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29th Apr 2023
1hr 16mins

Episode 1 | Indrajit Bhalotia | Champ For Life

Bhalotia shares how his Champ For Life education ecosystem supports athletes to excel on & off the field by balancing passion with academics.

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Transcript for Champ For Life

Djagmo I'd like to start off by asking you about Champ for Life but before that, if you could just give a brief introduction about the person you are and, you know, anything that I'd like to, you'd like to share about yourself will be great. Personal, professional-everything. 

Indrajit Bhalotia: Well I'm a professional golfer and I've been playing professional golf from the age of 17. I'm 50 now, so 33 years. At one point of time I was India number one also, and I won some of the biggest tournaments in India. My identity is more of a professional golfer. And for the last 14, 15 years I've been also one of the national coaches at the National Golf Academy. I've been certifying teachers from across India and Asia. So more of playing, a bit of teaching. That is basically my identity, it is of an athlete.  

Djagmo: I'd like to start off by asking you about Champ for Life but before that, if you could just give a brief introduction about the person you are and, you know, anything that I'd like to, you'd like to share about yourself will be great. Personal, professional-everything. 

Indrajit Bhalotia: Well I'm a professional golfer and I've been playing professional golf from the age of 17. I'm 50 now, so 33 years. At one point of time I was India number one also, and I won some of the biggest tournaments in India. My identity is more of a professional golfer. And for the last 14, 15 years I've been also one of the national coaches at the National Golf Academy. I've been certifying teachers from across India and Asia. So more of playing, a bit of teaching. That is basically my identity, it is of an athlete.  

Djagmo: When did Champ for Life start off and what was the idea behind that?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: It's quite interesting actually. Because I think when I just passed class 10, that's in 1989 and I decided to turn professional and I come from a very conservative family of professionals. My mother was a lawyer and all her sisters were doctors. To play a sport professionally wasn't very acceptable. It was unheard of that a boy from a family where everyone is educated actually wants to play a sport. And for that I had to drop out of regular school and do something, where I could focus more on my playing. At that point of time I was looking at open schooling for my class 12 and then my graduation and things were very, very haphazard. Of course, there was no internet at that time. But even otherwise, getting books from the national open schools, tuition, everything was very, very difficult. Somehow I managed to go through, because that was a condition for me, especially my mother, to at least finish my studies.  

About seven or eight years ago when my son was about 16 and he was in class 10 and he wanted to turn professional, we started looking at options of how he could complete his studies. I realized that from 1989 to say 2014 - 15, in that 30 years or so, nothing has changed in the Indian education system. And, there was nowhere a kid who wanted to do something in the field, or rather there was no way he could do both. Either he had to choose education or he had to choose between either education or sport which resulted in dropping out or forgetting your sporting dream. That went for not only athletes and sports people, but also for a musician or a dancer or a singer or anyone who wants to do something, which is a little offbeat. Then I said, why not do something which I actually would've loved to have at my time and 30 years down the line, my son also doesn't have it. That's when the Champ for Life concept came into my mind. 

Furthermore, I started looking at companies like Uber and companies like OYO and, all these companies which didn't own a taxi, didn't own a hotel, but they were huge companies. I thought, education will also have to go that way. Because there will be a day where you won't need to buy acres of land. You won't need to have a building where you'll teach people there. This was the future. And that's when I felt, okay, let's create an education platform, which helps kids realize their dream. 

I kind of use the motto, passion to obsession. That was my motto because I realized that passion wasn't enough for anyone to succeed in life. You have to be obsessive. If you look at whether it's a Tendulkar or any, any top athlete, anyone who's been extremely successful in life has had to be obsessive about what they're doing. Passion. Everyone is passionate. We have millions of people who are passionate about football. But for someone to go out there and actually play, you have to be obsessive. So kind of that being said, we thought let's find a way where we can give education to kids who don't want to get 90%. Even today, if you look at all these tuitions, portals, they all look at excellence. Whether you're looking at Byjus or you're looking at everybody, everyone is looking at excellence. Everyone is looking at helping you win the rat race, getting 90%, getting 95%. So I said, we will create something where the kid is not interested in getting 90%. He wants to pass. He needs that degree. He's happy with 50%. We don't need to give him that kind of tuition. I'm going to give him 10% of his curriculum. It'll be a bit of a risk, but at least he can focus on his future. That was the whole concept of Champ for Life. 

