Sports supporters and fans from their youth Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth founded Dream11, a fantasy sports website, nearly a decade ago on a hunch that sports fantasy leagues will one day be big business. The business is now the industry leader in the Indian online fantasy gaming space, having overcome a legal snafu and a slew of other challenges.
When Mumbai-based fantasy sports platform Dream11 raised $100 million from Chinese giant Tencent last month, everyone was ecstatic at the possibility of another Indian startup entering into the major league of investors. Dream11’s value has risen to $700 million-$800 million thanks to the new fund-raising led by the Chinese investor.
To be sure, Dream11’s journey began in 2009, when two childhood friends Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth, both ardent sports fans and engineers, founded the company with the conviction that sports fantasy leagues will become a major business opportunity in a world with a billion-plus cricket fans. Dream11 was first conceived in 2008, when the Indian Premier League (IPL) was introduced. Harsh started searching for a similar forum to play online fantasy cricket in India at the time, having already seen the excitement of playing EPL fantasy football since 2001.
Dream11 was first conceived in 2008, when the Indian Premier League (IPL) was introduced. Harsh started searching for a similar forum to play online fantasy cricket in India at the time, having already seen the excitement of playing EPL fantasy football since 2001. He was astounded to find that fantasy cricket did not exist in India, where cricket is a religion and millions of Indians practise it religiously.
Harsh, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Business School, was determined to fix the dilemma and asked his peers if they wanted to help him. As a result, he and Bhavit, a Bentley University and Harvard University alumnus, co-founded Dream11 in 2009.
Over the course of three years, the pair experimented with different models on Dream11, pivoting several times before eventually discovering a product-market synergy with freemium single-match fantasy sports in 2012. Dream11 has grown into India’s largest sports gaming website, with a customer base of four crore Indian sports enthusiasts. It offers various sports – fantasy cricket, football, kabaddi, and basketball – to its four crore users. Today, the venture, which has yet to become profitable, has a strong revenue base of close to Rs 100 crore (not revealed in 2018); it had Rs 62 crore in FY 2017.