If you believe in your idea with sheer bull headedness, it will go lucky – Saumil Majmudar, EduSports

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Saumil Majmudar ‘s friend casually remarked that  his 6 year old son was not engaging in enough physical activity, was getting hooked to TV & computers. He also observed that there were hardly any healthy, social avenues for his son to mingle with children outside of the school. Clearly, parents wanted children to play and stay fit and healthy but there were not enough opportunities for children to have a fun experience around sports.  EduSports was founded in 2009 with a vision to ‘Make Sports an Integral Part of every Child’s Education and Upbringing’.

Saumil MajumdarBeing an avid Sports enthusiast and part of Maharashtra Badminton team & the IIT Bombay and IIM Bangalore Football team , Saumil chose to pursue good education instead of career in Sports. So, there was always this little urge inside him to help others experience the benefits of sports/physical activity. Every sport has the ability to teach the life skills to children which cannot be done inside a classroom or through theoretical knowledge itself. He was 100% convinced that schools/parents/children would love them for helping them realize the great possibilities that sports presented.

Saumil, co-founder & CEO EduSports speaks to us in detail about EduSports, the challenges while scaling, Innovation and the one question he wish he gets asked!

Tell us briefly the vision behind starting EduSports, and milestones achieved so far.

EduSports believes the sustainable, and scalable way to address the issue of kid’s sports & physical education is through the in-school sports program. Parents are concerned about their children’s health and fitness. Schools have Physical Education and Sports as part of their prescribed (by the Education Boards) curriculum/ timetable but in most cases, they are not delivering on the promise of physical education/sports as the PE activities in most schools are not inclusive and age-appropriate. This makes the children lose interest. EduSports fills this gap in the market by providing a structured Physical Education and Sports programme that

1. Fits into the school’s context (wrt limited time and space for a large number of kids)
2. Is part of the school time-table & covers all the children
3. Helps develop healthy & fit children who grow up to be ‘Champions in Life!’
4. Ensures all the children have fun and enjoy the sports/PE experience
5. Engages with all the stakeholders (children, parents, teachers, school leaders) as part of the process

EduSports seeks to address the issues in the current physical education structure in India, which is a huge cause for the alarming fitness standards amongst children. The key activity is providing outsourced physical education & sports program to schools across the country. EduSports today works with over 300 schools across 80 cities in India. It employs more than 350 physical education & sports personnel who deliver its program in schools. EduSports also has an international division with some schools in the Middle east and a few in Nepal.

Challenges in Journey so far?

[pullquote align=”right”]Till date, availability of highly-skilled graduates from a sports/PE background is the biggest challenge to scale-up.[/pullquote]I clearly remember the product evolution at the start of the EduSports journey. We had to lay emphasis on the program for the young kids segment and not the middle school segment. The Nursery-5th standard age group was better suited to the programmme demands of most school leaders, since they saw a huge gap in the early childhood years when it came to sports and physical education.

At the same time, schools didn’t see enough value is just the content-tech platform model which we had zeroed upon as the core product for EduSports. The wanted us to ensure the delivery of the program as well. This meant recruiting and training of PE teachers, something we had never envisioned. The EduSports programme required at least one qualified and trained resource to be present in every school.  In FY 11-12, EduSports established the ‘EduSports Centre for Coaching Excellence’ which works today with the top physical education colleges/ universities across the country to train the fresh PE graduates in these colleges.

After the initial hiccups, when the EduSports programme gathered momentum across the country, it brought with it a different set of challenges; majority of which were related to scaling the service delivery model in remote locations. The entire operations team had to be prepared to service a tier2/3 city and we required the skilled manpower to execute the programme on ground. Thankfully, we had the reporting platform in place, which helped us track the programme delivery in remote places.

[pullquote]The Indian culture of academic preference over play has also been a major roadblock at times.[/pullquote]Today, EduSports is present in more than 80 cities in the country and through its operations, hiring and training teams can help set-up a school with a minimal lead time. The physical education industry brings new challenges at every stage of the life cycle. Apart from the ones mentioned, retention of skilled manpower has been a serious challenge in this industry.  Working capital loans for a service delivery business have, as usual, been a part of this EduSports journey. That said, EduSports today prides itself on being a clear market leader and has helped define the physical education industry in India.

