Charismatic and driven Harpreet Baweja gets candid about achieving his goals both on and off the football pitch.
For many, watching or playing football is a cherished escape from the mundanity of a hectic work week, but for savvy businessman Harpreet Baweja, ‘the beautiful game’ means business. As a co-founder and CEO of India’s celebrated Roots Premier League and Roots Football Academy, Harpreet has successfully combined his passion for the sport with his vision to establish a place where like-minded individuals can train, play and be a part of a community. Founded two years ago, the league has even garnered the support of prominent B-town celebrities like Ranveer Singh and Aditya Roy Kapur. Masala sits down with this talented entrepreneur to talk about what it takes to score success.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in India, but moved to Thailand right before I entered the seventh grade, where I studied at Ruamrudee International School for a few years before returning to India to complete my education at boarding school. I went on to attain a Bachelor of Science at Purdue University, after which I worked for Bloomberg in New York for many years before deciding to become an entrepreneur. I made the decision to venture out on my own because I felt it would allow me more time to travel and explore my hobbies, which include sports and motorcycles. I also love my family very much, so I’m always on a mission to make them proud.
Was entrepreneurship something you always thought you would pursue?
No, I always thought I was going to be a corporate man my entire life. In my early 20s, I never imagined I would venture out on my own because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. However, not having a direction isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it allows you to explore more opportunities.
Did your education play an important part in driving your decision to pursue entrepreneurship?
I think learning on the job played a bigger part in my journey than my actual vocation. Education is important, but skills such as working with others, learning how to handle projects from creation to execution and dealing with stressful situations professionally, were most important. If I had the chance to go through higher education again, I would definitely focus more on learning how to manage personal and professional finances, how to grow a business, and of course, how to manage people.
What motivated you to settle in India?
I felt like India, despite having a very real set of challenges, was an exciting opportunity to explore. It hasn’t been easy so far, but it has been rewarding.
Roots Premier League and Roots Football Academy has become a very successful endeavour. What was your inspiration behind it?
Football has always been a big part of my life. I played while I was at university, working for Bloomberg, and of course, now in Mumbai. When we initially had the idea, we were just a bunch of guys who wanted to play football, but found it difficult to fill out a five against five game. And so, we decided to build a database of players, contacted local turfs, organised games across various time slots, and then the concept began transforming into a business that worked. Roots now runs multiple weekly games scheduled for over 750 players across four venues. It became clear that we weren’t the only ones passionate about the sport, as other people were also looking for the right platform to play.
Now that it’s operating on a large scale, what goes into running Roots?
It’s very intense to say the least. The idea grew very fast, so we didn’t get the chance to develop our internal team at the same rate as our subscription base. Running the league is more or less a full-time gig because we’re handling the expectations of 750 people over four days a week, every week, for four months. It’s hectic and time consuming. We have eight different departments covering all aspects of the business, including player management, operations and logistics, accounts, videography, sponsors, partners and owners. Because we’re building a great core team, it’s becoming easier to stay on top of everything else.
How do you hope Roots will grow?
Next year, Roots is looking to extend beyond Mumbai and Delhi to other major cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune. Once established, we’ll be able to extend the leagues past inter-city competition towards an intra-city knockout format, such as a National Championship. This expansion doesn’t stop at just the Men’s League, as we’ve created a Women’s League as well, and we hope to develop this further with the aim to use the sport as a way to empower women in India. We also have our Sunday Little League programme for under eight and 12 years, and we’ll be launching a Corporate League very soon.
What are some other current projects you’re involved in?
I’m currently working on something exciting in the film industry, which I’ll only be able to talk about once things materialise. On top of Roots, I have two other ventures, Aroma Thai Spas and an events company known as Butter Events, so my hands are quite full at the moment!
With regards to your past business ventures, what are you most particularly proud of?
I’m proud of all that I’ve achieved because every project has taught me so much. Aroma Thai Spas is on a 10-year profit run, so it has been very successful, and Butter Events is now very well-known for its curated events, product launches and fun experiences.
Other than mingling with famous faces, what do you enjoy most about your profession?
I really enjoy working with people, and so I’d honestly say that’s the best part of my work. I’m grateful to have met some very talented individuals and I’m proud of all the amazing things we’ve been able to do so far.
What are some key aspects that make a successful entrepreneur?
Firstly, keep learning and educating yourself. Make the effort to read, listen to TED Talks, keep up-to-date with current affairs and new innovations, listen to the mantras of successful individuals and make them your teachers. Success is achieved by the one percent of people who are willing to put in the hours and effort to build a unique brand. It all requires discipline and hard work.
Secondly, don’t miss out on opportunities. We’re all afraid of failure, but half the battle is overcoming this fear and learning from it. Every successful individual I know has failed multiple times in their career, so it’s important to step out of your comfort zone by doing what scares you. It is also vital to take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. After all, you really don’t know where life may lead you.