Cricketer-turned-entrepreneur, Yuvraj Singh, is getting ready to make his biggest, and boldest, business bet
Room Number 2535 on the 25th floor of Hotel Trident in Mumbai wears a sombre look. Three Mumbai Indians-branded blue luggage bags are neatly lined up in one corner of the expansive suite. A bat with a picture of a Phoenix and ‘warrior’ boldly inscribed on it lies on a sofa. Yuvraj Singh, sitting on a chair next to the window, looks pensive. Dressed in a yellow T-shirt and denim Bermudas, Singh has just finished his lunch.
“The hardest thing to decide,” the veteran swashbuckler confesses, “is the time to go.” Just a few days before the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Singh, 37, is mulling whether it’s time to hang up his boots. “I have had some great highs, and some big lows,” he says. “It’s my last year in cricket, and I want to go on a high note,” adds Singh, who made his international debut in 2000 but has not played for India since the tour of the Caribbean in June 2017. His steely resolve to make an impact in the IPL is reflected in his eyes. And he did make an impressive, and promising, start.
Debuting for Mumbai Indians this year, he scored a classy half century against Delhi Capitals in the first match at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in late March. His 52 off 33 balls at a strike rate of over 157 reminded viewers of vintage Singh. A few days later, he once again took his fans down memory lane in Bengaluru when he smashed spinner Yuzvendra Chahal for three consecutive sixes. It was a flashback moment for fans to 2007, when Singh smashed English fast bowler Stuart Broad for six sixes on the trot in a World T20 match.
His performance over the next few matches in the IPL was patchy. Though he looked good against spin, Singh struggled against fast bowling. For the Man of the Tournament in the 2011 World Cup—scoring 362 runs and snapping up 15 wickets—it has been a roller-coaster ride since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Singh hasn’t made it to the Indian team for the 2019 World Cup in England. For the flamboyant batsman who has played in three World Cups and scored his career best in ODIs—150 off 127 balls—in one of his many comebacks in January 2017, it may well be the end of the road.
Back at the Trident, in March, Singh knows the agony of fighting cancer; making multiple comebacks since 2012 has taken a toll, physically and mentally. “It’s obviously hard on the body, especially when you are growing older.”
Singh may soon return to the pavilion for good, but he’s all set to add new life to the other innings he began four years ago: As an investor and entrepreneur.
Singh, who has been investing in startups since 2015, is getting ready to make his biggest, and boldest, business bet with a chain of gyms, a range of health supplement products, and fashion jewellery and accessories. “Yuvraj Singh as an entrepreneur,” reckons Singh, “is not only a businessman out to make money. It’s about doing business with a big heart.” The underlying business philosophy, he points out, is: Live, dare and inspire. “I have lived and dared all my life. Now it’s time to inspire.”
Singh’s foundation YouWeCan, which works towards spreading awareness about cancer, funding the treatment of cancer and the education of kids who are cancer survivors, is his tool to give back to society and inspire others. Earlier, he confesses, his life was all about himself. “Now I think about others and giving back.” Cancer, Singh adds, changed his approach to life.
What has also changed is the way Singh goes about his business. After making a comeback from cancer and playing for a year, Singh realised that things were not working out for him. “I realised the need to hunt for different things. Startups then were emerging as a game changer,” he recalls. The early phase of his investment in startups was largely guided by his intuition, his preference for putting money in health ventures such as Healthians, a home diagnostics service provider, and a mix of ‘spray and pray’. “I made a couple of investments, went aggressive with them, and realised there were too many (investments),” he recounts.
The bets he is making now are more calculated and measured. Take, for instance, his investment in virtual reality-based tech startup Holosuit last November. Holosuit is a full-immersion sensor and feedback packed tracksuit which allows one to point, touch and feel 3D objects creating a 4D immersive experience. “This startup will be a huge game changer in future,” he contends. “Health and education are other segments where I would like to invest.”
Singh credits his new-found business wisdom to ‘maturity’. “With time and age, you mature,” he says with a smile.
The early signs of maturity started exhibiting from 2011 onwards. In his book The Test of My Life, Singh gave a glimpse into his new mindset. “What is maturity,” he asked, and then went on to explain. It’s made up of two things: Instinct and experience. In the 2011 World Cup, Singh recalled, there was one true love—whack the ball. But also buzzing in the mind was the knowledge that he had a lot of experience of reading the match situations. “Play for the team, bat within the big picture, keep it quiet and steady when required, build a base, don’t go out there and have a bash,” he wrote, listing some of his learnings that came with maturity.
