown has taught us is how important health is. The people who made it through Covid, were all physically fitter and also their mental state was better. I think Covid has affected a lot of people mentally. And people have gotten depressed. People have contemplated suicide. Even people who don't need it, who have not financially suffered are also mentally disturbed, troubled. So today, I think wellness, health, mental health, physical health has a huge, huge importance. And people have realized that importance. So the whole perspective to life - valuing your family, spending time with your family. You were forced to spend time with your spouse, with your children, who you never made conversation with because you were so busy in the rat race. So the entire module that we are doing in Champ for Life when it comes to nutrition, mental health there's seven subjects we touch upon, like nutrition, mental health, time management, financial management. We have seven subjects which supplement the education that we give. Those are all being made more generalized for the common man and not for the athlete. That content is already in the process and we will be up I think by end of January.
This content is brought to you by EdisonOS, a no code EdTech platform to operate an online education business. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.