Cricket is played in every nook and corner of India – true fact. The number of cricket enthusiasts in the country who pick up a bat and ball and go out to the parks, makeshifts grounds on weekends, and even on weekdays, some for leisure, some with a bit more focus on improving their batting, bowling and even their stats are innumerable in numbers. While BCCI itself has been able to build one of the most structured systems for the sport in the country, the level of cricket being played at the grassroots level Is at an unfathomable level that a structure of sorts seems quite impossible to achieve. However, CricHeroes, a widely popular app among cricket enthusiasts with over 1 crore players registered, has been somewhat able to achieve the unthinkable. Started as a simple scorekeeping app for grassroots cricketers, CricHers has managed to build a cricketing ecosystem like none other in a very short span of time. It has become a network of millions of grassroots cricketers and making them better with performance analytics. CricHeroes recently held their first-ever award show, recognising the best of the grassroots cricketers. We caught up with Cricheroes founder Abhishek Desai to talk more about the app, its beginning and what the future holds:
Crichereos is a widely popular app among cricket enthusiasts and has over 1 crore players registered and the fascinated aspect of it is the concept – a simple concept of ‘keeping scores’. How it this idea of an app come about and how have you been able to grow this app to where it is now in such a short amount of time?
When we started CricHeroes back in 2016 it was just a simple scoring app and the idea of the scoring app came from the problems of our own as cricketers. So, just like millions of cricketers I have also played cricket on weekends with a group of friends consistently for 12 years now. In most of cricket matches, no matter where you are playing or what format you are playing there is always a discussion about the game which happens after the match. Sometimes these discussions become heated but most of them are happening without data. For example, ‘who is in form’, ‘We lost this match because you dropped the catch’, We didn’t win because you didn’t score enough’, strike rates, etc. These are the most common quarrels that happen among friends. Because they are not scoring the matches properly there is no data to back up their claims. This is what we wanted to change when we were playing.
So, we decided to digital score the match and I tried my hands on the ones which were there in the market at that time but I was not happy with the UX and they were also not solving the problem we were looking to solve. So, that is when I decided I should give it a shot. I did a survey and found out that it is not just my problem but most of the crickets around me were facing the same issue. So, I realized if I can scale it, it can become a sizable business. As I was from a technology background as I run Digicorp, where we build technology products. We raised some seed funds from friends and family and launched our first version in 2016. Today we have 11 million players who has played more than 2 million matches in 120,000 leagues. More than 200 cricket associations are using CricHeroes as their official scoring platform.
The best part is, most of it is organic. From day 1 we decided if we keep the product good and focus on making the product better, people will talk about it to their friends. That’s exactly what happened and that’s who we grew.
A data-driven approach is something which is probably the in-thing currently, across sectors if I may add and nothing resonates to data than cricket. From the point of you giving an incentive of sorts for your weekend cricketers and maybe level higher up, what was the primary goal this startup and how has that goal/target been recalibrated now, with the kind of success you have had?
When we started, the idea was to keep scores. It was not a grand idea, per say but we definitely had something like this in mind. We definitely didn’t want to remain as a scoring app. The reason being, if we make a good scoring app, someone can make a better scoring app as it is just a utility. At the end of the day people will flock towards a better utility. So, I thought how I can make a network as you can copy the product but it is very difficult to copy the network. That was our primary goal. Also, we have three objectives at CricHeroes and these were set very early in the journey. One, we wanted to give a platform to grassroots cricketers to showcase their talent. Second, to recognize these grassroots cricketers for their performances and for their talent. Third, how we can make them better cricketers with the help of data. The main idea is to make them better with the help of data, be it leader board where you can see your rank, scores or awards & badges which can boost up your confidence. These three objected have helped us evolve from a simple scoring app to a cricket app.
What were the challenges you faced when you started this in terms of creating an eco-system like this, and even now the kind of issues or problems/hurdles you do encounter when you have an application which is so widely used and in a varied manner.
Initially, the primary challenge was how to keep the scoring module as easy to use as possible. So creating a better UX and 10x better application was the priority. Then eventually as and when we started growing the challenge became how do you sustain or keep your servers up when there is peak load. CricHereos is a very weekend heavy business as 50% of our traffic comes on weekends. So, on weekends between 9-12 when there are maximum matches happening at the same time, how do you make sure those matches are not taking the server down. That is still a challenge and we are still learning. We have invested a lot to improve our infrastructure and making the app better & faster.
In future, the challenge will be how we can grow beyond a cricket network. So, far we have had success in becoming a network and a de facto scoring app for a lot of people. We now growing beyond that and executing it will be a challenge.
The Pandemic in must have curtailed their primary feature of the app – scoring – what did you guys did to overcome that?
It was a very difficult time. In the first wave, our traffic dropped significantly especially in the months of April & May and from June onwards we saw a little bit of rise in the traffic when COVID was subsiding and the restrictions were lifting. Once again the second wave came and the same thing happened. So it was very difficult to sustain ourselves as not a lot of people were playing cricket and CricHeroes is directly related to the amount of cricket you play physically. CricHeroes only works if you go out and play. It is not a game you can play while you’re at home. At that time we have to take severe pay cuts and to elongate & sustain our operations. Fortunately, we were able to secure funding almost when the second wave hit so we were comparatively in a better place. We all know we will come out of this and with that hope we kept building the product. So, when people were not playing cricket, we kept building features around engagement. Before there was no way to comment of on the feed, so we built that then we built reactions to those. That’s how we kept building CricHeroes during the pandemic.
