Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

I have always taken risks: Virat Kohli

Excerpts from an exclusive interaction with Kohli, who explains One8's rapid growth

Rajiv Singh
Published: Sep 16, 2019 10:58:28 AM IST

I have always taken risks: Virat KohliIllustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur

On the timing of the One8 launch
After the success of Wrogn and a collaboration like that, the opportunity to create One8 came at the right time. Around 2016 is when I felt I was entering a phase of my career that was the right time to establish my own brand, and do collaborations, like I have done with Puma, with innerwear, fragrance, water and an energy drink. The portfolio is growing now but the basic idea was that I didn’t want to just do commercials, play cricket and get done with it and have no idea what to do after that.

I wanted to be involved in businesses with my own brand where I could make those businesses grow. It has gone well so far. Around 2016, I would have easily had 10-12 years of cricket left in me. So I thought that’s a great time to grow the brand. I didn’t want to do it at the fag end of my career and not have the time and opportunity to grow it further. I thought the timing was right. I always had it in my mind to do my own thing at some stage.

On the reason for the collaboration with Puma
When the association with Puma happened in 2016, I presented the idea along with my team to Puma and they were more than happy to collaborate. From there the brand started to grow and then we got into other businesses, which are also growing at a decent pace. It was because of the collaboration with Puma that we all got this belief that the brand can grow and succeed.

The numbers that have turned out with Puma so far have been outstanding. I thought it could happen, but I didn’t anticipate it would happen so quickly. Had Puma not collaborated and joined hands to work together, maybe we would not have got the confidence to grow the brand. So the collaboration with Puma was key.

On the transition from a cricketer to an entrepreneur
One needs to be open to learning. There are a lot of things you do wrong. A lot of things don’t go your way. Then I decided to step out of my normal mould and started to do collaborations, and start my own brand at an early age. If you don’t try doing something then you will never know whether it could be successful or not. I have never been conservative. I have always done things that felt right to me. And then you start making your own path, and later those things become a trend. It is the right moment to get into the business side of things as well. Honestly, over the last two to three years, I have grown with it.

On whether it has been a trial and error process
Honestly, so far, there has been nothing like trial and error, as we didn’t rush into anything. I didn’t have enough ideas in the beginning about the kind of things that might work. Yes, you are excited to start your own brand. Yes, you have a great fan base. But what do people like? What is it that you can provide in a different manner? How can you reach consumers in a way that they relate to you and the product? I can’t do or present something to the fans on social media that I don’t believe in. I wanted to expand and capitalise my success as a cricketer along with getting into the business.

On going slow in the beginning
Even with the collaboration with Puma, we didn’t just go out and come up with a whole lot of clothes and shoes. We did limited things, we saw the response and then figured out how to go about it. This is crucial in any business you start. If you go bang on and come up with everything, that doesn’t work. This would not be such a great idea. It is also crucial to analyse the response from the consumer. And along with that, you need to be prepared. If it works, then you can go full on. But if it doesn’t, you can take a step back and figure out another strategy. Taking the risk but starting in a balanced way is key to succeeding in any business.

On taking risks
It holds true for any walk of life and not just being an entrepreneur or cricketer. You have to take a leap of faith and take risks to succeed. If you don’t, then you might still do well but would be confined in a circle. Then you stop learning and growing. As a person and a cricketer, getting into business is all about taking risks, and just doing what feels right to you. Whenever I get that feeling (of taking a risk when there is an opportunity) I go for it.

On getting a high by attempting difficult things
Every individual is different. I have grown up in a society where we are told from an early age not to take risks, play safe, and be content with whatever you have. This is great to solidify your base. In life, you need to be aware. You can’t be so drastic and dramatic that you lose control over life. So striking a balance is very important. The upbringing we all have is a great foundation. But I would rather take a risk than be safe. I don’t know if this trait of mine is natural or I have worked on it, but I have always been someone who would want to do things that seem difficult. The thought of doing something that nobody has done makes me feel joyful and positive. This unlocks the ability that I have in sports. In business, too, now the same mentality works.

On the similarity between cricket and business
It’s very similar. In cricket, you have a split second to make a decision or you are out. You need to be absolutely precise and sure of what you want to do, and in this preparation plays a massive role. The same holds true for business. If I want to do innerwear, and I don’t look fit, then I am lacking preparation and it doesn’t look good. If I commit to something then I make sure that my life is moulded in such a way that I keep up with the demands of anything that I am doing.