We called it Champ for Life because we said that, you're gonna be a champion for life. That's what every parent wants. Even if you can't make it in sport, you have something to fall back on. So, that was one path we were going. The second path we were going was, I had known so many athletes who are brilliant players, but once their career is over, they don't know how to handle themselves. Not only that, there are some top cricketers today who made a mess of their social media and their interviews and they suffered. Really, really badly. We are going to resolve this by giving people a finishing school where they learn how to manage their brand, how to handle basic finances, how to speak, how to conduct yourself, how to behave, how to handle your social media. Like a finishing school, but more specific for people who don't go to regular school. So those are the two lines we started going on. This journey started eight years back and we started working on content, content, content. Because everything had to be done from scratch. Because we were concising all the textbooks to 10%. All you have to study is 10% to get 50% and not look to get 90%. That's how it came about. And Covid was a big disaster to mankind, but it gave us a huge boost because online education was accepted and, and Covid showed the world that what we are doing is actually the way forward. So that's how we came about.  

Djagmo: You said one of the main two things, one was your past, at which point you were at a crossroads and then, your mother had certain minimum conditions that you had to meet for you to pursue your sports dreams. And then fast forward a few years later, your son found himself to be in the same position and that's when Champ for Life also came into picture, you know, has its link. So how did you solve this problem for your son? Is he one of the first students of Champ for life?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: No,not really. So he continued with his education because by the time we launched. He was well into his college and, but we've had a few kids, a few of my students who have gone through class 10 and class 12 already. So these were all the testing phases and now we are in a situation where we can offer it very comfortably to people because I didn't want to do something where we fail, because it's a career, it's a child's career in life. And we can't be experimenting with that. So we were very, very cautious with our launch and only when we were sure. There were a couple of students of mine who were already doing the offbeat studies, they were doing the open schooling. So we took them on and we gave them the tuition just to see how they perform. And once they went through, we realized that yeah, this is the platform.

Djagmo: This journey started eight years ago. Eight years back you said it was more about content and then a lot of work was going on in the background. So, how long did it take for you to have a product and then launch? And how many years was the pre-production work?


Indrajit Bhalotia: It was a bit of trial and error. It took us close to three to four years, I think, before we were actually ready to launch. And TeachEdison just came by chance because one of our partners at that time knew Neeraj and he connected us. It made our work a lot easier because I was looking at starting from scratch and I was looking at not the content part of it, but the platform part of it. I was very apprehensive about going onto another platform and to something that was ready. But, we gave TeachEdison a shot and they pretty much answered 90% of what we were looking for. It made our work a lot easier, otherwise we would've had to create a platform from scratch.  

Djagmo: It took four years for you to put together the product and then launch finally. Before the whole Champ for Life thing happened, you were a professional golfer, you played the sport, but then you also taught a little bit you were into the teaching or coaching side of things. So did you start off with your golf students as the first.  

Indrajit Bhalotia: Yes. We did that, we did start off with our golf students and spend into other sports. We actually also run one of the largest golf academies in India, in Kolkata with over 250 children and out of that about 5-7 of the kids, actually generally, if you have a hundred kids, you'll have 2-3 who are looking at making a career out of that sport. Whichever sport you play. So, these 2-3 kids, we actually took them on and we gave them the support, online support, and we gave them a little extra with mentors being there. And then we kind of got comfortable with what we created and the kids passed. They went through the class 10 and 12 and that gave us the confidence to actually put this product out there.  

