Here's how Dream11's Harsh Jain went from playing fantasy leagues to creating India's first fantasy sports platform 

 Its been a decade since Harsh Jain co-founded Dream11. He is really happy with the way Indians are playing fantasy leagues 
Harsh Jain is a die hard Man Utd fan | Pic: Entrepreneurs' Organization
Harsh Jain is a die hard Man Utd fan | Pic: Entrepreneurs' Organization

When Harsh Jain, an ardent sports buff and fantasy league enthusiast returned to India from the USA in 2008, he faced a major crisis. Wonder what? There was no fantasy cricket in India. So, instead of finding a solution, he teamed up with Bhavit Sheth and founded Dream11, India's first 'freemium' fantasy sports platform.

If you ask Harsh Jain his favourite sport, he wouldn't waste a moment before replying football. This die-hard Manchester United fan didn't just watch and play the sport on the field but was also hooked to playing the fantasy league online. But when he co-founded Dream11 fantasy cricket league in 2008 as a social community platform, he hit another a major crisis. "The initial response was pathetic. The pivot model was completely different from the platform that you see today.  It was free to play, season-long, ad-driven and had prizes. But only 1 per cent of the players won prizes. So people immediately lost interest," Harsh says. 

But Harsh wasn't ready to give up. They started afresh in 2012, where the players exclusively played fantasy leagues. While the numbers started increasing slowly until 2015, the spike was abrupt after that. "We had three and a half lakh players in 2015. But today, there are 4.5 Crore people playing. We mostly grew through word of mouth publicity," says Harsh.

In case you're wondering how fantasy leagues are different from betting and gambling, here's a quick explainer for you. Users create a virtual team of real-life players and earn points based on the performances of these players in real matches. "Gambling depends on the match's outcome. Here, an hour before the match, you have to lock a player based on their condition, form, weather, and team. Depending on the players' performance, you get points. So, you act more like a team selector," Harsh explains.

But the obvious confusion with gambling did get them into trouble. "People always thought that money and sports together could only mean gambling. This prompted many to stay away for a while. We had trouble right from opening a company account, to allowing a payment gateway, to hiring people and partnerships. It was a difficult task to make people understand about what sets it apart from gambling," he says.

Apart from cricket, players also get to play football, kabaddi and basketball. Harsh says that while the number of players is increasing every day, the share of cricket players have gone down, as more people are migrating to kabaddi now. The team is now working to add more sports to the league.

(Harsh Jain was in Chennai on November 26 to talk at the Entrepreneur's Organisation's event. The group regularly conducts similar events to help their members interact with established entrepreneurs all over the country)

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