On learnings from cricket
I have learnt everything from cricket in life. It teaches you so much about yourself if you are aware and open to learning. If you settle for mediocrity then you can keep playing for a few years, (but) you won’t really get to know yourself. In cricket, sometimes you end up doing things that otherwise you could never imagine you would do. And that boils down to belief, and that grows on you. It makes you feel that I will prove myself today as a man and not just as a sportsman. And you take this learning everywhere in life.

On making mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes in believing in myself, thinking that I am doing the right thing in cricket. But in hindsight, it was not. But I am glad I made those mistakes. When you are growing up, you do things on the field that are not acceptable at that time. But, at that moment, you feel it is right. But it might not turn out to be right. Then you can learn from it. I am a human being, I am allowed to make a mistake and I made a mistake. But you make sure it doesn’t happen again. I haven’t done anything drastic such as picking up a stump and thrashing anybody on the field. It’s basically that sometimes you make a bad decision while playing in important games. And you need to live with it, and accept it. No one incident in my life can define who I am. You make mistakes and you keep improving. I don’t believe in glorifying things. From the smallest to the biggest mistake, you learn, you accept and you move ahead. 

On success and failure
The more I grow as a sportsperson and a person, I realise that it’s just a part of what you do. We went to the Royal Box in Wimbledon in 2015 to watch Roger Federer play, and walking up the stairs there’s a beautiful line that says, ‘If you can treat success and failure like imposters then you have won.’ That has stayed with me.

On fear or the lack of it
I have never feared anything. Everyone feels pressure and feels nervous because your mind is playing tricks on you. If anyone can claim that he or she has never been under pressure then it would be a lie. I have never feared playing when I have not been in form. I would then probably be under a lot of pressure knowing that I might not succeed, but I never felt like I don’t want to go and play. It’s fine. If I fail, I fail.

On the vision for One8
When I collaborated with Puma, people said it would not work in India. It has never worked before. But the timing was never as accurate. Things were done in probably the last three or four years of people’s careers. That probably didn’t work as the business didn’t have the time to grow with the identity and the fan base. Also, in today’s age the fan base is huge because people get access to what you do on social media. All these factors work. But after doing ₹100 crore plus in the first year, it’s amazing to sit down and analyse what has happened. The vision is to keep working hard, doing things that are not happening out there and in a way that people can connect with them. You can’t do something outrageous if people can’t relate to it. You can’t be drastic in order to be different. Over the next five years, we want all our businesses to grow five or six times. Why not?

On his involvement with One8 products
To create a successful business, you need to be deeply involved in a way that makes it personalised and not let it happen randomly. The design, colours and styles are all worked upon closely. It can’t be a collaboration just for the sake of the money.

On being billed as aggressive
Being aggressive is not a problem at all. If it drives you, then it’s a great thing. When I came into the team, I carried myself in a certain manner. And people were not comfortable with that. People were not comfortable with tattoos on my arm, and felt I looked like a rebel and that I didn’t sync with the typical image of a cricketer. Now, so many years down the line, tattoos have become cool. Everyone wants to cut their hair like mine. But I had never strived for those things. The same holds true for aggression. Until two or three years ago, it was all taken in a negative manner. And then we started winning away from home, we won a series in Australia which was amazing, we won in South Africa, New Zealand and everywhere... and then people said this aggression is what is driving the team (laughs). It’s very subjective. Opinions can change, but you don’t need to change as a person.

On critics
I actually never care about critics. I don’t read the papers, I don’t focus on things happening outside. I know people are doing their job as well. I take criticism from those who see me every day, who are close to me. They understand that if my game is not right, then why it is not right. They are not just going to take an opportunity to bring me down. If I am in a position to criticise somebody, then first I would try to understand the person, then his journey and then give a solution. I would not immediately say ‘ye to bekaar hai’ (he is useless). To criticise someone is the easiest thing to do. To hold your ground and try to understand someone is the most difficult thing to do. Now it’s your choice whether you want to do the difficult or the easy thing.

On media and controversies
I have lived my life with no regrets. Had I been the wrong guy, I would have been out of the system.

(This story appears in the 27 September, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)