Djagmo: Since golf is not a very popular sport in India for various reasons or I don't know, instead of using the word popular, maybe not a lot of people are aware of the intricacies of golf, and I didn't expect kids as young as 10th standard. So what is the usual starting age of kids that join in the academy? 

Indrajit Bhalotia: A kid can start at the age of three. It's a misconception that golf is an old man's game. Golf is a game which an old man can play. That is what allows a 90 year old man to play golf. But you hit a golf ball, which can fly up to 300, 320 meters. If you look at a six or Chris Gayle hitting a six is about 75 meters. So imagine he hits a six where the ball drops outside the fence and goes and hits another six where that ball drops, he goes and hits another one, and then he goes and hits another one. So he's four sixes where the golf ball drops now.The golf ball is more aerodynamic and stuff like that, but still the ball is flying 320 meters. So you do need that power. To play a sport like golf, you need very good speed. You need, lot of timing and a lot of power. It's like a fast bowler, you can't really produce a fast bowler, fast bowlers are literally born. Hitting a golf ball takes a lot of effort, a lot of power, a lot of technique, and it's actually not an old man's game. So to start young at the age of four, five, I mean as young as three, actually has a huge advantage.  

Djagmo: So at what age are the kids looking at probably focusing full-time on golf and opting for open schooling so that they could focus more?

Indrajit Bhalotia: So it's not only golf. See, you have to understand the Indian mentality, the Indian society, if you look at all our top athletes, you know, medalists, boxers, wrestlers, hockey players, any sport, you'll rarely find athletes coming from middle class backgrounds. There are many reasons for that. One is that people who come from middle class backgrounds already have a lifestyle. They have a standard of living, which has to be maintained. Most of them come from jobs and they want their children to be stable. They're the ones who don't take a risk. You either see Arjun Atwal, or Abhinav Bindra , one of these guys who are super rich. They come from families where the next five generations don't need to worry about making a living. Or they come from backgrounds where the father is an autorickshaw driver or you know, someone who has nothing to lose in life. 

Whatever they do is a plus because the kind of background they're coming from is very, very difficult. So, 99% of successful athletes in India are coming from either a very affluent background or from a very, very tough background. Middle class doesn't really give you that opportunity. And the reason why I touched upon this is because we come down to education. So today, a middle class kid will never drop out of school to pursue a sport. And I feel that if we do this right, and if we can market this product right, it'll be a game changer for India because it gives that huge middle class children an opportunity to follow their dream and cut down the risks. You know that if you don't make it in the sport, at least you have some kind of a degree and hence you can take that chance. Because today it's virtually impossible. So post class 8, if you see athletes, any sport in India, go to a cricket academy, go to a tennis academy, post class 8, 90% of the kids drop out. And that's a trend everywhere because when you go into class 9, you have got to make a choice. You have got to decide whether you're gonna do arts, you're gonna do science, you're gonna do commerce. And that is where the sport takes a backseat. Superbly talented kids actually give a play. By the time he's done with class 12 or so and he is going into college and he has again some time it's too late. Where does he have a chance? And no parent, or a family which earns 40,000 - 50,000 rupees a month will ever risk their children to drop out of a school and be in a position where you'll have to probably drive a car or, you'll have to do some kind of a clerical, not even a clerical job. 

So that is my dream. I mean when I started and I still see that, so many talents are getting wasted. Because you cannot risk following your dream. And that is where we will try to bridge the gap.  

Djagmo: When you said most of the top sports people in India at least are either from affluent backgrounds or they're from the toughest backgrounds, they have nothing to lose right. Now, as you said, the middle class cannot do either of these because they have a certain lifestyle to maintain and they've got a lot to lose and they're on an upward journey. I think this model that you're talking about is tailor made for them, where this model of yours allows them to not leave education completely. But at the same time, if there is a supremely talented person from the middle class, I think you give them a chance basically. I think now I kind of completed the entire purpose perspective about Champ for Life. 

