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© Maryam Farooqui Ajinkya Rahane on why he became a startup investor and his rules for investing in companies

While cricket is his first love, Ajinkya Rahane, Vice-Captain of the Indian cricket team, did not shy away when he got the chance to don the investor hat. Rahane, who led underdog India to a stunning victory over Australia in the recent Test series Down Under, had last year invested in two startups, including the Mahindra-backed MeraKisan, an agri-tech startup, and Hudle, a digital platform for sports enthusiasts.

While MeraKisan supplies produce from farmers to consumers through retail stores as well as e-commerce platforms, Hudle helps sports enthusiasts find and book sporting events and venues.

Ask Rahane why he decided to become an investor, and he says, “As cricketers, we get into a focused lifestyle at a very young age and most of our efforts are about consistently playing cricket whenever possible. As I played more cricket, I also got a chance to travel, meet new people, and hear about interesting businesses that people have developed.”

But there’s more to it.

Rahane added that it is important to plan for post-cricket life and that’s why, at an early stage, he wanted to partner with interesting ventures that have the potential to become successful businesses in future. “That’s when I had a chat with my business partner Akhil Ranade and decided that we should start exploring interesting opportunities where I can partner in certain interesting ventures.”

Akhil Ranade is a sports marketing professional who started his career with the sports marketing divisions of advertising giants O&M and DDB Mudra and also worked at IMG’s sports consulting division. His last stint was at Puma before starting his own company, Achilles Sports, in 2014. Along with this he also consults with Rahane.

Investment philosophy

While Rahane did not share exact numbers in terms of stakes bought in the two startups, he explained his investment mantra. “My first lookout before investing in any venture is if I relate to the core business of the company and how I can contribute to the business. It is crucial for me to meet the founders and know their vision for the company and how they plan to make use of me as a brand ambassador,” said Rahane.

Talking about why he chose to invest in the two firms, he said: “MeraKisan was because of my long-term inclination towards the agricultural sector. I wanted to be involved with a company that has the potential to be a sustainable, long-term player in the sector.”

MeraKisan, which was founded in 2016, plans to break even this year and also aims to rake in Rs 40 crore in turnover next year.

Prashanth Patil, CEO and founder of MeraKisan, added that they aim to “impact the lives of over 10,000 farmers by increasing their income by FY23.”

As for Hudle, Rahane said that he loves sports other than cricket but finds it difficult to get the right places to play these sports. “Whenever possible I try to play badminton, table tennis and football with my friends. I feel everyone should pursue some sport. And what Hudle does is that it makes it easier for non-professional amateur athletes and sports enthusiasts to find and book spaces to play sports.”

Suhail Narain, CEO and founder of Hudle, pointed out that this year they want to go deeper into their current markets (Mumbai and Delhi-NCR) and open up in one or two new geographies.

Like Rahane, many cricketers have backed startups. For example, Virat Kohli not only co-owns fashion brand Wrogn, he also bought a stake of around 30 percent in Chisel, a gym and fitness centre chain, in 2015. MS Dhoni has invested in Khatabook, a digital ledger app. Recently, Shikhar Dhawan donned the investor hat by investing in Sarva, a yoga studio chain.

Broadening investment portfolio

My first lookout before investing in any venture is if I relate to the core business of the company – Ajinkya Rahane

After MeraKisan and Hudle, Rahane is now looking at newer categories. “Gaming, education, health tech, kids’ nutrition and e-sports are some sectors where we have had some discussions. Am also interested to look at more opportunities in the agricultural space,” he added.

But sports has a special place in Rahane’s investment portfolio.

“Developing a top-class cricket setup where I can contribute to the growth of young cricketers is something that I am very much interested in. Plus, wearables technology in sports is another sector we are exploring.”

In addition, Rahane also wants to explore the possibility of helping in the mental well-being of sportspersons for their upcoming competitions or tournaments.

Despite this interest in new investments, Rahane is still focussed on his core sport, cricket. “My focus is totally on the game at the moment. Akhil is the one who works closely with me and manages my businesses.”

Rahane and the Indian cricket team are now gearing up for England’s upcoming tour of India, which will be the first cricket tournament in India after the coronavirus outbreak.