How to sell a new concept in the market – Sports Education
Beginning of EduSports
Saumil Majmudar Co-founded EduSports along with Meer Waqiruddin, Parminder Gill and Jyoti Majmudar. Saumil did his Engineering from IIT Bombay and went on to do his MBA from IIM Bangalore and also did a course in Entrepreneurship from Cambridge University. He was very interested in sports and went on to become the Sports Secretary at IIT Bombay and Captain of the Institute soccer and badminton teams at IIM Bangalore. He began his career with Wipro and later started a venture which did not work out. He then joined FutureSoft as product manager for a year.
A meeting with one of his friend’s triggered a pain point that ‘kids were not playing/getting to play because of lack of space in schools.’ This conversation helped him find/discover an underserved space to start something on his own. Saumil says that this is “Serendipity” – the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. . He joined hands with like-minded people and began working on the idea.
Saumil says the founding team had a strong opinion that sports should be a part of education and went to schools to pitch the idea. They had a list of 100 schools and not many really showed interest. Schools wanted the students to focus on maths and science but not on sports. Saumil says that he took a long time to figure out that getting access to the school leaders and having a trustful conversation with them was tough. The school authorities were looking at them with doubt because none of the founders came in from an education industry background. The founders had to wait outside the principal’s office for hours and were perceived as people selling cricket bats or sports kits. They thought EduSports may be a technology consulting company that would enable schools to deliver the experiences.
Saumil says that after a long time he was able to find around ten schools that said yes and listened to the pitch with an open mind. They also suggested what they wanted and those conversations helped define the product/ market fit. The early adopters who were looking out for solutions in this space saw a sincere bunch of young founders wanting to do something and helped them build the product. Saumil recollects that their first model was a tech consulting style where they will come, train, take the data and tell the schools on what to do. The schools however were not keen on this and wanted EduSports to send its own staff. When quizzed why the schools will need EduSports staff when they have their own, the response was that the existing categories of staff were three 1) Will not do 2) Will not be able to do 3) Cannot do and hence the principals expected a full service delivery model.
Saumil recollects a principal in Hyderabad who said that she liked what they are doing but they should send their staff if they want to make this model work. When Saumil questioned deeply on why she wanted this, she opened up and said that she will buy it this year for the school but the curriculum books would be lying in the library gathering dust as nothing will happen and they will not renew the contract next year. Saumil says that he had to find the early adopter customers who cared about what he did and moving to a service delivery model (as against a consulting model) was a significant business model change. The product and the metrics had also been defined by the customer.
Saumil said that the schools asked about how they would assess the kids on sports, as no education works without any assessment. The schools had a practical question. Since the assessment was democratic in the schools, the students got their grades as long as they were able to reproduce the subject in the exams. No one cared if they learnt it or just memorized the subject. While there were time tested systems to find out the skillsets of students and grade them on maths and science, they were a little confused on how to compare a football game with a basketball game and give the scores. So, Saumil changed the assessment to ‘health assessment’ instead of sports and made a very important change in the product mix. EduSports evangelized a different way of assessing the impact of the school’s sport program. As against winning tournaments (which involve a few students only), the goal of a sports program should be to produce healthier and fitter children who have a broad exposure to multiple sports. From a sales perspective, EduSports defined the norms by which their program would be judged and then delivered to those norms.
Saumil and team tried all possible channels because the segments were schools which were not widely exposed to sales and marketing people. Unfortunately many of them did not work. The easiest way to grab the attention of the principals and the top management was through education-focussed magazines. However, that channel was expensive and not showing quick results. Hence, they cold knocked the doors of the schools, sent mailers, did cold calls and asked for the principals, met the parents outside the schools, pushed for meetings with Parent Teacher Associations and also sent faxes because they thought faxes will be definitely seen. Saumil says that nothing worked.
They thought of something unique and tried seminars. They tied up with a senior sports person who accepted to speak about health education on their behalf. They wrote letters to all the school principals in Coimbatore asking them to send nominations. They expected around 40 schools to turn up but around 60 schools came in! The people who came in were all Physical Training Instructors. Saumil was excited and the presentation went like a dream. The PT teachers were excited with the concept and said they will get back. Saumil and his team congratulated themselves for breaking the ice at last. They began following up with all the 60 odd PT instructors. Saumil says that they got no meetings for the next one year. He later found out that the PT teachers felt threatened because of EduSports and blocked them out. Even this initiative failed.
