Firstly, the company that Anjana Reddy founded is called Universal Sportsbiz (USPL). I’m using the name WROGN because, well, that’s the brand we immediately recognise.
And this is what she has done over the years: Build brands, again and again.
Her story is worth telling not just because of what has been achieved, but how. For early stage founders, the lessons are many, as you will see.
Anjana was 24 and still in college when she did an internship with an investment firm and realised that if she could give 140 hours a week working for someone else, she could very well do that for herself. She recalls that making this decision was easy, but everything was new and different from what one studies in college, the only things that remained the same were the fundamentals.
India was hosting the Cricket World Cup in 2011, and the idea of having a branded apparel play like she had seen in the US occurred to her. The market ws huge, she knew, there weren’t any numbers needed to understand that. This was the germ of the idea - merchandising for cricket.
As she started planning the business and thinking of raising money, her next step was recognition. She needed to get someone big on board, someone who could personify the brand. She went for gold, and tried to get Sachin Tendulkar but realised his schedules were locked for 6 months. The joke was that it was easier to meet the Prime Minister than to meet Sachin! This was around the same time the first meeting with Accel happened, and though Accel was excited, the celebrity endorsement was again a point of discussion.
“Accel thought I was mad when I said I will get Sachin, but they trusted me to do it”, laughs Anjana.
She came back to Accel only after signing him up.
“I think just pitching to Accel really helped reinforce my commitment, that Mahendran is seeing something in my idea. I think that helped me, and then we signed Sachin and got him onboard. That further enhanced the confidence in the early days”, adds Anjana.
Getting an office space and recruiting the team was top of the list for Anjana. They were very different times, and everybody had to do everything. Anjana recalls getting coffee, tea, whatever was required. She was the one point electrician, router-fixer, everything in the office. And those were the early things that also helped connect with the team. It was those initial and intimate times that she says set the precedence and culture of the organization.
Next was to get the website up and running, followed by the usual questions of how to onboard people, how to manage a team, what agencies to work with, how to pitch, and so on, like every other startup. The partnership with Accel is what she believed changed her path because it taught them to dream bigger. She remembers doing about 50 lakhs of revenue, and meeting with Mahendran, where she imagined he would tell her to double her revenues.
Mahendran immediately asked her how USPL could do 30 crores, and she was stunned by the ambitiousness of the question. But when they did end up doing 25 crores the next year, she understood why Mahendran had asked that question.
“I don’t think we would have reached where we are if not for Accel, and it is not just about venture capital coming in with money. I remember telling Mahindran I do not have an MBA but I did get an MBA from Accel university. That first year I would go to the Accel office at 9 am every morning and just pick up a topic of my choice - channel partners, distribution, pricing, taxation - and Mahendran would explain it to me”, Anjana adds.
A large merchandise line had not been attempted at that scale in India before. That was a challenge in itself, Anjana recalls. The next thing was how to monetise it and make it attractive for consumers. USPL created multiple fashion lines, including a retirement line for Sachin, and that worked out well. They also tied up with foreign players, after which 80% of business came from England and Australia.
Since none of this had been done before, it was an empty canvas where she was given the freedom to paint it as she wanted.
If Anjana was starting up today
Let’s hear it in Anjana’s words:
As the last word, Anjana explained how she has been handling the marketing of the company since its inception. Even now, when she has a full time marketing team, she stays involved. As she observes, things have changed a lot in terms of digital, social, and analytics, but the fundamentals are still the same. What's missing is really intelligent marketing, she feels. Being intelligent and standing out has become important as there is too much noise. Consumers are bombarded with too much information from every side, and staying relevant is essential because India is also changing. Brands can’t shove their ideas into someone’s throat. The consumer comes first, and you have to listen and react to them all the time, she ends.
There’s a lot of wisdom for founders in just that last line, we think.