Cut to 2019. Singh looks to replicate the same maturity in business, but on a different pitch and grappling with new playing conditions.
His ‘playing for the team’ philosophy has been replaced by batting for the underprivileged, and doing business so that he can generate funds for his cancer foundation; ‘bat within the big picture’ now means taking cognisance of the fact that in business money is limited and so one must spend it smartly and carefully; ‘keep it quiet and steady’ now gets reflected in his decision to invest wisely in startups, as there have been quite a few of his startup investments that have not yielded results or he has exited such as Vyomo, Black White Orange Brands, Intelligent Interfaces, Gurukul, Carl’s Jr., EduKart, Moov and Startup Buddy; ‘build a base, don’t go out there and have a bash’ is evident in his move to start a chain of gyms and health supplement products. “You need to do business with a conscience,” he says, declining to share his investment details. According to industry sources, he has invested over ₹
50 crore since 2015.
Yuvi’s biggest strength, reckons Shazmeen Kara, chief executive officer of YouWeCan Fashion, is the strong emotional bond he has with people. What he has endured valiantly over the last few years and the way he brilliantly bounced back has a massive rub off on his image, personality and his brand. “This is probably where he stands out from the rest,” she says, claiming that YouWeCan Fashion’s current topline stands at ₹
30 crore. Though he might not be the first sports celebrity to have plunged into entrepreneurship, he is probably the only one who has a story to narrate and touch the hearts of people, adds Kara. The way he has moulded his business by building it on a foundation of empathy towards the less privileged gives his brand that X factor, she says. The target for the business, she adds, is to double the topline in two years.
As Yuvi gets ready to hang up his boots as a cricketer and take the plunge full-time into entrepreneurship, brand and marketing experts contend that his ‘extraordinary story as a fighter’ would rub off positively on his venture.
“His brands and venture exude the ‘never give up attitude’. And that’s what attracts buyers the most in today’s cluttered market,” says N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research. When the real-life narratives are bigger than the stories that one creates on screen, he lets on, they stay with audiences longer and deeper. “Yuvi as a brand has that character that all of us would like to be. Never giving up, always fighting, despite the odds,” adds Chandramouli.
Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, too, raves about Yuvi’s indomitable spirit. “Life threw him a lemon and he really made lemonade,” he told Forbes India in an email reply. “I have always admired his fighting spirit which has seen him smiling through all his travails,” he added, sharing an anecdote about meeting Singh in London after his treatment in the US. “From his demeanour, one could not make out that he had finished two months of tough chemotherapy,” Tendulkar recalled. “He has the heart of a true champion.”
When the ‘heart of a true champion’ combines with the ‘learning that Yuvi has had as a fledgling businessman’ over the last few years, it makes for a deadly combination. “Yuvraj has evolved amazingly over the years,” says Abhishek Dubey, sports writer, columnist and advisor, Prasar Bharti. “He has calmed down, become sombre, and has been constantly learning and building on his experience.”
Singh admits he has calmed down. “Now I don’t run after the crowd with my bat,” he says and breaks into a hearty laugh. The wisdom and calmness are mirrored in his take on regrets in life as well. My biggest regret, he underlines, would be not making a mark in Test cricket. “That’s (Tests) the real test of a player, and his character,” he adds. My advice to youngsters, he lets on, would be to focus on Tests. Though there is a lot of money in IPL, if one wants to be the best in one’s business, then one has to be best at five-day cricket.
Ironically, talk about ‘lot of money in the IPL’ comes from a man who was bought for a whopping ₹
16 crore by Delhi Daredevils in 2015, but almost went unsold in this IPL auction. Mumbai Indians bought him at his base price of ₹
“I was not even sure I would get picked this IPL,” says Singh. “Younger guys are there in the game, and I’m on the last leg of my career.” On the auction day, he recalls, he went out with his wife for coffee. “I was not watching the auction,” he says. “I knew somebody might pick me, but I was not sure.”
What Singh is absolutely sure about, though, is his new innings as an entrepreneur, his intent to finish his career on a high note with one final big bash in the IPL, and leading a life without any fear of failure. “If I fail, I fail. If I succeed, I succeed. But if I fail, it will be without any regrets, If I succeed, it will be without any swagger,” he noted in his book.
He continues to follow the same mantra.
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(This story appears in the 10 May, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)