So you said you started off with golf Indrajit. So have you moved on to other sports? Have you started including other sports as well?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: No, we never started with golf. We just tried with the kids because they were kids who I knew. But we are looking at other sports. Golf is going to be a very small part of our clientele. We're looking at track and field, we're looking at hockey players and footballers. Sports that are more played in India and followed by cricketers. So that's a target for children, we are not looking at golf at all. Golf would be a very, very small part. Maybe 0.1% of our effort. But I just wanted to add a completely different angle to Champ for Life, which you're not aware of maybe is when the lockdown happened. I run a couple of NGOs where we help, we feed a lot of young children. We feed 350 children every day. So, when the lockdown happened, all these NGO schools that are run all shut down because they didn't have a means of giving online education, the kids were not going to school for almost a year. Within the first month, what we decided was we already had a platform. We took about five NGO schools and about 500 children. We said that we are going to give you online tuition through the lockdown. 

We had the platform running anyway. We opened up our gates and it helped Champ for Life also evolve because it helped us understand how to do tuition, how kids react and things like that. Once the lockdown got over and the kids went back to regular school, all these NGO schools still want us to do the classes because of the kind of platform that we provided the children and the standard of teaching, the standard of tuition teachers, none of these NGO schools can afford.   Today, out of our student base, about 500 children are from underprivileged backgrounds who don't pay a single rupee. And being completely supported by Champ For Life.  

Djagmo: Yeah. This is something that I definitely wasn't aware of Indrajit, what started off as a makeshift arrangement during the pandemic has now become a regular thing as part of Champ for Life. Amazing stuff!

Djagmo: 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? 

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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.  

Djagmo: 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?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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.

Djagmo: 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? 

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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.  

Djagmo: 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.  

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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. 

Djagmo: Got it Indrajit. It starts with a kid who shows promise, but then it also ends with the kid who has that promise.

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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. 

Djagmo: 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?

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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.  

Djagmo: You must have heard of stock market traders?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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.  

Djagmo: 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?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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.  

Djagmo: 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.  

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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?

Djagmo: 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.  

Indrajit Bhalotia: 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 the end of January. 

Djagmo: Indrajit, are you saying that you are creating your own curriculum? Like a very balanced curriculum.  

Indrajit Bhalotia: Like I said 10%, we are cutting the entire education part to 10%. We're only focusing on NIOS, National Open School. Our entire curriculum, tuition, we decided to look at one board where a child can just go and enroll, doesn't need the school. Nothing. And that was the National Open School. Any child who's above the age of 14 or 13 can actually enroll in the National Open School and give an exam, give the class 10 exam. 

What we do is we enroll the children, it's recognized. You could pass out from National Open School, do your Indira Gandhi Open University, which are all recognized by the government of West Bengal and actually become an IAS or an IPS or anything and be eligible for any government job. It's a recognized board and also it's a little easier than the other boards. Whatever curriculum we have revolves around the National Open School and the Indira Gandhi Open University. We go from class eight to graduation. We basically give you 7 - 8 years of your education.
We also have a diploma in a certificate course in sports management, which one could do after he finishes his graduation. So if somebody enrolls in class eight with us, we could take care of his next nine years of education.  

Djagmo: Indrajit, just like how you came about with this idea, I'm sure there are a lot of sports people who would've probably had this thought where they feel exactly whatever you felt and for whatever reason they may not have been able to act on it like the way you did. And also whoever would've been affected by these situations might be looking at this space right. Now, from a business angle, from a marketing perspective or from a communication perspective, what have you done to address these people, to let them know that you are existing, there is Champ For Life who caters to these sort of things?


Indrajit Bhalotia: To be very honest, we've not done much about that. For some reason we've not been able to take this out to the world the way we would've wanted to. I think that is one area where I will need to build a team which will go and market this product. We've already gone to five or six different academies - cricket, archery, shooting, football, hockey and actually given this product for free for them to try it out. We've done about 5% or maybe 2% of what we plan to do. That is where, like when I mentioned that you need an investor, you need some funding. So it's a balance. Where do you want them to come in, at what price? And when do you need them to come in? Because at one point where you need to break, go to a different level, you will need that funding. That is the tough question that I have to answer.
I think it's about time that we're looking at something a little more than what we do. For that you need the kind of funding, which we don't have at the moment, but are we ready to compromise on giving that much stake to the investor. That is where we stand at the moment. 