TVS School in Madurai was doing a survey of their students for almost 1.5 years and were concerned about the students’ fitness levels. The head of the school had mandated the R&D head to solve it. Based on the earlier conversations, the person called Saumil on a Sunday morning at 6 AM and wanted to know more. Saumil realized that the school was looking out for a solution but was unable to find one in the market. Hence the school was willing to deal with an ambiguity of a new product. Saumil understood that only the early adopters will be comfortable in dealing with risks and with new companies. The school asked questions around how will they handle certain situations, how will they handle an entire class of 35 students when there is only a small playground, what kind of training methodology has EduSports come up with, how will you handle the entire program from their remote offices in Bangalore and how will the school authorities get visibility into the training to name a few. Saumil says that the Co-founders were passionate about sports and were good in what they wanted to do. They productised log books for improved monitoring of the program. The school authorities spent lots of time in working with the team in giving them all the inputs because they could not find anyone else closer to EduSports. That gave Saumil and team a lot of time to iterate on feedbacks and the first product got built. The first customer was acquired.
Evolving the Model
Saumil said that his team was going to schools and offering this curriculum for the students from kindergarten to grade10. They got some opportunities to do small pilots. The PT Instructors became very unhappy because this came as a direct intrusion in their work because they step into serious sports only with the classes above 5th/6th grade. They began creating trouble by criticizing the curriculum, the EduSports approach and not spending time on the field with the kids to execute the program. Saumil realized that he was fighting political battles instead of implementation battles. He began offering pilots to the junior classes which was not in the purview of the PT Instructors. They now began demonstrating their capabilities and the schools were happy with the outcome of the sports education program. The PT teachers saw this happening and now got convinced that their jobs will not go away and they asked EduSports to handle the higher classes also. Saumil says that he learnt a big lesson in sales that the buyer who is buying the product is not only the one who is implementing it and he has to map the delivery in the sales process to suit the implementation person.
New Model of Sales Outreach
Armed with the successes in the first few schools, they went and began speaking to the parents and asked them to check with the existing customers on the impact EduSports was creating. Saumil recollects that he spoke in front of 300 parents in the PTA and convinced them. He was able to get this go ahead because his customer’s customer (parents who are the customers of the school) said that they liked the program and were willing to pay extra.
Things he could have done better
Saumil says that for the first six years (prior to EduSports), he did not look at education as a way to do business out of sports. He thought sports education had to be imparted outside of the school hours. He did not figure this out even when three schools asked him to send his instructors to them in the school hours and was paying him for this. He was focussing on the consumer side of the business by reaching out to the parents. After 6 years, he figured out the model and began making good progress in his business.
Assigning strategy and value of the product is useless if it is not timed right and if there is no intention in staying in the market long enough because the market will not necessarily be ready for any new product on day one. Saumil says that they started in 2003 and the entire business model came to a shape in 2009. They tried multiple things in sales and all of them failed many times. On implementation, they took a playground for rent in Bangalore and went into the apartment complexes to promote, hired halls and invited people for seminars and nothing worked. They tried digital marketing which involved a mobile app and that also did not work. They finally hit gold in 2009 by working with schools who were also ready to outsource certain activities and they also found that health education was important and there was an immediate fit.
They have around 500 employees spread across the 400 schools they serve. They serve over 3.5 lakh students spread across 100+ cities in India, UAE, Qatar and Nepal. They are the most awarded company in Sports Education. Below are a few of their awards and recognitions:
- Winner –GESS Awards Dubai –for Best Product to Improve Health & Fitness in the Classroom –Mar 2014
- Winner –CII Emerging Entrepreneur Award –Mar 2014
- Winner –FICCI Best Startup in Sports –India Sports Awards Feb 2014
- Winner, NDTV & NirmalLifestyle ‘Spirit of Sport Award 2012’ for promoting sports in schools
- Winner, SankalpSocial Enterprise Awards 2012 in the category of education and skill development
- Winner, Lufthansa & ET Now ‘ Pioneering Spirit 2011’
- EduSports in Forbes:One of Forbes India’s ‘5 Start-ups to Watch-out in 2013’
- EduSports in Kotler: A case-study on EduSports featured in ‘Marketing Management-A South Asian Perspective-14th edition’ by Kotler, Keller, Jha & Koshy
- EduSports was featured on Satyamev Jayate Season 3 – Episode 1, ‘A ball can change the world’