#Asia Building a football community in a cricket-crazy country

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Indian startup The Football Mind provides a networking and communication platform for fans, players, clubs, and more

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India is is better known for its prowess in and love for cricket but that has not stopped football, arguably the world’s most popular sport, from finding a fan base there.

Pranesh Krishnamurthy and Rohit Narayan, both engineers, left full-time jobs to start up The Football Mind (TFM), a networking and communication portal for various stakeholders of the sport – comprising players, coaches, fans, clubs, academies and associations.

Based in the state of Maharashtra in India, the startup was founded in 2014 and began simply as a football content platform.

But before they decided to launch TFM, Krishnamurthy and Narayan had taken the opportunity to first manage a football tournament traditionally organised by alumni of their alma mater — St. Vincent’s High School in Pune — while juggling their jobs.

“With the help of only a few people, we registered 100 professional teams over four weeks and this was the best year for the [the KP Jadhav Memorial] tournament in terms of response,” says Krishnamurthy. “Both of us volunteered to organise the tournament as we wanted to understand the real pain points and expectations for adoption of technology within the domain.”

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Software-as-a-service

After they understood what some of the needs of the football community were, they developed tools to support their operations and activities.

These basic tools, in the form of software-as-a-service (SaaS), Krishnamurthy says, are provided free.

“Tools are provided to them that are specific to their activities. [These tools] enable them to work in a more organised and structured [fashion], and expand their networks [unimpeded by] physical barriers,” says Krishnamurthy. “For example, an academy with 20 coaches and 100 players of various age groups can establish targeted channels to communicate training sessions, trials and manage tournaments [amongst themselves].”

There are also tools, which are licensed to users, for club and team management, tournament organisation, ticketing and marketplaces.

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Wearable tech for player analytics

Krishnamurthy has a Master’s Degree in Energy Science from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay while his Co-founder graduated from the University of Pune as an instrumentation engineer.

With their technical expertise, they have developed a proprietary piece of wearable technology named TFM Drill, which is a device with sensors to track a player’s movement.

The device is meant to be worn by a player during a training session or match via a strap. After the activity, the information logged is uploaded onto an app that interprets the player’s metrics, such as heat map of the player’s movements, sprints made, distance covered and work rate. Users can also compare the metrics of different players through graphs.

“This data can be used by the club, academy [or] coach to assess player performance, form player baselines, make quantitative-based scouting decisions and aid injury prevention,” says Krishnamurthy. “Our target consumer market for this varies from amateur and semi-pro players to professional clubs, with varying price range and functionality depending on the [intended] application.”

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Love for football

While Krishnamurthy says he spent much time playing football while growing up, his love for the sport did not begin until he saw the likes of global stars such as Bebeto (former Brazilian international), Ivan Zamorano (former Chilean international), and current Real Madrid manager and multiple-time World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane (former France international) on television.

“My tryst with football started in 1998 when the FIFA [the world governing body for football] World Cup was broadcast in India on live television. I was gripped with football and its 90 minutes [of] intensity and the simplicity of the game,” says Krishnamurthy.

And through the spark of interest set off by international football, the sport at the grassroots and national level in India has benefitted.

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Partners

Mumbai FC, which plays in India’s top-tier I-League, is one of 600 clubs and academies on TFM. The website claims 6,700 users. (A mobile app is in the works, according to Krishnamurthy.)

In the 2014–15 season, TFM worked with the club to improve its fan engagement and manage its online media.

“Over the season, we increased their online fan base four times and their match day attendance from [an average of] 200 to over 3,000 fans per match,” said Krishnamurthy.

TFM also recently helped a non-governmental organisation (NGO) crowdfund so that the underprivileged children who are the NGO’s beneficiaries can continue their football training, according to Krishnamurthy.

Results like these helped make them one of the winners of the 2015 Hot100 awards, a showcase for startups in India’s tech sector. And TFM has its sights on conquering the international market.

Not that they are done in India, a market of reportedly 155 million football fans (behind cricket, which reportedly has 176 million) and where TFM currently has a presence in 10 states, according to Krishnamurthy.

To scale in both India and globally, Krishnamurthy says that TFM, which has been bootstrapped so far by its four members (also including Rahul Rane and Onkar Sarode), is currently raising a US$1 million funding round.

“Our goal is to create a one-stop platform for football solutions at a global scale,” says Krishnamurthy.

And these solutions might just help India solve some of its woes in attempting to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals, which the subcontinent has never played in. The country is currently at the bottom of a five-nation group (including Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan, and Guam) with one win after six matches.

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Image credit: Filipe Frazao/Shutterstock

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