Djagmo: Indrajit, you have about 250 paid students who signed up. How did you get these 250 students to sign up with you? How did they find you?

Indrajit Bhalotia: We did a couple of press conferences, where we were covered by a few newspapers, and we reached out to academies. That is our main area, where we were looking at going to sports academies and telling them that this is what is there at the moment. What we're looking at is to also give the academies that package instead of the students taking them. But we don't want to get too aggressive where we promised the moon and we can't deliver.  I've always been a very conservative person when it comes down to when I want to give a product, I would look at it as a parent and would I take it for my child or not? Until I'm convinced I wouldn't do that. Now we're in a position where I'm convinced that I could actually put my son onto this program and expect him to pass his exams.  

Djagmo: You say that your product was evolving and you were probably deliberately slow and not very aggressive to reach out to a lot of people. But then you also had these moments when you had a press conference and then some sort of a publicity happened and that's how you got 250 people. But what stopped you from taking the most commonly taken route these days by businesses? Social media? Like running paid ads on Instagram where most of these people might be present. Is that due to the funding aspect of it?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: No, not really. We tried doing the organic part of it where we created some posts and we created some videos. We have some of them going around, but it's not had the impact that we looked at to be very honest. We haven't really got an advertising team in place.That is one thing that I'm working on at this moment is to get somebody who's going to come out and actually market it for us. We tried doing it on our own, but I realized that it's not something that every entrepreneur can do. I won't advise any entrepreneur to try and do the marketing themselves because you'll need somebody who has knowledge about it. I think in marketing, it's how you package the product and how you sell it is the game.  That is something that we've not really looked at the moment, but going forward, I think if we have to be successful, we'll have to go out there. It's not about the money, it's just that we try to do it in house. To be very honest, we try doing it in house and it's not about the desired results.


Djagmo: You must have had some exposure to marketing given that at some point you were one of the top players in India, you were in this sport and which is also linked to entertainment, which is all about marketing. But you have chosen to try this on your own. And at this point you are recommending to all the others out there, you probably need to have people who are experts at marketing. If you can share some of what went wrong, are there some key lessons here that you learned and why you think the way that you think about marketing now?


Indrajit Bhalotia: See there are a lot of things that we don't understand. I still don't understand. I don't understand what a hashtag is. I really don't. I don't know the keywords and I'm getting to hear of these things, but I really don't know how these are done. And I don't think my team, though we have some very good professionals in our team, they're capable of doing things like this. Getting the right keywords where you come out in the searches, the right hashtags, very little things which I was not aware of in marketing. Paid ads and the target audience. The target cities, there's so much to it and there's so much science to it, which everyone is not good at everything. You can't be a master of everything. That's something that I've learned the hard way. 

That's why I said the best thing, like I was trying to create this entire portal, trying to build it from scratch. Then I got TeachEdison to come and just give me a ready product, which was customized for me. It's still getting customized a little more, bu it's something that's already ready and it was so easy for me to take it forward. I think one thing that I've learned in business is you have to have your professionals, you have to have your team, where they're professionals in what they do. So the marketing guy does the marketing, the content guys does the content. Everybody has their role to play. You can't just have two guys who're doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of that. That'll never work.  

Djagmo: A lot of the questions were actually around student acquisition and your entrepreneurship is slightly different from the excellence oriented people. But at the end of the day, you need to get your kind of students to yourself. Given that we have a number of clients, one of the common threads that we see is that not everybody is amazing at what they do. They've got amazing content and everything. But one of the things that most of them seem to struggle with is acquiring students and making sales to put it out crudely. But I think you are now probably going to have your part two start where you have your product ready and it's time for you to go out there, do the marketing and start your second journey, which is bringing in the students and having them use your product. And I think one of the missing puzzles is how you are going to reach that point where you are going to have probably lakhs of students.


