ONE thing that drives us in business is other people. Which is why we've launched our 'In Conversation With..." series. With a view to inspiring, encouraging and educating people through sports business we believe celebrating those who have already walked that path is a great way to do it. Introducing...
Sree Varma, founder and CEO of iSportconnect.
iSportconnect was launched in June 2010 and has turned into the largest global private network of sports business executives. With 19 years of marketing and sales experience ranging from pharmaceutical, retail and the sports industry, Sree is at the sharp end of the sports business.
He's steadily expanding the company’s portfolio to include iSportconnect Capital, a new investor network, and iSportconnect TV, a world-first 24/7 OTT platform for the global sports family. Previously, Sree has worked as publisher at Business F1 & Sports Pro, and as a consultant for Sport + Markt.
1. Sree, how do you start your day?
Checking my phone because of the amount of things I have to do. It’s a continuation of what I plan the night before, going back to my planning and focusing on my main goals for the day.
2. How do you end your day?
I go through all the daily reports from my team and my own daily check-up of the business to see how we are doing. Then I plan for the next day.
3. Where did your business idea originate?
Previous experience of working in other businesses where I saw that sport is such a private network. Everything was going online and going digital, so I thought if we combine these two there could be a business opportunity. By talking to a lot of partners, clients and people in the industry I thought there was a need for a platform and network like iSportconnect. We’re getting great feedback and we haven’t looked back.
4. What’s your strategy to stay focused on your targets?
One of the key things for me is white boards. It may sound silly but it gives you focus. It’s so important to visualise your ideas and calls, and having a white board in front of you reinforces plans and strategies.
5. How often do you reassess and set new goals?
Short-term goals I re-evaluate every week, the long-term goals every quarter.
6. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A bus driver when I was really young! But actually I always wanted to be a successful businessman. In my childhood, we didn’t have much money, so I aspired to being successful to ensure I wouldn’t have any worries about providing for my family
7. What did you learn from the worst experience you’ve ever had?
One thing I learnt from a previous business was that we used to charge people ridiculous amounts for advertising but there was little ROI. The marketeers became wiser… they started looking closely at ROI and gone are the days you pay £8,000 for a full page or banner ads.
People were spending a lot of money and they were not happy, they became frustrated. That’s the learning and what encouraged me to convert iSportconnect into something better. Instead of a one-way offering it needed to be a two-way partnership – creating content, helping them with their business strategy and developing their business - you need to be an extended family for them.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I think it was my first ever boss, Kalpesh Solanki, at Asian Media & Marketing Group. It’s Britain’s largest Asian publishing house. I have to say I learnt a lot from him about how to run a business.
9. Which sporting incident has had a profound impact on you either as a fan or in business?
It’s not a slice of sporting drama but… Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, the team I follow. Twenty-two years managing the club was an incredible feat. What a great philosophy and what persistence he had.
I looked on him as a businessman, thinking that if you believe in your dream and you are focused on your objectives you can be successful. And that’s what he did… at least in the first 18 years of his reign at Arsenal!
10. What or who inspires you?
Go-getters: successful businessmen and women. Some of those who do TED talks. I want to hear inspirational stories, positivity and energy. I do listen to a lot of those entrepreneurs who have made it and enjoy hearing their experiences.
They don’t have to be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs… I can look at my next door neighbour, a coffee shop owner or anyone else who's delivered their objectives and think how did he or she manage to get from here to there. If I can connect myself with that person and their experience, that’s interesting and useful for me to continue evolving my own business.
11. Tell us the best advice you’ve ever taken?
Be a keen listener and be prepared to adapt if you want to go far in business.
12. In your opinion, which sporting social media campaign has best captured the market?
I really liked Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, which created a huge online buzz as it tried to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability. It inspired a lot of women and you could also see its impact on digital and social media – everyone was talking about it.
They won some awards. It was every effective because it connected with women on every level and encouraging them to get into sport.
13. What does work-life balance mean to you?
It means a lot to me, absolutely. I’m still looking for the balance. I have two kids but as iSportconnect takes off I feel sometimes I’m not getting it right. I don’t know that there’s a simple solution. But I think compared to others in the sports industry I’m doing ok as I’m home almost every night!
14. What are you learning now?
It’s about diversification of business and also when you are at the maturity stage what else you can do. How can you change? Adaptability is so key for successful businesses. So I am still learning, to see what direction we can take the business.
15. What’s the biggest business challenge working within the sporting sector?
Sport is well behind a lot of other industries, which can be an issue and also offer opportunities. The sport industry is facing a lot of challenges because the millennials are not connecting to some traditional sports, look at Formula One. They are trying to do things now but for many years they haven’t acquired many new fans. With new funky sports coming through like surfing and skateboarding at the Tokyo Olympics, plus the emergence of e-sports, it’s all about extending their reach to the younger generation.
Secondly, on the digital front, sport is way behind when it comes to music, entertainment and healthcare.
Also the business side of sport, especially football, is not sustainable. There’s short-term planning, but lack of a longer term vision. Certainly, football and other sports can draw lots of lessons from outside the sports sector.
For more on Sree and iSportconnect, check out the website: http://www.isportconnect.com