Founders of billion-dollar company from India share tips for success

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Harsh Jain says it’s an “open secret” that he doesn’t use his own fantasy sports app — for fantasy football, at least. 

“I am still committed to fantasy football on Fantasy Premier League, the reason we created Dream11.” 

Fantasy sports are online games in which players create virtual teams of proxies that track real sports players. They can earn points and win cash prizes based on the real-world performances of these players.  

Fantasy football was already hugely popular in the U.K. in the early 2000s and Jain caught the bug while studying in high school there.

After introducing it to his childhood friend Bhavit Sheth, they set out to look for a fantasy cricket platform in India. When they didn’t find what they were looking for, they created their own in 2008.

What happens if you get hit by the bus? Are you building scale and systems in a way … not dependent on [a single person] and … having one person make a decision?

Harsh Jain

Co-founder and CEO, Dream Sports

According to Jain, it’s the “first mover’s advantage” that brought their company Dream Sports — the parent company of Dream11 — to great heights. 

“Once you and your friends are … connected over one network in fantasy sports, for a rival to get you to play there, you have to move all your friends with you,” said Jain, who is also Dream Sports’ CEO.

“Because you have your leagues set up, all your friends are playing against each other.” 

Dream Sports is not only India’s first sports tech unicorn — the company also reportedly holds “almost 90% market share” in the country’s fantasy sports industry. 

The 36-year-olds share three tips on how to run a successful company. 

1. Unplug 

If there’s one “fundamental principle” that Jain and Sheth live by as leaders of their company — it’s making sure their business isn’t reliant on either one of them, they told CNBC Make It.

Jain said, “What happens if you get hit by the bus? Are you building scale and systems in a way not dependent on [a single person] and … having one person make a decision?”

That’s why the co-founders enforced a week of “unplug” time for every Dream Sports employee, including themselves. 

Harsh Jain (left) and Bhavit Sheth are the co-founders of Dream Sports, a sports tech firm from India that owns Dream11, the biggest fantasy gaming platform in the country.

Dream Sports

“Once a year, for one week, you’re kicked out of the [company] system … you don’t have Slack, emails and calls,” Jain added. 

“Because it helps you greatly to have that one week of uninterrupted time and it helps the business to know whether we’re dependent on anyone.” 

Anyone who reaches out to another employee during “unplug” time has to pay a fine of about $1,200, Jain added. That has been effective so far, the co-founders said. 

“No one wants to be that jerk who called someone who was on unplug,” Sheth, who is also the chief operations officer, said with a laugh.

2. Learn from rejection 

Jain and Sheth said they heard “no” at least 150 times from venture capital firms when they were trying to secure early stage funding 10 years ago. 

“We went to all the Indian VCs, and they said, ‘This is a U.S. concept. Fantasy sports aren’t prevalent in India … Why don’t you raise money in the U.S.?'” 

But it was equally trying when Jain attempted to raise money in New York and San Francisco. 

“All the VCs there told me to go back to India. ‘It’s an Indian company, raise money in India!'” Jain recalled. “Then I realized that it was just a polite way of saying no.” 

Instead of feeling discouraged, Jain and Sheth gained fuel from the rejections.

Early stage investors are actually looking for deeply passionate founders, [and products] with a large market.

Harsh Jain

Co-founder and CEO, Dream Sports

3. Shut out the noise 

You’re always fighting something.

Harsh Jain

CEO and co-founder, Dream Sports

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