Yuvraj Singh has set aside Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million) to fund startups. Dhruv Munjal finds out how the cricketer became an angel investor
In early April last year, Yuvraj Singh strode out to bat in the final of the T20 World Cup in Dhaka with India two wickets down.
Rohit Sharma had just departed after a breezy knock of 26.
Virat Kohli, meanwhile, was making a strong Sri Lankan attack look painfully prosaic at the other end, stroking the ball with unmatched grace and power. Yuvraj prodded at a few outside at his off-stump, gently knocked a couple around and then made his exit.
While walking back to the pavillion that fateful evening at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, Yuvraj probably knew that his time in the Indian team was up.
He had managed a listless 21-ball 11 in an innings that was so perfectly set up for him; an innings that was so desperately craving a frenetic, whirlwind knock that the Yuvraj of old would have produced almost at will.
Sri Lanka would go on to win the match on a canter.
Earlier this year, the southpaw was snapped up for a hefty Rs 16 crore (Rs 160 million) -- to the surprise of many -- by Delhi Daredevils for the 2015 season of the Indian Premier League.
There were sporadic flashes of brilliance during the tournament, but the Yuvraj that once terrorised bowlers was woefully missing.
His heroics at the 2011 World Cup were followed by a spate of injuries and then cancer -- which he doggedly overcame.
The fact that he came back from that ordeal and represented India again was a remarkable achievement in itself.
Now, with his days in international cricket more or less behind him, Yuvraj has switched focus to business. YouWeCan Ventures, a company floated by Yuvraj, is helping young entrepreneurs to tap into new opportunities to build new brands.
Since its inception in April this year, YouWeCan has invested in a spurt of online startups across different sectors, ranging from beauty services to healthcare.
Its diverse portfolio includes Vyomo, an app for booking beauty services; Cartisan, an automotive service marketplace; Healthians, a marketplace for diagnostic labs; and EduKart, one of India’s leading education marketplaces.
The latest addition to its basket is Cybiz BrightStar Restaurants, the restaurant chain that has been entrusted with running US-based burger chain Carl’s Jr in India.
With startups going mainstream and scores of aspiring entrepreneurs queueing up for funds, YouWeCan felt the time was right to make its presence felt.
Nishant Singhal, co-founder and chief investment officer at YouWeCan, explains: “We are looking at commercial investments that have a social impact as well, which mainly includes healthcare and education.”
However, its foray into fast food clearly suggests that Yuvraj is keen on expanding his reach.
While the amounts for most investments remain undisclosed, it is believed that YouWeCan has put in Rs 1-2 crore (Rs 10-20 million) in each of these startups, picking up a 12-15 per cent stake along the way. Currently, the company is investing out of the Rs 50 crore put in by the all-rounder himself.
The average investment period for each startup is expected to be 50-60 months.
Yuvraj, relatively new to the startup sphere, turns to Singhal, who has been his business partner for six years now, for all key business decisions.
Singhal works as director-strategy and alliance at real estate services platform Investor’s Clinic, of which Yuvraj has been the brand ambassador.
The two seem to have struck up quite a reliable relationship.
Deepak Sahni, founder and CEO of Healthians, distinctly recalls his first meeting with the cricketer. It was the middle of 2014 and Sahni concedes to being star-struck when he first met the 33-year-old.
“At first, it was overwhelming. But he made me feel comfortable,” recalls Sahni. “And, the moment I mentioned healthcare, Yuvraj was hooked.”
Along with financial assistance, Healthians was also successful in roping him in as brand ambassador -- gratis.
His image, in the effulgent blue shirt of India, complete with a message, adorns the homepage of Healthians.
Since YouWeCan first got involved, Healthians has been growing at 100 per cent month-on-month.
YouWeCan is poised to take part in its next round of funding as well. Sahni adds that since it was healthcare, Yuvraj was ready to put in his heart and soul right from the outset. “He is the Amitabh Bachchan of healthcare.”
Other founders have similar stories. Abhinav Khare’s Vyomo, a company he co-founded with a classmate from the London School of Business, was the first startup Yuvraj set his eyes on.
“We were the first investment of YouWeCan,” Khare proudly tells me on the phone from Dubai. Vyomo is an app that helps you book beauty services.
"It currently has 3,000 salons and 1,500 freelancers under its umbrella.
"Khare says that Yuvraj was impressed when the idea was first put to him.
“He is an amazing guy -- professional and very understanding. We met for breakfast one day and the deal was immediately set in motion,” he remembers.
Market experts feel that it is Yuvraj’s enormous brand value that startups want to be associated with. As Sahni explains, the opportunity to work with Yuvraj was one that he just couldn’t miss.
“Mostly, investors put in money and then do not take an active part.
"But with Yuvraj, you get much more in form of brand support and coverage,” he says.
The fact that Yuvraj was one of the finest players in the world in his heyday and overcame gigantic odds to win his fight against cancer leads to greater acceptability among people.
“Whether it is cricket or business, he will always be a hero to fans.
"Such investments help both Yuvraj and the startups he’s pumped money into,” says a brand expert on the condition of anonymity.
EduKart closed its recent round of funding only two weeks ago. With YouWeCan making a sizeable investment, CEO Ishan Gupta says that these are exciting times for the company.
“He adds great value to our company because he is one of the most trusted personalities around. He has always had a clean image.”
However, while there is no questioning Yuvraj’s commitment, his involvement remains limited to social media for now.
His Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with posts informing fans about the various activities being carried out by the startups he has invested in.
“There is no day-to-day involvement from his side, but help is always at hand. His marketing and branding teams are very prompt in their response,” says Khare.
Cartisan Co-founder Venkat Sreeram agrees that Yuvraj’s engagement remains minimal for now, but will grow once his company expands.
“This is an investment on two fronts -- cash as well as endorsements.
They are handling the endorsement part well. We would not have been able to get this kind of promotion had it been somebody else,” he says.
“But we have a very limited presence. Once we broaden that, more finances will pour in from their side during the next round of funding.
YouWeCan, structured as a family office, plans to convert itself into a venture capital fund with a target corpus of Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion).
It plans to make more investments across different segments.
Singhal says that their ultimate goal is to fulfil the aspirations of bright entrepreneurs. It’s fair to say that they’ve done alright so far.
Image: Yuvraj Singh. Photograph: Philip Brown/Reuters