WELCOMING SPORTS FACILITIES.
Over the years, the neighborhood video parlors have disappeared, and given way to swankier bowling alleys, which later gave way to set sporting areas that ensure that we have no excuses when it comes to playing sport, and exercising. Enter Cover Drive, one of the most promising sports facilities in the UAE. And while the founder Abhishek Bhattacharyagrew up playing cricket, “I think I learnt walking and playing cricket at the same time”, it was only when he returned to Dubai from the US after completing his degree in industrial engineering that he decided to turn his passion into something more meaningful. The entrepreneurial bug hit him in college itself, but it was only when he turned 24 that he finally summoned the courage to start out on his own. His eureka moment though came at the most unexpected time, “Even before I laid the ground for Cover Drive, I had been thinking about a sports facility for a while, and this one day I remember, I had come down for breakfast, and my dad had the newspaper open to the classifieds section with a rent ad on it, and that was it. The initial idea was to build a facility from scratch rather than modify an existing facility, but this was a good streamlined thinking process which made things quicker.”
Bhattacharya goes on to describe Cover Drive and says, “Cover Drive is a multi-sport indoor facility, located in the heart of the city. You can come in here on each day of the week and do a different activity every day because of how diverse we are. “He also believes that its diversity is what differentiates Cover Drive from the competition and makes it unique, “Competitors are more focused on each of their sports, while we are a little bit more diverse, we do everything from zumba to yoga to indoor cricket to pool table to cricket coaching, we are all across the board, and then we have our premium product that is bubble soccer. I think we are the only facility in all of the Gulf countries that have had more than 400 bookings for bubble soccer.” But he also does not deny the existence of strong competitors, but has a basic strategy to deal with them, “There is a lot of competition, but that’s the good thing about sport that it doesn’t have a very targeted audience, still there are so many people who are not playing sport so there is indefinite capacity for the market to expand. With fitness also being on the rise, success is mostly certain in this market.” As for Cover Drive’s expansion plans, he says, “In the last 9 months, we have seen a very good growth trajectory, where we are doubling our revenue month on end, I would just be happy if we can maintain that.”
BEING A SINGLE FOUNDER/SINGLE BUT NOT WILLING TO MINGLE
But unlike most startups and founders, Bhattacharya was and is the sole founder at Cover Drive. It has its own perks, he says, “You have full autonomy of your business, so anything that you feel is correct, you can go ahead and execute it without anyone opposing you. One of the main reasons that most people quit their jobs is because they want autonomy and control over their lives so keeping that in mind; it is quite gratifying being the sole founder.” But everything has a flip side, and Bhattacharya talks about the downside of being a sole founder saying, “It can be lonely as a single founder. And a lot of times you want to brainstorm, discuss, consult, but that option isn’t available to you.” As far as funding is concerned, he says, “For a single founder, it’s harder. VCs and investors tend to come in at a later stage, after you have achieved something, and reached a few milestones.” But he would definitely like to learn from his mistakes when he started out saying, “Many expenses were completely overlooked before we started, and we could have budgeted better. That bit I would like to change if I could go back.” But as a successful single founder, what would his advice be to those who want to start out on their own, and mostly without any partners? He keeps it very practical and says, “If you are someone who is happy with a monthly paycheck or don’t like uncertainties, then it’s probably easier to stay with your day job, but if doing something that you are passionate about motivates you, then you have to go for it, but you must keep in mind that just because you are passionate about it does not mean everyone else is, so you need to let the passion transform into an actual business ethics and models. Also, in terms of a business, we have learnt that one should always use high quality products, you don’t want to reinvest later when you can just get better quality to begin with.”
BEING NOT OUT
But being a single founder wasn’t the greatest challenge for Bhattacharya, there were others like, “Government approval”, a problem faced by many startups in Dubai. He goes on to expand and says, “Getting all the plans through the government was a challenge because this is not a regular standardized business plan. Getting a trade license took a lot of time because while there are a lot of laws on the different kinds of property, sadly our project did not fall under the regular laws. It is operated by the real estate agency of UAE so there is a huge tax that goes with it which is tied up with the economic department. It was quite a grueling process for us as it took 17 weeks to get our final plans approved.” But would he still recommend people to start out on their own? “Having the place fully ready for 17 weeks but not being able to start business was really hurting us, so if you have the stomach for this, you should most definitely go ahead with this.”