Indrajit Bhalotia:  What we also did is, with the platform that we have, we realized that there is a huge potential in the sports industry to give the sports associations or the academies their own education system. And, because I'm part of the golf industry, we managed to get the national body onto our platform to certify.
Our national body was very apprehensive in the beginning to take the golf teachers course online or a referee course online. But, the revenue they made in six weeks was more than the revenue they did on physical courses in two years. That was the kind of revenue they generated. We gave it to them almost virtually free, because they were not very keen to go with this system.  

Now we are working on a hybrid model. So, other than giving education to students, mainly athletes or anyone who's trying to follow their dream, we are also trying to be a company which gives you a total solution in the sports industry when it comes to education. Whether you want to train a coach, whether you want to train a parent, whether you want to train a mentor, you want to train an athlete, you want to put a system for a sports organization, an academy. Anything to do with the education part in the sports industry, we are there. That is something that I think we are the first dedicated sports education portal in the country. That is something that I'm very hopeful about when it comes to revenue.
There'll be a lot of entrepreneurs who will be watching this and our journey is a very uphill one because we are trying to create a need which is there, but people don't realize it's there. Sports and online have never really worked so much and we're trying to get in there. So if you are an entrepreneur,  while you're on your journey, you'll obviously have to adjust and innovate. I think one of the best things I've learned doing this portal is that I've learned to innovate and I've learned to evolve.
The picture I had of CFL or Champ for Life when I started out and the picture I have now is completely different. It's much larger, it's added so many dimensions, so many opportunities that I never even imagined that I would have. When I started out, I was just stuck on one path where I was looking at education for an athlete who wants to drop out of school. But today we've become a complete education solution for an athlete, for a parent. So we have mentoring courses where parents are mentored, they learn the do's and don'ts of being a parent of an athlete. So whether you're a coach, whether you're a student, whether you're a player, whether you are anyone, whether you're a referee, whether you are a coach, we have a course for you.  

Just imagine if you go to a cricket academy and you give that cricketer two added things. One is you give them an opportunity to train at the academy on your sport as well as have your education covered. It makes the academy a complete academy. We also give sport science support. Like I said earlier, there's seven subjects other than education. 

Let's say the kid doesn't want to drop out of school, he wants to continue his regular school, he wants to be a great cricketer. We give him those seven subjects which will help him be a better athlete. Nutrition, fitness,or how to handle your personal brand, how to build your brand, how to handle social media so that when you grow as an athlete you get sponsors, how to handle yourself, how to handle finances as an athlete. It gives you that entire sports science support. So the cricket academy now is going to give you two other options. It gives you an option of education and it also adds to its sports science support. The academy has everything to gain and it makes it a much more complete cricket, football, tennis, whatever academy it could be. So that's what we bring on the table.

Djagmo: Taking this through the sports academy is one thing. Are you also catering to kids who are not going to sports academies? Can they directly take this? Are you also dealing directly?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: Of course we're looking at kids directly. It's just that it's easier to go to an academy which has 200 kids. The access gets a lot easier. But the direct kids will obviously need a lot more marketing because they'll need to know that this product is available. That is where we'll have to work on. But the easier way out is to go to these academies where they are already training 100 kids, 200 kids, 300 kids and you have a product which you have your target audience ready. All those 300 students of that cricket academy are your potential customers.  

Djagmo: Is it just the curriculum that you've developed? Is it self paced learning or do you also provide live?

Indrajit Bhalotia: Yes, it's self paced. There are two aspects to it. One is obviously it's self paced where you have your curriculum, you have your audio visual as well as text content. You pass one module and then you go to the next module and then you pass that and you keep going module to module. Also what we do is regular lectures, live lectures for our students. We get in a celebrity, or someone from the sports industry to actually talk about it or it can be an interactive session. We do that on a regular basis at least once or twice a month. Otherwise it's a self paced study. You could do it over six months, eight months, a year. It's up to you.  