Cricheroes have now grown much beyond just giving a platform for all the cricket enthusiasts, and you have associations with cricket boards and with sponsors on board, premium membership, organizing tournaments etc. Can you dive a bit into this aspect of your growth and how did you go about this second phase of expansion, if I may say so?
A lot of things happened organically and a lot of things we pushed ourselves. For example, on-boarding associations were a deliberate move that we started very early in 2017. We knew if associations will use CricHereos, be it a district or state association, it will give us a lot of credibility. In some cases, we reached out to associations and after they started using CricHeroes we got a good number of user from that district/state. In most of the cases, it happened reverse, like the players were using CricHeroes before the associations started using it. We took a top-down and bottom-up approach.
When it comes to sponsorships and premium services, they are primary ways of making money, to be honest. We are a ‘Freemium’ product. Most of the products which you see on CricHeroes are free to use and that’s the reason people use CricHeroes to score their matches & tournaments. That’s what has given us this amount of growth as well but at the same time as a business you have to make money and we have been doing that by selling premium features. We have a bunch of features that we sell to tournament organizers, players, brands & associations. I would say that once we started selling one or two premium products, that gave us confidence that it can actually become a business. Till that time we were just a scoring app that was growing fast.
Live streaming is a major aspect of any sort of live sport and it was something the European Cricket League did with great success, FanCode is doing the same now. What is Cricheroes vision/plan of action regarding the same?
For example, what FanCode is doing for the elite level leagues which other sports channels are not covering, we are doing that for grassroots. Essentially, we want to make sure that each and every match which is being scored on CricHeroes today should be able to get live-streamed tomorrow. Whenever technology reaches there or once they have a decent smartphone. We definitely want to have that culture that not only you’re scoring your matches but you’re live streaming your matches too. In a way, we want to be the largest broadcaster of matches by the sheer number of matches. For example, at our peak we reached almost a thousand matches live-streamed in a week and we have been consistently had more than 500-600 matches in a week and this number can go in thousands. Probably 5k or 10k matches a week can easily be live-streamed in a week. This is the vision we have.
You have been able to create a complete cricket ecosystem via the app – be it tying up with the academies, building a community of cricketers, giving avenues for budding cricketers, and in generally giving a platform for more opportunities to play and earn – what is next for CricHeroes?
We have a few directions where we can go as a company. The obvious thing to do is to grow in this direction. The market in which we are growing is at least 100 million, active cricketers, in India and we are 11 million now. Even if we don’t do anything else and keep growing it will be a very prudent thing for us to do. Along with that we have a few experiments in mind like I said, we are banking big on live streaming and we would like to invest double in making live streaming technology as assessable as possible. Then we also want to explore other opportunities in grassroots cricket by providing maybe for example, equipment, merchandise, etc which can be sold in a B2C fashion to our existing audience. We plan to work on all of them in 2022, some of them in experiment mode and a few in full-fledged mode.
The CricHeroes awards is your next big step. You have endorsements from Hanumva Vihari, John Buchanan as well. Can you tell me a bit about it and to what expect?
From Day-1, ‘recognition’ was a big part of CricHeroes and we were recognizing cricketers with the help of badges & awards virtually and we created a lot of leader boards where you can see your rank in your city, state and country to compare yourselves. But after 5 years we felt we should take the recognition to the next level and that’s when the idea of CricHeroes Awards came. CricHereos is in a legit position to recognize grassroots cricketers based on their performances we have the data. So, we thought how about we give awards to the best performers of 2021 and also the community members like scorers, tournament organizers, etc. We have about 20+ award categories and more than 100 award winners at the national and state level. We had the awards last month with Jatin Sapru, one of the best presenters in international cricket as the host. It is a big honour for us that he accepted the position of hosting the show. We have a big ambition and we plan to do it every year. It should become a signature event for CricHeroes.
The grassroots players are the heroes of cricket and they should get recognition. For the first time in history, someone is doing it. Nobody has recognized the effort of their talent or even their sheer passion. They may not be as talented as somebody who is playing state level or district level cricket but they do put their heart out in the field whenever they play and there as be some platform to appreciate them. Some of the players who have been recognized are playing for their respective associations. This is also possible that this recognition gives them the boost to go further up as a professional cricketers.
Where is do you see CricHeroes in the next five years – what more is in the works?
My personal ambition right now is leaning towards becoming the biggest cricket brand in the world by doing everything around cricket. I believe CricHereos is in a unique position because we have a very strong connection with the grassroots level which a few cricket brands in the world has. So, tomorrow if we venture into an adjacent offering in cricket or around cricket, I believe it would be comparatively easy to sell that offer to our existing audience as they are already loyal users of CricHeroes or have a strong connection with CricHereos. That puts us in a very unique position and it will be a shame if we do not take advantage of our position and grow and contribute more to the grassroots ecosystem.
Get all the IPL news and Cricket Score here