The founder and CEO of InMobi talks about his love for the sport and the lessons he has learnt from the game.
By Athira Nair
Naveen Tewari’s relationship with cricket began long before he founded InMobi, a global mobile advertising platform that became India’s first startup unicorn. It began prior to his graduation from IIT Kanpur and Harvard Business School and even before he went to high school. In fact, Naveen remembers exactly when it happened.
“It happened in 1985, though I can trace it back to 1983 when India won the World Cup. I could not understand that victory as I was too young at that time. But in 1985, I watched the Champions Trophy, where India won against Australia. That was when my relationship with cricket began,” he recollects.
Naveen has fond memories of his first trip to Mumbai with his family. “I have a picture from 1987, when I got cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin’s autograph. He was at the peak of his career and stardom then. I was absolutely star- struck. He had just hit three centuries back to back. I treasured that autograph all through my childhood,” he reminisces.
As he grew older, cricket became more than just a game for Naveen. Even today, it is an integral part of his life. He likes to say he has even formulated entrepreneurship lessons from the game.
Naveen travels across the country to watch matches. “Work takes me to different countries,” he elaborates. “So, if I am in London or Australia, I watch international matches there. I have gone to watch matches in the UK and Australia when India is playing. I have watched many matches in India too, including the semi-final and final matches for Cricket World Cup 2011. I cried when we won both games. My tears just flowed, and would not stop. Everyone around me was crying. You don’t get that feeling when you watch TV; you have to be there.”
Naveen played cricket in college and while at Harvard too, and he is a batsman-all rounder. Now, he has a cricket court inside his office, and enjoys being a part of the internal cricket tournaments at InMobi. “They still keep me in the team; so I am happy. On weekends, you have to prioritise. I play cricket with my kids, and I take them to matches and we watch some more cricket,” he smiles. His favourite IPL teams are RCB and Mumbai Indians.
“When I was growing up, cricket was the only sport that we talked about, and the Indian cricketers were our heroes. I would look up to them. In those days, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar were the superstars, and later we had cricket greats like Sachin, Dravid and Dhoni… these people inspired us to work towards the next level. That’s what cricket has done. None of these cricketers were privileged, but they became what they did by working hard for it,” he says.
As a child, Naveen wanted to be a cricketer. “In India, we don’t grow up doing what we want to do,” he says. “Our cricketers made the decision to do it at an age and a stage when most of us could not make such decisions. They decided to become cricketers when they were 12 years old. I can make decisions today at 40. But when you go after a dream that you had when you were just 12, there is a phenomenal story behind it.”
Just like a billion people in the country who worship Sachin Tendulkar, Naveen also adores the Master Blaster – and not just for his game. “The moral of Sachin’s story is not success, it is also about how he has done his job every day. Success is the outcome,” he says.
Among today’s players, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is his favourite cricketer. “Dhoni has shown leadership. The changes he brought about, like bringing in and backing new players and planning new strategies for cricket – all these things were brilliant. The vision of such people is amazing,” says Naveen.
According to Naveen, cricket is all about finding your niche. “The game of cricket is all about team work because you cannot win the game as an individual,” he says. “In the 1990s, India did not do that well. If you were a bowler, the only thing you did was bowling. If you were a wicket keeper, the only thing you did was wicket keeping. But fast forward to 2000s, and the scene has changed. Now cricketers say, ‘I am best at this, but I will do that also.’ They are basically saying that we can all do many different things. A brilliant wicket keeper is a great batsman also. It becomes a very different team then. So now we have become a phenomenal team,” Naveen says.
Cricket has taught Naveen about being an entrepreneur too. “I love the rhythm of cricket between the bowlers, batsmen and fielders. Every step is like a day of an entrepreneur. You do the same thing in a rhythmic manner. On some days, you hit a four, or get out, or hit a six or take a few runs – and follow the rhythm of coming in and going out.”
Naveen says test matches require a lot of long term planning. “You have to plan everything. There will be a rough period, and you have to get through it to be in the next period, so that you can play better and faster. In a single test match, you can plan only for day one and you have to do it right to go to day two. Then you plan for day four and later five. It is a very systemic planning exercise during which, things will go up and down. You have to be situational, and analyse the game and plan accordingly. That is like the life of an entrepreneur,” he says.
As for the cricketers out on the field, Naveen feels that mere talent is not enough. “They have had great periods and they have bad periods. But they never let go of their self-belief, nor do they let stress bog them down. They don’t give up. They go about their jobs despite what others tell them. They put their heads down, are determined, and do not care about what anybody else says. That’s why they are great,” says Naveen.
In school and college, Naveen had a bunch of friends he would play cricket with, but not at InMobi. “Unfortunately, most of the people who work closely with me are not very much into cricket. That’s my only grievance; I think I made a mistake somewhere,” he laughs.
Naveen’s most treasured possessions is an autographed book from Sachin. Although he has interacted with several cricketers, he has never taken photographs with them.
“I think other sports should also get the same kind of attention. In my opinion, if we didn’t have cricket, we wouldn’t have had other sports too, because cricket helped other sports get recognition too. It is okay to have a leading sport in a country and many others following along. We are a vast country, which is why we should partake in many sports. And this is finally happening today,” he concludes.