Nihal Pradeep: I’ve Never Wanted To Be Someone in the ‘In-crowd’

Nihal Pradeep

Nihal Pradeep of Dartle.

Tell us about yourself?

With an unrelenting passion for Sports, it has become my life’s missing to contribute to the overall development of the Sports economy in India.

Having been a basketball player since middle school, I’ve seen firsthand the impact of the largely disconnected sports ecosystem combined with the incredible politics at play.

At a very personal level, I want to be able to break this disparity and make available sports opportunities to opportunity seekers, in order to ensure that sports is seen as a viable career option in India.

I am currently operating with a team of purpose-led individuals, combining engineering & technology to build a platform that can help promote sports opportunities in our country.

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

I apologise for slightly deviating on this question. But I can’t stress enough on how many startups try to do everything on their own and fail.

As a startup there is a large concept of ‘build-it-yourself’ which is often a gaping hole waiting to swallow you whole. As a startup, quite often I find founders working on an entire project which is not directly related to the problem they are solving.

A simple example would be, “I’m a tech company making a great app. So why don’t I build my own website.” This is a fairly good reasoning, however, you are wasting your precious time building on something that is not your area of focus.

You’d be better off leaving it to an expert in their field. You’d get a better job done and have more time to focus on your efforts to making this world a better place.

If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey, and give yourself one tip, what would it be?

Just start and start lean. There have been many times I’ve pondered over the intricacies of a decision and in the end never taking a single action towards it.

I think one of the most important aspects of entrepreneurship is to be quick and decisive and evaluate the impact of your decisions through a feedback loop.

What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?

I’ve never wanted to be someone in the ‘in-crowd’. I’ve always wanted to have people remember me for the difference I’ve made in their life.

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This was always the case from a very young age. Therefore, I’ve always been very critical about myself, questioning whether I’ve done enough to improve each day.

When you try to solve a problem and then someone tries to tell you that you are wasting your time, I neither get depressed or am I too proud to see that there is something wrong.

I’m always hungry to change and improve and take every critic chin up always thinking how can I prove them wrong.

I’m not stuck with an idea, but I’m stuck with my principles. You can’t rip out the entrepreneur in me.

What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?

Organisation and prioritisation. As a founder, you’ve got too many things to do. And as much as you ask a founder to have a core focus, it is our DNA to experiment and try out new things alongside a robust central focal point.

Initially when I started out, I used to try anything and everything I thought was an opportunity. This never lead to any meaningful achievements with any decisions.

By organising my work and focus and prioritising several tasks, I’m now able to do one thing quite well and dedicate a small amount of time to experimentation.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

I’ve always grown up with sports. Given the struggles within the family, at a very young age, I’d always spent most of my time outside on the field.

I used to play basketball almost all of my entire school life. This made me quite good at the sport to the point where back in 2008, I got selected into the ICSE National Basketball Tournament to represent my state.

Excited and mustering up the courage, I had decided I wanted to be a professional athlete. But it wasn’t meant to be. The coach, the education system and the entire ecosystem of sports that I thought would have my back had let me down.

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I neither had a way, nor an evidence to support my achievements and claims to have people event listen to me to take me into my athletic career. It then stuck with me that when I grow up, I’d make things different.

That’s when my co-founders in college who were a bunch of brilliant individuals who cared for sport the same way I did. That’s how we decided to change the sporting landscape of India and across the world. And that’s how Dartle was born.

Where do you see your business in five years?

We want to be giving hope to the aspiring grassroots talent and talent nurturing ecosystem, that through technology, process and a community, we can create opportunities internationally. We will become the ladder for athletes to grow and find opportunities.

We will help sports academies become more sustainable and scientifically driven. We will help build sports as a habit to be able to have the freedom to choose it as a career if required.

Dartle wishes to create a roadmap to help India win more Olympic gold medals in the next two decades and be recognised as a global sporting superpower in sports other than cricket.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?

The mentality. India is a country with a huge focus on academics. Sports is merely a means of entertainment. Therefore, the physicality of Indian athletes are underdeveloped. In order to change this, sports and physical activity needs to become a way of life starting in schools.

There needs to be a lot of education and awareness within the society and parents to embrace this change. There has to be policies and frameworks implemented at a governance level to facilitate such changes nationwide.

Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?

Depends on how you define success actually. For me, success is growth. We’ve demonstrated as a team that we can stick together to thick and thin and ride the storm even with a broken sail.

From being dismissed as a baseless idea, to releasing our first version 3 days before the first lockdown to now being used in Category 1 academies in UK and several other academies here in India, we have come a long way.

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We have had academies who had turned us down earlier come back to us now requesting for a pilot. We’ve had investors who told us that we lacked a moat, show interest since we’ve started to have traction. That’s been our biggest success story.

How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?

I’m not usually the one interacting most with our customers. That’d be my co-founder, Swathy. But I try to reach out to each academy every now and then to try to get a good feel about how they see our product.

Sometimes, I hop on some of our key-accounts calls to check up on then. I mostly take care of strategic decisions, collaborations, fundraising and technology.

What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?

Find Problem-Market-Fit. Tech isn’t always a requirement. Solving someone’s problem is. Sometimes, we get too obsessed with building the best tech that we forget what our clients or customers might actually need.

The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to be lazy about what you build.

And what I mean by that is, build the bare minimum set of features, that you might think would validate your hypothesis in terms of providing a solution to your customers problem. Get feedback from them regarding how well you solved their problems. Iterate over multiple solutions.

Focus on actionable metrics over vanity metrics. A good read on this would be the ‘Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries.

And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally, and your business?

I hope that collectively we can make a difference in the sporting ecosystem. We want to be the wings that carry the dreams of young athletes forward. It is a collective effort.

An effort from other technology providers, the community, governments and federations.

By working together and collaborating wherever possible, a largely fragmented, unstructured industry can be unified and made more successful.

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