From your experiences so far, tell us how not to fail at a Startup.

It took me 5 years to get my market right. I would say that, if you believe in your idea with sheer bull headedness, it will go lucky. Don’t give up on a fundamentally good  idea. Things do not work the way we want.

The market is ready when it is ready. A startup can fail because of three reasons – the team either misread the market or is dealing with a wrong advisor/customer set or the team is not capable enough to pull it off. Very often, I find the reason to be one of the first two. In case you misread the market,  there are two things you can do. Wait until the market is ready if you have the financial stability to wait. Or, tweak the offering to suit the problem at hand, for which market is willing to pay you money.

How does EduSports innovate, to keep itself ahead of competition? 

Keep innovating!!!
The uniqueness of the EduSports innovation is the seamless manner in which all the different components (which were not unique in themselves) were integrated together (for the 1st time ever) to help children in schools become healthier & fitter via the medium of sports/physical education. However, like any other business we were expected to innovate/add onto the offerings towards our customers.

How do we keep innovating?

A very strong culture of staying connected with the customer (via monthly visits, periodic audits, testimonial/feedback forms) helps the EduSports team put the customer first and do what is needed/innovate to meet the customer needs. Internally, a team of managers (Product Marketing, Product-Technical & Innovation) with specific milestones and accountabilities to constantly push the limits of innovation ensures constant innovation. At an execution level, quarterly rewards for innovative executions at a regional level motivate the instructors on the ground to constantly look for new ways to improve existing processes/deliverables or come up with new out-of-the-box ideas

Example of innovation:

The physical education programme, designed in-house is a pioneer in innovation in the physical education space. The programme is built to be executable in frequently encountered Indian scenarios of limited time, limited space, high student:teacher ratios and multiple stakeholders. The curriculum undergoes an update YOY based on feedback from school leaders and kids playing on the ground and incorporates new lessons for children and creative ways to make kids play.

Another innovation to have made a significant impact on the physical education standards are the HealthyMindzTM assessments. As part of the same, every child receives a report card detailing their fitness standards. EduSports has published yearly fitness surveys and standards which help provide accurate information on the child’s fitness relative to other children in the country. EduSports has also managed to provide tracking mechanisms to document a child’s improvement/degradation in sports skills and fitness. The assessments undergo innovation YOY and provide huge value to the programme

Measure Impact: Important to measure impact and publish!!

STUDENTS : Our results can be measured through the fitness assessments which we conduct in schools. Every child in an EduSports school gets a fitness report, and this helps us document our impact

TEACHERS : We have also made a significant impact in the physical education teachers’ community. They now have growth options in this field and look forward to working in their profession at par with other academic teachers. The EduSports training looks to plug the gaps in the industry and improve the working standards of PETs even further in the years to come.

SCHOOL LEADERS: There has been a small but a sure change in the attitude of school leaders and parents towards sports/physical education. The biggest vector of change has been the paradigm shift that sports/PE is not only for performance/talented children but a must-have for all children to become fitter and healthier

What is EduSports targeting next?

The EduSports school sports/PE programme is the ONLY source of revenue for the company. Hence, all the revenue is all attributable to the innovation. The fact that EduSports is able to offer benefits to schools which are perceived by schools to be bigger than the sum of the individual components (like curriculum, coaches, props) is proof enough that the innovation is working and commercially attractive.

EduSports expects the market to atleast double every year and about 1 million children to play with the EduSports programme by 2015-2016. In addition to EduSports, the structured school sports/PE industry will see more players helping children discover the magic of sports/physical activity. Considering that there are potentially 75,000+ early adopters (Private schools with a tuitition fee of atleast INR 1500 a month), EduSports expects the robust growth to continue. Any policy changes (CBSE, Government Interventions) will only add to the growth.

 After being so extensively interviewed, what is the one thing you wish people had asked you about, but never did? Please answer it for us.

I always wonder, why people never ask me – ‘Why do you exist?’  Shouldn’t kids be naturally active and playing? Shouldn’t all the relevant people in kids lives ensure that there are enough places to play, and get their kids healthy physical education?   Sadly, this is not the norm. Kids@Play is nobody’s problem.  Physical education is still very underrated, and they need to see the obvious benefits to let the kid play. I am glad to be able to fill in the shoes with EduSports.