Djagmo: What is the average ticket size that we are talking about? Let's take direct kids just for others to understand. So what is the kind of fee that they're looking at to get access to the content? 

Indrajit Bhalotia: On a yearly basis, depending on the tuition, it could be somewhere on an average about 2,000 to 5,000 rupees a month. What we have is we have a few kids who pay about 5,000 rupees a month who have direct access to the mentors. On a one-on-one basis. Then there are children who pay about 2000 rupees a month or maybe about 20,000 rupees a year, 24,000 a year where they get access once or twice a month or maybe three times a month to a mentor. Everyone has a mentor, but more of one on one mentoring on a daily basis. It's anywhere between two to five thousand rupees a month. We have 500 kids who are completely free. 
Everyone has access to mentors either through chatting if required, or we can set up a video call, but we have about 50 students assigned to a mentor. So we have about five mentors at the moment. 

Djagmo: What's the entire team size like for Champ for Life at this point? In the form of teachers and all the team?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: If we take everyone into account, we are about 10 now, not counting me. We have about 10 people - five mentors, and then we have 3 people for the entire management of everything. We have one graphics designer who takes care of all the graphics, internal graphics. One person for content. We have about 10 fulltime people and we end up getting three or four interns on a regular basis. We have about three or four kids in college who come to us for internships. Those are free internships. We don't pay for our internships, but they come for a couple of months where we give them experience of creating content and mentoring. They also come out and help the free students who don't pay anything. So on an average, about 13 to 14 people.


Djagmo: If there are some investors looking at this, is there something that you'd wanna communicate to them?

Indrajit Bhalotia: I think one of our biggest strengths is that we are unique as of today. We have no competition and we are the first to do something like this. If we have some investor coming in, he has to understand that, in today's world, it's very difficult to find something that nobody else is doing. Because everyone is in every space. You go into any space and there are some big players like Byjus and different people, who won't take much time to come into our space and in a huge way. But no one can take away from us that we are the first to do it and we have addressed something that is never being addressed before. But, if an investor is looking at us, then I'm sure he'll look at a potential of, at least 50,000 students, which we can probably acquire as paid students. And if they're going to be paying 2,000 to 5,000 a month, that's some serious amount of revenue that can be generated.  

Djagmo: As of now, you are only within Bengal?  

Indrajit Bhalotia: No, as it's online, we got students from across the country. We have sports management courses being done by people from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. That's the beauty of having an online program. There are no boundaries. We could say we are only in West Bengal if we had a school building somewhere where we would be teaching our students, but we have no building. So your phone is your college.

What we say is that you have one cell phone and that's your college or your school, your entire school is in your hands. So we have no boundaries. We've got kids even from Maharashtra. We've got, I think we've got one kid from down south somewhere around Bangalore. 

Djagmo: I'm not gonna conclude by saying okay Indrajit, thank you so much and all these things, but I'm going to be in touch with you and see if there is some bit of progress. And if you feel like sharing something, I'll always be happy to have you on again and then have a conversation. It was wonderful talking to you. I learned so much, because this was something very new to me and it was very insightful, especially the point when you spoke about passion to obsession. I think that's going to be my takeaway. Of all the things I felt that was very profound to anybody, it need not have to be just a sport.

Indrajit Bhalotia: I've always known that. But I met a God man, and he told me, you're passionate, but how obsessive are you? 

You look at every single champion, every single successful man, whether it's an athlete, whether he's a businessman, he lives, breathes, he dreams, he does about that goal that he has. And if it's a sport, then that's the only way you can be a champion. You cannot just be doing this and say, by the way, I'll do this also. So that's something that caught on. And I think if every kid follows his passion with obsession, he's got a great chance of succeeding.  

Djagmo: I think it can be applied for anybody and everybody. I wish you're on your way to the 50,000 student journey. This is amazing and very inspiring. I really wish you all the best and look forward to having you on another session like this sometime.

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